We've all been there.

You plonk feed down infront of your horse and they aren't remotely interested.

Some times this might be a serious emergency and other times it isnt so let's talk about a few reasons why a horse wont eat.

Horse-lying-down-in-paddock

#1 - Colic its more than a stomach ache

Colic. Just the mention of it makes a horse owners blood run cold…it's the #1 killer of horses.

One of the first signs of a colicky horse is going off the feed. Not unlike us when we have a stomach ache, the belly hurts and he doesn’t want to put anything else in there.

The problem is that the horse does not have the ability to vomit its stomach contents like we can to alleviate the problem. Horses can colic due to many reasons - some much more serious than others. It can be trapped gas, having eaten something he should not have, ulcers, impaction, parasite migration or a twisted bowel.

A colicky horse will try to lie down, look at his flanks, sweat and have an elevated heart rate. This is an occasion that you need to call the vet immediately.

#2 - Pain of Ulcers

Gastric ulcers are being aggravated by the food he is eating, so very shortly he learns that if doesn’t eat, the pain of the ulcers is less.

A classic symptom of gastric ulcers is a horse that walks away from their meal intermittently while eating.

#3 - Dental care

Another possible cause of poor eating is the lack of dental care.

A horse’s teeth never quit growing, and if you don’t have his teeth cared for at least once a year, sharp points can form. Those points will cut into his gums every time he tries to chew his food.

Other things that can also happen are cracked or impacted teeth that get infected.

#4 - Stress

A horse needs to feel safe and secure before they can eat. Often horses arriving in new environments will become picky & less interested in their feed. This is because they are in a heightened state of stress (fight or flight) and are not feeling safe enough to eat.

During times like this it is a good idea to treat them with preventative doses of omeprazole and sucralfate. The stress will be releasing cortisol, and combined with an empty stomach can create the perfect storm for ulcers to form.

You can purchase these medications easily and affordably from our website. Visit the Store Page here.

#5 - Warm Weather

Occasionally horses will go off their feed in warm weather. Usually they will just have decreased food intake, however if they refuse food all together in hot weather - it can be an iminent sign of heatstroke.

It's important to ensure your horse is adquately hydrated during this time - so make sure you adjust your salt/electrolyte additives accordingly.

#6 - Other Illness

Often a vet's first question will be 'are they eating and drinking normally' - because reduced appetite, when combined with other issues can be early signs of a virus, infection or other illness.

Having a stethoscope and thermometer within easy access in the barn will help you be aware of your horses usual resting heart rate and temperature. That way, if you notice they are off their feed - you can quickly check to see if there are other indicators of illness (as both increased temperature and increased resting heart rate are indicators that things are not right).

 

#7 - Unpalatable Feed

Some horses are naturally more suspicious than others and can be easily put off if they don't like the taste of something new in their feed. The usual suspects are the addition of mineral mixes, salts & other supplementation.

If you've recently added something new to their feed, then this could very well be the cause. However, if nothing has changed in their feed and they've recently lost interest -  then it's more likely to be one of the above reasons.

 

What can you do to stimulate a horse's appetite?

If you're not convinced that it's time to call the vet, you can try these tricks to increase your horse's appetite.

Vitamin B

Vitamin B is a natural appetite stimulant for horses. A deficiency in B vitamins can result in reduced appetite and nervousness in horses.

Give and electrolyte boost

A dose of electrolyte paste will stimulate the horse to drink - and often their appetite returns once the horse is hydrated.

Brewers Yeast

Brewers yeast has the combined benefit of being tasty & appealing to horses - while being high in Vitamin B. It's a great inexpensive additive to have around the barn. Add a tablespoon of brewers yeast to a small feed to stimulate your horse's appetite. It can also be used ongoing as part of a balanced feeding regimen.

Offer Palatable Hay

Sometimes it seems like the 'richness' of hard feed is a bit overwhelming. A horse that turns it's nose up at a hard feed may well ravenously attack an offering of palatable hay like a slice of oaten or alfalfa. This can often settle the stomach and they will be more interested in hard feed after a decent serving of hay.

Treat for Ulcers

Sometimes a short course of of ulcer treatment is all that's needed to get the horse back on track.

Many barn owners are now keeping a supply of ulcer treatments on hand for those unexpected times when a horse is stressed, on box rest or goes off their feed. You can easily and affordably purchase equine ulcer medication from our website, with no prescription required. Check out the Shop Page for more information and current specials.