Last Updated on December 31, 2021
At certain times in a horse’s life, you might find that he suddenly stops eating. This could be for a range of reasons, such as old age, ill health, or high levels of stress and anxiety. If you are worried that your horse has stopped eating, it is important to know how long he can go without food.
It could also be the case that your horse cannot eat for some reason – maybe for management restrictions or because of a medical problem. If this is the case, how long is it safe to withhold food from a horse?
How Long Can A Horse Go Without Eating Food?
The horse is a type of animal known as a non-ruminant herbivore. This means that it eats only plants, and digests most of its food intake in the large intestine.
The digestive system of a horse is adapted for them to eat slowly for long periods. Watch your horse in the field, and you will see him grazing for hours at a time. This is called trickle grazing and means the gastrointestinal system is adapted to process a slow and steady supply of food.
But how long can a horse go without eating food? A horse shouldn’t spend more than 6 to 8 hours a day without food. So this means that you should split his daily food rations into two or more meals, that are eaten over several hours or more. This means that he will have access to food for as many hours of the day as possible.
What Happens If A Horse Goes Too Long Without Eating Food?
If a horse goes too long without food, it is at risk of developing painful and long-term health problems such as gastric ulcers. The horse may also overeat when it is allowed to access food, leading to colic, choke, or laminitis.
My Horse Won’t Eat – What Should I Do?
The first thing to do if your horse stops eating is to rule out any health problems. If your horse seems dull, depressed, or is showing any other signs of ill health, contact your veterinarian immediately.
If your horse seems otherwise fit and well, he may be refusing to eat because he is stressed. Make sure he is in an environment where he feels settled and safe, and make sure he has other equine friends for company.
You can try tempting your horse to eat by offering different foods or taking him out for a walk to graze on lush grass. However, if your horse’s appetite does not quickly return to normal you must seek veterinary advice.
What Causes Weight Loss In Horses?
If your horse has gone without food, you might be tempted to start feeding him more. But what is the safest way to do this?
Before starting to increase your horse’s food, you need to decide whether he truly needs to put on weight. This means that first, you need to figure out the reason why he has lost weight.
The energy requirements of horses change through the seasons. They also have different nutritional requirements depending on the age of the horse. Therefore, at certain stages in a horse’s life, you might think that your horse needs to be fed more food. Here are the main reasons why a horse might start to lose weight:
Horses that are doing a lot of exercise need an energy input to match! If a horse is working hard every day he needs to consume a lot of calories, otherwise, he will quickly start to lose weight.
Check Out How Long Can Horses Go Without Water?
As a horse gets older, it is less able to process nutrients efficiently. This means that they will find it harder to maintain their weight. Geriatric horses can also have poor teeth, making it difficult to chew and digest food.
Older horses can suffer from underlying health problems, such as Cushing’s disease. This can cause them to quickly become underweight.
Seasonal Weight Changes
It is completely normal for horses to gain and lose weight over the seasons. This imitates the natural cycle in the wild. Therefore, a horse will put on weight during the summer and lose it again through the cold winter months.
Many equine diseases will cause a horse to lose weight. These could include parasite infestations and chronic gastrointestinal disorders. Liver disease is also a common cause of weight loss in horses.
Best Methods To Put Weight On A Horse
To decide if you need to put weight on a horse, firstly assess its body condition score. This helps you to monitor the amount of weight your horse is carrying regularly. If your horse has a low body condition score, then you will need to adjust his diet to help him put on weight.
For horses who carry out a high level of exercise each day, you can increase their daily intake of high-energy concentrate feeds such as grains and cereals. This must be done gradually to avoid the risk of colic and rhabdomyolysis.
If you have an older horse that has lost weight, the first step is to rule out any underlying health or dental issues. A good way to put weight on an older horse is to give a more calorific feed. These include adding sugar beet, alfalfa, or vegetable oil to the feed twice daily.
For horses with seasonal weight loss, you need to increase the food and reduce their daily energy needs. This may mean that you need to reduce their daily exercise or adjust their accommodation.
If your horse has lost weight due to sickness or disease, ask your veterinarian to advise you on how to help your horse gain weight. Sick horses often have specific dietary requirements, and a qualified professional will be able to advise on the best food for your horse.
A simple way to help your horse gain weight is to reduce his daily energy requirements. So, if your horse is in work, consider reducing the amount of daily exercise until he has gained weight. In cold weather, keep your underweight horse as warm as possible with rugs and shelter from the weather.
So, as we have learned, horses can safely go without food for up to 8 hours. However, it is not safe for horses to be left without food for long periods regularly. This could cause health problems including gastric ulcers and colic.
We’d love to hear about your experiences – does your horse refuse to eat when he is stressed? Or maybe he eats his hay too quickly and is left without food for hours? Add a comment below this post and we’ll get back to you!
Kate Chalmers is a qualified veterinary nurse who has specialized in horse care for the vast majority of her career. She has been around horses since she was a child, starting out riding ponies and helping out at the local stables before going on to college to study Horse Care & Management. She has backed and trained many horses during her lifetime and competed in various equestrian sports at different levels.
After Kate qualified as a veterinary nurse, she provided nursing care to the patients of a large equine veterinary hospital for many years. She then went on to teach horse care and veterinary nursing at one of the top colleges in the country. This has led to an in-depth knowledge of the care needs of horses and their various medical ailments, as well as a life-long passion for educating horse owners on how to provide the best possible care for their four-legged friends.
Kate Chalmers BSc (Hons) CVN, Dip AVN (Equine) Dip HE CVN EVN VN A1 PGCE