A horse that refuses to eat and drink is not something that you can brush off casually.
Ensure the food and water are clean and fresh before checking your horse for medical conditions. In some cases, the horse might lose appetite due to stress or exhaustion. Other times, it might simply be due to the horse being a picky eater.
In this article, you will learn why your horse is not eating or drinking, how to help your horse resume consumption, and how to check if your horse is dehydrated.
Why your horse is not eating or drinking (5 reasons)
#1: Picky eater
You may have a horse that is a picky eater. If you changed your horse’s diet recently and have noticed that they have stopped eating, then you may have a picky eater.
It could be due to the smell or texture of the feed that irritates the horse; it could also be supplements or medications that you’re putting into the grain that causes your horse to stop eating.
Try to stay consistent and determine what type of food your horse enjoys to prevent this behavior.
#2: Unpalatable water
Your horse may not want to drink the water because it is unclean. Most horses will not drink water unless it is clean, so it is essential that they have access to fresh water and clean water buckets.
Your horse may not drink water because it is too hot or cold. Try having a heated water bucket or submersible heater during freezing temperatures.
There are many reasons your horse may be anxious, and it is essential to know what is causing them stress when they stop eating.
A few reasons your horse is not eating could be due to separation from the herd, boredom with diet, dull routine, or bullying within the herd.
The above reasons can cause a horse to lose its appetite, so make sure you keep an eye on your horse if you decide to make any changes in its routine.
Your horse may be exhausted from working hard in the arena or the weather. When horses become exhausted, they tend to lose their appetite.
High-intensity exercise can deplete energy stores, cause loss of electrolytes, and dehydration.
Hot weather can also cause your horse to become dehydrated, which can decrease your horse’s appetite.
#5: Medical condition
Your horse may not want to drink or eat due to a medical condition. Medical conditions that cause this are colic, gastric ulcers, colds, dental issues, choking, diarrhea, or injury.
Most of these conditions involve abdominal pain making your horse lose interest in eating or drinking.
It is essential to contact your vet if you believe your horse is experiencing one of these medical conditions to figure out a way to treat your horse.
How to help your horse eat or drink? (8 tips)
Tip 1: Good mix of fresh ingredients
If your horse is a picky eater, it may help to add some new ingredients to their feed. These fresh ingredients should smell and taste good to help them eat normally.
There are a few ingredients that you can add to your horse’s food, including bran, honey, molasses, applesauce, grated carrot or apple, brewers yeast, or lucerne chaff.
You can find most of these ingredients at your grocery or feed store.
If you constantly feed your horse treats, then take treats out of the equation. Those treats might be causing them to lose interest in their staple food.
Tip 2: Add new ingredients slowly
Your horse may be a picky eater due to you changing feed ingredients. If you’ve recently added supplements, medicine, salt, or any of the ingredients above and your horse has lost their appetite, then try to take those ingredients out.
It may be best to feed your horse a simple diet and slowly re-introduce more ingredients into their feed.
When re-introducing supplements, it may help to do so one at a time.
Start with good quality hay the horse wants to graze upon. Gradually add supplements, medication, salt, or other ingredients to their feed. Leave around two days between adding new ingredients into your horse’s diet.
If your horse has B1 deficiency and has lost its appetite, then keep the vitamin B1 in its diet and take out the other supplements until your horse has a healthy appetite again.
Tip 3: Add salt and mineral block
If your horse’s sodium levels are low, the body will strive to keep the sodium from flushing out of the system by avoiding water.
Try incorporating a salt and mineral block if your horse does not want to drink as much. The added salt and minerals can help them become thirsty while boosting your horse’s sodium levels.
It is essential to provide adequate amounts of sodium during times of need, such as intense exercise and extreme temperatures, whether hot or cold.
This is because your horse will drink more water and lose sodium during those times.
Salt and mineral blocks can help replenish sodium and electrolytes while managing muscles, nerve functions, and reactions.
However, ensure your horse is not getting too much sodium into their diet because it will lead to losing appetite or licking habits.
Tip 4: Provide electrolyte supplements
Electrolytes are minerals that affect neuromuscular function. Your horse may be exhausted due to the loss of electrolytes during prolonged exercise.
Loss of electrolytes can also compromise performance or cause serious health issues. It can be exacerbated when exercising in the heat.
