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Why is My Horse Losing Weight? Causes and Solutions

Last updated: June 21, 2023

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

A horse’s overall health and well-being are directly tied to maintaining a healthy weight. Ensuring your equine companion stays within a suitable weight range is crucial for optimal performance, longevity, and happiness.

Weight loss in horses can occur for various reasons, some of which may be more easily identified than others. Common causes include inadequate nutrition, dental issues, parasite infestations, health problems, and the natural aging process. Identifying and addressing the root cause is crucial for restoring a healthy weight.

Understanding the reasons behind your horse losing weight is crucial for creating an effective plan to tackle the issue. By pinpointing the cause and implementing targeted solutions, you can help your horse achieve a healthy weight and prevent additional complications. This article provides valuable insights into the various causes of equine weight loss and offers practical strategies for aiding your horse’s recovery.

Importance of Maintaining a Healthy Weight for Horses

A horse at its ideal weight can more effectively manage the physical demands of work, sport, or leisure activities, ensuring optimal performance and endurance. Keeping a horse’s weight at its optimal level is crucial to prevent various health issues that may arise from continued weight loss.

For example, a horse that is underweight may face joint problems due to insufficient muscle support, exacerbating conditions like arthritis. Metabolic disorders, such as insulin resistance and laminitis, can also develop in horses that can’t maintain a proper weight.

A weakened immune system is another consequence of weight loss, making your horse more susceptible to infections and diseases. Furthermore, an underweight horse may become infertile, which could be problematic for breeding purposes.

Lastly, a horse that can’t maintain a healthy weight may suffer from decreased energy levels, making it challenging for them to engage in their usual activities and enjoy a fulfilling life. By ensuring your horse stays a healthy weight, you can reduce the risk of these issues and provide them with the best possible quality of life.

Picture of my horse losing weight over time.
My horse recently began losing weight.

Causes of Weight Loss in Horses

Understanding the root causes of weight loss in horses is crucial for addressing the issue and helping your equine companion regain optimal health. However, it can sometimes be quite challenging to pinpoint the cause of a horse’s weight loss, as I experienced firsthand with one of my horses.

Despite our best efforts to help him maintain a healthy weight, he continued to drop pounds. We tried various solutions and consulted our veterinarian, who couldn’t find any underlying health issues. At my wit’s end, I decided to have a chiropractor examine him.

To my surprise, the chiropractor discovered some soreness around our horse’s dock. After performing an adjustment, we noticed a significant change in our horse’s condition. Gradually, he began to put weight back on and thrive once again.

This experience is a reminder that the cause of a horse’s weight loss can sometimes be elusive, and exploring alternative approaches may be necessary to identify and address the issue effectively. With this precaution in mind, here are some of the most common reasons for equine weight loss:

A. Inadequate nutrition

One of the primary reasons horses lose weight is due to inadequate nutrition. This can happen for several reasons:

  1. Poor quality feed: Low-quality feed often lacks essential nutrients, making it difficult for horses to maintain a healthy weight. Be sure to provide high-quality hay or feed that meets your horse’s dietary needs.
  2. Insufficient feed intake: Not consuming enough food can lead to weight loss in horses. Monitor your horse’s eating habits, ensuring they consume the appropriate amount of feed for their age, size, and activity level.
  3. Malabsorption issues: Sometimes, horses may struggle to absorb nutrients from their food, resulting in weight loss. Malabsorption can be caused by gastrointestinal problems, infections, or even stress. Consult a veterinarian if you suspect malabsorption is the issue.

B. Dental problems

Dental issues can significantly impact a horse’s ability to maintain a healthy weight.

  1. Tooth pain: Horses with tooth pain may avoid eating, leading to weight loss. Regular dental check-ups can help detect and address such issues early.
  2. Difficulty chewing: Horses with misaligned or overgrown teeth may struggle to chew their food properly, resulting in poor nutrient absorption and weight loss.
  3. Proper dental care: Regular dental exams and maintenance are vital to ensure your horse can chew and digest food effectively, helping to maintain a healthy weight.
Picture of horses in the woods.

C. Parasite infestations

Parasites can also contribute to weight loss in horses.

  1. Internal parasites: Worms and other internal parasites can deprive your horse of essential nutrients, leading to weight loss.
  2. External parasites: Ticks, lice, and mites can cause irritation, anemia, and decreased appetite, resulting in weight loss.
  3. Routine parasite control: Regular deworming and external parasite prevention are crucial for keeping your horse healthy and maintaining their weight.

D. Health issues

Various health issues can cause weight loss in horses.

  1. Chronic illnesses: Conditions like Cushing’s disease, liver or kidney problems, or metabolic disorders can lead to weight loss.
  2. Infections: Bacterial, viral, or fungal infections can cause decreased appetite and weight loss in horses.
  3. Stress: Horses experiencing stress may lose weight due to reduced feed intake or increased energy demands.

E. Aging

As horses age, they may face challenges in maintaining their weight.

  1. Decreased metabolism: Older horses often have slower metabolisms, requiring adjustments to their diet to maintain weight.
  2. Muscle loss: Aging horses may lose muscle mass, contributing to weight loss and the need for a modified exercise and feeding regimen.
  3. Special care for senior horses: Providing tailored nutrition, exercise, and regular health check-ups can help older horses maintain a healthy weight and age gracefully.

Understanding the various causes of weight loss in horses is crucial for maintaining their health and well-being. Sometimes, a horse may consume a sufficient amount of feed but continue to lose weight. This can be attributed to the food lacking proper nutrition or issues with digestion and metabolism.

