Avoiding 3 Common Horse Gut Health Problems in Winter

Avoiding 3 Common Horse Gut Health Problems in Winter

Avoiding 3 Common Horse Gut Health Problems in Winter

Dr Nikita Stibbard, BVetSci/VetBio (Hons)
Richmond River Equine Veterinary Services

If you are having issues relating to your horse's gut health and overall nutrition, Winter is when you will most likely see it most! Here are the three most common equine gut health related problems I see as an equine veterinarian during winter.

Your horse loses weight

In winter your horse requires extra energy to keep warm, and also there is often less pasture available. Weight loss during winter is most serious in older horses who are not receiving the correct nutrition, have poor dentition (teeth care) or are suffering from untreated diseases such as Cushings, but many horses will naturally lose weight in winter due to the higher demands on their energy reserves. 

If you find that your horse is losing weight every winter, consider the following: 

1. How are you compensating for the reduction in pasture available?

  • Do you need to increase their forage and hard feed?
  • Is your horse's daily feed ration formulated to ensure they have no vitamin or mineral deficiencies?
  • Are you looking after their gut health so that they are able to maximally digest and absorb what they are eating?
  • Have their teeth been checked and floated by an equine dental veterinarian?
    Horses aged 2 - 4.5 and 16 years and above require more frequent dental checks (6 monthly). I find dental issues are the most common reason I see for weight loss in older horses. It can be as simple as removing some sharp points that are ulcerating the cheeks as they chew, or there may be a tooth fracture or tooth root abscess preventing them from chewing effectively due to pain. It’s amazing to see how some of these horses pile weight on very quickly after having their teeth done. If you notice your horse is dropping any feed, or see large hay particles in their faeces, you can be sure this is likely to be the problem.

Remember, horses do not just lose weight just because they are “old”. Your old horse can be a healthy weight and shiny too.

Your horse has a parasite burden

Something I have been seeing a lot this winter due to the recent rain dumping along the east coast is massive parasite burdens (up to 8000epg). Parasites absolutely love humid and wet conditions. During wet years it is more important than ever to get your horse's faecal egg count checked and develop a strategy to keep your worm counts low. Talk with your vet about worming frequency and pasture rotation strategies.

High worm counts can result in ‘leaky gut syndrome’ as the worms burrow into the lining of the gut. This can result in colic, colitis, peritonitis and many gut associated conditions. 

There is evidence to suggest that dewormers will cause damage to the microbiome of your horses gut, and over-worming is a global issue - so it is important to use faecal egg counts and good pasture management to ensure that you have to use as little of these dewormers as possible. If you need to use a dewormer, make sure you're supporting your horse's gut with a great product like Digestive EQ, or even give them a dose of Stress Paste 12 hours later.

Your horse experiences impaction colic

Impaction colic is definitely a condition I'm seeing an increase in, particularly at the beginning of winter. It is often due to insufficient water consumption, possibly due to horses not wanting to drink cold water (especially if they are oldies with sore teeth).

Monitor your horses water intake during weather changes and wet down their feed as much as possible to help it move smoothly through the digestive tract. 

Including salt in your horse's daily feed is important to ensure they are drinking enough (the amount will depend on what else you are feeding).

If you live in a particularly cold area, do ensure that your water is not frozen over in the morning.