Ask the Vet: Equine Nutrition

Answered by, Lydia Gray, DVM, MA, SmartPak Equine
Courtesy of AAEP

Question: I am wondering if there are any concerns with lime in a horse’s diet or if it will interact with any medication or supplements.

Answer:I’m not entirely clear if you’re asking about lime the citrus fruit or agricultural lime aka limestone, which is calcium carbonate. If the former, while there are compounds in grapefruit that are known to interact with certain medications in people, I am not aware of any specific concerns among lime, lemons, or oranges. If the latter, there are several different types of “ag lime” so you’ll want to make sure you’re using the right one (some are for use on pastures and in stalls and some are to complete and balance the diet). Either way, I recommend you speak with your veterinarian to make sure adding “lime” to your horse’s diet is appropriate.

 Question: I’ve moved my 18-year-old TB gelding to another facility just up the road. After a month or so he began losing weight and several veterinarians examined him, determining it could be ulcers. He was then placed on an ulcer medication for several weeks, along with a high fat supplement and small amount of fortified grain. He was also supplemented with alfalfa hay along with grass hay through the winter months in which he was blanketed. He is slowly starting to put weight back on but riding is limited since he gets sore more easily even with a well-padded blanket and saddle and I’ve been working him over poles to help build his topline. Do you have any other suggestions on what we could be offering him, nutrition-wise, to gain weight and keep it on?

Answer:It sounds like you’re doing everything right not only get to the bottom of why your horse might be losing weight in the first place as well as to get that weight back on safely. I’m sure the vets already mentioned dental care and parasite control to you, and maybe tested for other underlying medical conditions in addition to documenting his body condition score and body weight.

Since it appears that he checked out fine, the next item on my list is food quantity and quality. What was the quantity (in pounds) and quality of hay at his original facility? Was there any access to pasture? What was the quantity and quality of grain at the previous location and how does all of this compare to what he is receiving now?

Item number two is living environment. Don’t forget that he lost all his buddies in the move and had to make totally new ones, two stressful events for horses. In addition, is he able to eat in peace and quiet at the new place or are younger, stronger, more dominant horses driving him off his food or making him constantly worry and look over his shoulder? Horses can burn a lot of calories when meal-time = stress-time.

Let’s face it, some breeds are harder to put weight on than others, such as Thoroughbreds. And certainly as horses age into their teens and twenties their bodies begin to function less efficiently. However, this doesn’t mean that certain breeds or older horses have to be thin. It just means that they may need more veterinary care and improved diet and management to keep up their weight, like switching to a complete (senior) feed from regular fortified grain, adding beet pulp, or providing digestive support such as yeast, prebiotics, and probiotics.

Although sometimes we never uncover the reason(s) for a horse to have difficulty keeping weight on, that doesn’t mean we aren’t able to stay on top of it with the additional measures you’ve already incorporated or trying some of the ones mentioned here.