Horses - Diet and Nutrition/Feeding an older horse?
I have a 19 year old Arabian gelding. It is winter at the moment and I am a bit worried as he is not gaining weight and seems to be very slowly losing it, I think it has to do with his diet aswell as the cold. Should I be giving him senior feed with other stuff (If so what e.g. chaff etc.)?
Apart from his weight he is perfectly healthy. I am getting the vet out next week to help me but what do you think? He isn't emaciated or anything just skinnier than he should be.
Thank you for your question. Winter can certainly raise havoc with a horse's energy balance, especially for older horses dealing with the elements. Horses require more energy in cold temperatures, they need to generate more heat to maintain core body temperature and they do that from energy in the diet. Having your vet out is always a good idea, as there are non-diet related issues that can cause weight loss. Your vet will likely check your horse's teeth to ensure dentition is not at the root of his weight loss, and you will want to ensure your horse isn't battling a parasite load.
If you are feeding dry hay over the winter, there is always a chance that the energy density of your feed is causing weight loss. Having your winter forage sampled annually helps plan for the winter ration. If diet is at the root of your gelding's weight loss, you will want to supplement his hay with a more energy dense feed. In increasing the ration's energy density, I always prefer to use more energy dense forages first rather than adding a lot of grain. Especially when its not a growing or performance horse. You may want to start by adding beet pulp or hay cubes (alfalfa, alfalfa/timothy, or timothy)to the ration. Start by feeding a few pounds per day of each and allow a few weeks for improvement. If, after a few weeks, you feel he needs more energy look to a low starch, fat and fiber based alternative. A senior feed is a good alternative although they are traditionally not really high in fat. But I'm not sure that at 19 your gelding is truly a senior yet. The feeding instructions on complete feeds will help guide you with how much you need to feed. As always, make sure your horse has access to unlimited clean water and salt. I prefer feeding loose salt free choice or mixed in the feed (1/8 cup per day is good starting level) but at the very least make sure he has a salt block. It is amazing how increasing salt intake helps with both body condition and coat condition in horses.