Equine Obesity & Joints
Just like in humans, obesity in horses can lead to a number of health issues and diseases such as laminitis and equine metabolic syndrome. It can be a challenge to keep the weight of a ‘good doer’ down to a healthy level but with the right management and diet it should be achievable.
There are also diseases that can exacerbate obesity so always speak to your vet for advice if you think your horse or pony is overweight. Once any diseases have been ruled out it is a good idea to speak to a nutritionist and to plan your horse’s routine, including exercise and turnout, with your vet.
Healthy weight loss should be gradual and plans put in place to keep the weight off once your horse reaches its target weight.
Several studies have found that obesity in horses is common and that owners often underestimate the prevalence of obesity in their animals. As obesity is an on-going welfare issue, several equine charities have launched awareness campaigns over the last few years to help to tackle the problem.
In certain areas of the equine industry it has even been considered desirable for certain types and breeds of horse and pony to carry extra weight to the detriment of their health. Many organisations are campaigning to tackle this welfare issue.
How do I assess my horse’s bodyweight?
If you don’t have access to a weigh bridge then using a weight tape will help you to keep track of your horses weight – just make sure you use the same one each time. Whilst weight tapes are not always accurate they will give you an estimate and allow you to keep track of weight loss or gain.
Condition scoring, which should be carried out weekly, is also important to monitor your horse’s weight. You give a score between one and five to the neck, ribs, pelvis and loins and then an overall score. Get hands on and feel for any pockets of fat or a cresty neck. One equals emaciated, three is good condition and five is obese. Half points are also given. Make sure you ask someone experienced to help you the first few times you carry out condition scoring. Also when you see your horse everyday it is useful to get a fresh pair of eyes to give their opinion.
Top Tip – The British Equine Veterinary Association have some great resources to help you monitor your horse’s weight; click here to find out more.
How does equine obesity affect the joints?
If a horse is carrying extra weight this increases wear and tear on the joints which leads to inflammation.
Inflammation is an essential and entirely natural process that initiates a cascade of responses. Whenever the body perceives its status has strayed from the norm – and this can be anything from infection to stress, obesity to Cushings – it releases pro-inflammatory markers. These can activate remedial measures, such as the immune response, repair mechanisms or simply protect specific areas from further dysfunction, until natural status has been restored. At that point anti-inflammatory markers, chemically very similar to their counterparts, reduce inflammation, allowing metabolic debris to be flushed away.
However, when there are chronic inflammatory situations, when inflammation is constantly invoked (for example in an obese horse), the cycle of repair becomes disrupted and inflammation can be a continuous problem. The most obvious example of this would be the wear and tear of joints, leading to osteoarthritis, but there are many other examples, such as obesity, IR and even ageing; in fact “inflamm-ageing” is a term being used in the academic press for age related inflammation. Even processes where the inflammation/anti-inflammation cycle is not compromised can benefit from support nutrition, muscle recovery after exercise being a prime example.
For the horse there are two main areas where inflammation may require some nutritional support; metabolic and degradative. Amongst the first category would be ageing, obesity (fat depots actually release pro-inflammatory adipokines), disorders such as IR & Cushings and muscle recovery. Examples of second category would include joint problems and laminitis.
Turmeric contains components that have a wide variety of metabolic actions but, in simple terms, help the body’s natural support and repair mechanisms. As such, turmeric is an ideal supplement for all horses, including those that have increased wear and tear on the joints.