EQUINE obesity is a global welfare concern with numerous associated health risks, not least laminitis. That’s why the makers of Spillers, via the Waltham Equine Studies Group, are working hard with collaborators worldwide to improve their understanding of equine obesity, with the ultimate aim of making it a problem of the past.
It’s common knowledge that obesity increases the risk of laminitis, but it also poses other health and welfare concerns. These include joint strain, respiratory stress, heat intolerance, an increased risk of certain types of colic, reduced fertility, an increased risk of OCD and insulin dysregulation in foals born to obese mares and increased ‘inflamm-aging’ – chronic low-grade inflammation associated with ageing.
The Spillers team and world leading collaborators are striving hard in many areas to develop knowledge to help manage equine waistlines and reduce the risk of obesity-related health and welfare concerns.
Over the past 20 years they have:
– Developed several, now commonly recommended, methods for monitoring condition, such as the cresty neck score and belly girth/ rump width measurements.
– Identified that weight loss may not initially result in a change in body condition score (BCS, especially in very obese ponies) – hence the need for other monitoring measurements.
– Validated Deuterium oxide dilution (a specialist clinical test) as the gold standard method for determining total body fat percentage in ponies. This has since been used in several studies, which has helped them to further the understanding of obesity.
– Produced evidence to support the recommendation that horses and ponies with a BCS of ≥7/9 should be considered obese, which has now become the globally accepted definition.
– Identified that some horses and ponies may be weight loss resistant – this means they may need greater calorie restriction to promote weight loss.
– Confirmed that obesity rates may be as high as 70% in some groups of leisure horses and ponies.
– Developed the body condition index (BCI), a method of assessing body fat similar to the body mass index (BMI) used in humans.
– Conducted the very first study to evaluate the effect of strip grazing on bodyweight.
– Evaluated the effect of grazing muzzles on pasture intake and bodyweight.
– Showed that the severity of calorie restriction may affect the rate of future weight gain – safe weight loss takes time!
– Identified that becoming obese does not always result in becoming insulin dysregulated – the source of excess calories in the diet may have more of an effect.
– Discovered that even small amounts of exercise may improve insulin sensitivity in overweight horses, even if it doesn’t result in additional weight loss.
– Detected certain characteristics in faeces that may be able to help predict which horses and ponies may be weight loss resistant.
– Found that in some weight loss resistance ponies, gut microflora involved in fibre digestion may be able to adapt to counteract a restricted diet.
“We are very proud of our ongoing work to increase our knowledge of obesity and related health risks and use it to provide practical support for horse owners,” said Spillers Product Manager, Sarah Nelson.
“We are now working on improving the accuracy of the BCI, so that it is even more valuable for those who prefer using measurements rather than the more subjective descriptions used for body condition scoring.
“We are also evaluating the effect of strip grazing on behaviour, pasture recovery and the WSC or ‘sugar’ content of the pasture and continuing to look at how diet influences weight management in ponies.”
For advice on feeding your good doer, contact the Spillers Care-Line on + 44 (0)1908 226626 or visit www.spillers-feeds.com. You can also join the Spillers Slimmers’ Club, which is helping more than 3,500 members address the problem of equine obesity in a positive way.
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