It may help to add electrolyte supplements to your horse’s diet, which can be used before, during, and after exercise or as a daily routine. Adding these supplements will help your horse from dehydration and lack of appetite.
Tip 5: Ensure clean, fresh water
Your horse may not be drinking due to unpalatable water. Providing fresh water in your horse’s stall and the pasture is essential. Ensure that the bucket and trough are clean before adding the fresh water.
Another way to provide fresh water for your horse is by having automatic waterers. It is convenient to offer fresh water outside or inside. You might need to show your horse how to use an automatic waterer properly at first.
Automatic waterers will need to be cleaned and refilled daily due to them becoming filled with insects, leaves, and bacteria.
In addition, all containers should be scrubbed weekly to prevent algae and debris from contaminating your horse’s water.
Tip 6: Calming supplements
If your horse has anxiety and will not eat, then calming supplements might help them. There are many calming supplements to choose from, such as:
- B vitamins
- valerian root
It is essential to evaluate and understand your horse’s behavior before giving it a calming supplement.
Areas to eliminate before choosing a calming supplement include health conditions, training issues, and dietary imbalances.
It is also important to speak with your veterinarian about each supplement.
Tip 7: Reduce training schedule
Your horse may be exhausted and not want to eat or drink due to overtraining or overworking. If your horse does not want to eat, it may help if you give it some time off and gradually build up to intense training.
Ensure you keep an eye on your horse if you’re progressing with their training. As they become more fit, your horse may require more significant portions of hard feed and less forage.
If you provide them with rest days and they are still not eating, add the right supplements to give them the nutrients they need.
Tip 8: Talk to veterinarian
If you have tried the above suggestions and the horse is still not consuming food and water, then it might be time to contact your veterinarian.
Your horse may have a medical condition that needs extra attention.
Suppose your horse has a medical condition and has stopped eating and drinking due to adding medications. In that case, it might help by mixing it with something tasty in a large syringe and administering it directly to your horse’s mouth after their meal.
They most likely won’t lose their appetite if you provide the medication after their mealtime.
After trying out this tip and your horse is still not eating or drinking, it is best to contact your veterinarian.
How to check for dehydration?
An easy way to see if your horse is dehydrated is by doing a skin tenting test. If your horse’s skin tissue has a high percentage of water, then it will be elastic.
When a horse is dehydrated, its skin tissue becomes sticky and moves slowly, making it less likely to spring back after pinching.
To perform a skin tenting test, you must squeeze your horse’s skin at its shoulder, pull it upwards into a tent-like shape, and then release it.
If you notice your horse’s skin flattening out right away, your horse is hydrated; but if it takes a little longer to flatten out, it is dehydrated.
Your horse may be dehydrated due to lethargy. This could signify dehydration if you notice your horse being quieter than usual after working hard in the arena.
It is essential to offer your horse water and electrolytes immediately after you see this because if it is left unprevented, there could be significant problems such as accumulating a disease.
A few signs to look out for include hanging lip, lowered head, not eating, and standing in the corner of their stall or paddock without interest in anything going on around them.
Red mucous membranes
A hydrated and healthy horse will have pink gums; however, if you notice your horse’s gums reddening around the teeth and the rest is pale, that suggests that your horse is dehydrated.
This can cause your horse to have blood loss, anemia, or infection.
There is a way to check your horse’s gums to see if it is dehydrated. Push on your horse’s gums and then release pressure.
Your horse’s gums should turn pink in a few seconds; however, if it takes longer, your horse may be dehydrated.
Loss of appetite
You may notice that your horse has lost its appetite, which may be due to dehydration. Horses tend to lose their appetite when dehydrated because it is related to when they do not feel well.
However, it could also be due to other underlying physical issues such as colic or intestinal pain, causing insufficient electrolytes.
Make sure to keep an eye on your horse during feeding time. If your horse is not eating correctly, check to see if they are dehydrated.
Understanding why your horse may not be eating or drinking is the first step to finding a solution.
They may be anxious or exhausted, meaning you might need to change their training routine, add supplements, or change their nutrition.
If you believe your horse is dehydrated, you can check your horse for signs of lethargy, skin tenting, red or pale gums, or lack of appetite.
Talking with your veterinarian may help you figure out what is causing your horse not to eat or drink. They may help you find treatment for your horse if they have a medical condition that could cause a lack of appetite or dehydration.
Lastly, evaluating your horse daily is the best way to find out if your horse is healthy and happy.