Obesity in Horses: A Link to Lameness
This article was originally published on August 21, 2012 and expired on September 30, 2012. It is provided here for archival purposes and may contain dated information.
As in people, dogs,
and cats, obesity in horses is both common and commonly overlooked. And just as
in other species, obesity in horses brings with it serious health
About half of all
pleasure horses in the United States are overweight, according to sources cited
by Dr. Scott Austin, an equine veterinarian at the University of Illinois
Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana, who delivers primary care services on
"Recent studies have reported that between 49 percent
and 54 percent of pleasure horses are overweight," says Dr. Austin, "and one of
these articles found that 20 percent of the overweight horses are classified as
Dr. Austin points to many causes
of obesity, including genetic factors, overfeeding, and a more sedentary lifestyle.
Certain breeds of horses and ponies seem to be predisposed to obesity or
regional fat accumulation in the neck or rump. These "easy keepers" are able to
maintain body weight while ingesting relatively fewer calories than herd-mates.
"When you combine genetic
predisposition to obesity with lack of exercise and extra calories, either in
the form of concentrates added to the forage or as unlimited access to lush
pasture, the result is an obese horse," says Dr. Austin, who is board certified
in equine internal medicine.
Obesity has been associated with
increased strain on bones and tendons and with exercise intolerance.
Uncontrolled obesity can lead to metabolic disturbances such as insulin
resistance, which plays a major role in pasture-associated laminitis. Laminitis
is an extremely painful condition that causes damage to weight-supporting
structures of the horse's hoof and may result in chronic, debilitating
This triad of obesity or
regional fat accumulation, insulin resistance, and laminitis is known as
"equine metabolic syndrome."
Horse owners should consult with
their veterinarian to identify and manage overweight in horses. "Veterinarians
can evaluate the horse's body condition and estimate its body weight," says Dr.
Austin. "They can also detect and treat diseases associated with overweight,
such as equine Cushing's disease, insulin resistance, and sub-acute, or
For the optimal health of your
horse, consult your equine veterinarian for a program of exercise, diet, and
medical treatment tailored to the needs of your horse.
Related site - Equine Primary Care Service at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital
An archive of
Pet Columns from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine is
available online at http://vetmed.illinois.edu/petcolumns/.
Requests for reprints of this article may be directed to Chris Beuoy, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pull date: September 30, 2012