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Feeding the Starved Horse

Dr. Martin Adams, Equine Nutritionist for Southern States

Horses that have been the subject of abuse or neglect will be in a starved condition. Remarkably, horses can lose 30% or more of their body weight and still survive. Horses in this condition will have very little muscle mass remaining and will be very weak. They will need much love and attention to regain their trust, and a sound nutrition program to get them back into proper body condition.

Start by providing the horse with good quality hay, water and a mineral/vitamin supplement like EquiMin Horse Mineral in block or granular form. Feed good quality alfalfa or grass hay. Provide plenty of hay, 11/2 to 2% of the horse's body weight daily (12-16 pounds daily for an 800-pound horse), and no grain for two weeks. For older horses (20 years or more) with poor tooth condition, the ability to chew long-stemmed hay may be lost.

Start grain feeding slowly, remember the horse has not been fed grain for a long time and its digestive system needs time to adjust. Start out by feeding only one pound of grain twice daily. Gradually increase the amount of grain by adding one pound per day until feeding 1/2% of the horse's body weight daily. Feeding this amount of grain and plenty of hay will allow for a slow and gradual weight gain. Bringing a starved horse to normal body condition will take three to six months, depending on the level of weight loss. Keep increasing the amount of hay and grain as the horse's weight increases, feeding 1/2% of body weight in grain and 1 1/2% as good quality grass hay.

Once the horse has regained some strength and has become familiar with its surrounding, check with your veterinarian about health care. Your vet may advise you to only use a half dose of dewormer the first time you treat the horse for internal parasites. A massive die-off of parasites in the horse with using a full dose of dewormer could trigger a bout of colic due to an anaphylactic reaction. A dental checkup is also in order, as this has likely not been done in a long time. Your veterinarian may also discover other health problems that your neglected horse may need treatment. Contact your farrier about hoof care as well, this could likely be an area that needs to be addressed.

At the end of many months you will be rewarded with a healthy horse that can provide you with many years of love and loyal service.

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