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3 HORSE GUT PROBLEMS SEEN IN WINTER AND HOW THEY COULD BE AVOIDED

Winter is the time where if you are having issues relating to your horses gut health and overall nutrition that you will likely see it! In this blog I will be discussing the three most common gut related problems I see as an equine veterinarian during winter.

Weight loss
In winter your horse requires extra energy to keep warm, and also there is often less pasture on the ground available. Weight loss during winter is most common in older horses who are not receiving the correct nutrition, have poor dentition (teeth care) or are suffering from untreated diseases such as Cushings. 

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

  • How are you compensating for the reduction in pasture available? 
    - Do you need to increase hay/feeds to account for this?
    - Is your horses ration formulated to ensure they have no vitamin/mineral deficiencies?
    - Are you looking after their gut health so that they are able to maximally absorb what they are eating? 
  • Have their teeth been checked and floated by an equine dental veterinarian?Horses aged 2-4.5 & 16 & 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 so quickly after having their teeth done. If you notice them dropping any feed, or large hay particles in their faeces then you can guarantee this is likely the problem.

Remember, Weight loss does not occur just because they are “old”, your old horse can be a healthy weight & shiny too.

Parasite burdens
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 horses faecal egg count checked & develop a strategy to keep your worm counts low. 

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 & many gut associated conditions. 

There is evidence to suggest that dewormers will cause damage to the microbiome of your horses gut 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.

Impaction colic
Impaction colic is definitely a condition I see an increase in, particularly at the beginning of winter. It is often due to insufficient water consumption, possibly due to not wanting to drink cold water (sore teeth in oldies). Monitor your horses water intake during weather changes & wet down their feed as much as possible to help it move smoothly through the digestive tract. 

Including salt in your horse's feed (amount will depend on what else you are feeding), is important to ensure they are drinking enough. If you live in a particularly cold area ensure that your water is not frozen over in the morning.

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

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