On the other hand, some horses stop eating altogether and lose weight due to reasons like pain while eating, an illness that suppresses appetite, or poor-quality feed that they refuse to consume. By being aware of these causes and addressing them accordingly, you can help your equine companion maintain a healthy weight and lead a fulfilling life.

horse weight loss edited scaled
A Two-Year-Old filly that needs to gain weight

Solutions for Equine Weight Loss

Horses, much like humans, are individuals with unique needs and requirements. While general guidelines can be helpful, it’s sometimes necessary to think outside the box and explore unconventional solutions tailored to your horse’s specific circumstances.

As I previously shared, our horse managed to regain weight and return to optimal health through chiropractic care, demonstrating the importance of considering alternative approaches. As horse owners, our goal is to ensure our equine companions lead healthy, happy lives.

When confronted with the challenge of equine weight loss, having a clear understanding of potential solutions is crucial to help your horse regain optimal health and well-being.

A. Nutrition management

Addressing weight loss in horses often involves providing a balanced diet with high-quality feed to meet their specific nutritional needs. Some practical solutions include offering hay types known to promote weight gain, such as alfalfa or other high-quality legume hays.

Incorporating grains, like oats, corn, or barley, can provide additional calories and energy, but it’s essential to do so gradually and in moderation to avoid digestive issues. Beet pulp is an excellent option for promoting weight gain in horses, as it is a highly digestible fiber source that provides slow-release energy without the risk of overloading on starches.

It can be soaked and added to your horse’s regular feed to increase caloric intake. In addition to these adjustments, it’s a good idea to consult an equine nutritionist for expert guidance on optimizing your horse’s nutritional plan according to its age, activity level, and any specific dietary requirements.

B. Dental care

Proper dental care is crucial for maintaining a horse’s weight, as it directly impacts its ability to chew and digest food effectively. When a horse cannot chew properly, grains and other feed may pass through its system without being adequately broken down, preventing nutrient absorption and leading to weight loss. Additionally, dental pain can cause a horse to refuse to eat, further exacerbating the issue.

Scheduling routine dental exams is essential for early detection and addressing potential dental issues before they become more severe. Procedures like teeth floating help remove sharp edges and ensure even wear, contributing to effective chewing mechanics. Prompt treatment of dental problems not only prevents further complications and discomfort but also allows the horse to eat without pain, ensuring they receive the necessary nutrients to maintain a healthy weight.

C. Parasite control

Parasite infestations are another factor that can contribute to weight loss in horses. Internal parasites, such as worms, can rob your horse of essential nutrients by competing for the available resources, leading to malnutrition and weight loss. External parasites, including ticks, lice, and mites, can cause irritation and anemia, which in turn can decrease your horse’s appetite and result in further weight loss.

Implementing routine parasite control measures is crucial for maintaining your horse’s health and weight. Regular deworming, as advised by your veterinarian, can help keep internal parasites in check. Similarly, proper external parasite prevention methods, such as grooming, checking for ticks, and using appropriate insecticides, can minimize the risk of infestation and ensure that your horse remains healthy and well-nourished.

Picture of a two year old filly.
Yearling Filly

D. Addressing health issues

Addressing health issues is a key factor in preventing weight loss in horses and ensuring their overall well-being. Regular veterinary check-ups play a crucial role in monitoring your horse’s health, allowing for early detection and treatment of any potential problems that could impact their weight.

Prompt treatment of illnesses is essential for minimizing the negative effects on your horse’s health and weight. Timely intervention and appropriate care can help your horse recover more quickly and maintain a healthy weight.

Additionally, implementing stress reduction strategies can benefit your horse’s mental and physical health. Maintaining a consistent routine, providing adequate socialization with other horses, and ensuring a comfortable living environment can help alleviate stress, which in turn can prevent weight loss caused by stress-related factors.

E. Caring for aging horses

Caring for aging horses is essential to help them maintain a healthy weight as their bodies undergo natural changes. Senior horses require specialized care, including tailored nutritional plans that address their unique needs. A customized feeding plan should consider factors such as dental health, metabolic changes, and digestive efficiency to ensure they receive the necessary nutrients.

Regular exercise and muscle maintenance are also crucial for older horses. Implementing an age-appropriate exercise routine can help maintain muscle mass and overall health while also taking into consideration any physical limitations or joint issues the horse may face.

Specialized senior horse care involves regular health check-ups and monitoring for age-related issues. This includes timely veterinary visits and any necessary dietary adjustments to ensure that your aging horse receives the appropriate care to maintain a healthy weight and enjoy a comfortable, fulfilling life.

Conclusion: Why is My Horse Losing Weight?

A horse losing weight can be a cause for concern, but understanding the various factors contributing to this issue is crucial for their overall well-being and happiness. By identifying the causes of equine weight loss, such as inadequate nutrition, dental problems, parasite infestations, health issues, and aging, you can take proactive measures to address these concerns.

Implementing targeted solutions, like nutrition management, dental care, parasite control, addressing health issues, and providing specialized care for aging horses, can help your equine companion regain and maintain a healthy weight. Remember that consistent monitoring and care are essential to ensuring your horse’s long-term health and happiness.


What can cause rapid weight loss in a horse?

Rapid weight loss in horses can be caused by severe malnutrition, sudden changes in diet, serious health issues, high parasite infestations, or extreme stress.

Can worms in horses cause weight loss?

Yes, internal parasites or worms can cause weight loss in horses by competing for nutrients, damaging the digestive system, and affecting overall health. Implement a routine deworming plan to keep your horse worm free.

What is the best feed for weight gain in horses?

The best feed for weight gain depends on the individual horse’s needs. High-quality forage, calorie-dense feeds like beet pulp, and balanced fat and protein supplements can help promote weight gain. Consult an equine nutritionist for personalized recommendations.

Miles Henry