How to Identify a Malnourished Horse


A malnourished horse is one that has not been provided adequate food and water for an extended period of time. When horses are deprived of essential nutrients, they suffer both physically and psychologically, and may show physical evidence as well as personality changes. It is important that horse owners recognize a malnourished horse immediately so they can begin the recovery process.

Examine the horse's hooves. A malnourished horse will generally suffer from cracked or broken hooves, and the hoof walls will be soft to the touch. They might crumble when the horse walks on a hard surface, such as concrete.

Look at the horse's coat. In most cases, malnourished horses will have patches of missing hair and dry, flaky skin with sores. Because he is not receiving adequate nutrition, the coat is often the first casualty.

Evaluate the animal's habitat. It is sometimes possible to identify a malnourished horse simply by seeing where he lives. Sparse grass, inadequate water supply and no additional feed (such as hay or grain) indicate that the horse is not being fed as he should.

Recognize protruding bones as a clear indicator of a malnourished horse. The shoulder, rib and hip bones will likely be the most prominent, though the jaw bones are likely to protrude as well. He might look as though his skin has simply been stretched over his skeleton if he has been underfed for a long time.

Run your hands through the mane and tale. On a malnourished horse, these hairs will be dry and brittle, even if they have grown long. The hair may also be discolored from long days under the sun and from insufficient nutrients.

Schedule a veterinary check-up. A malnourished horse will likely have contracted parasites and other diseases that contribute to his condition, and in some cases, they may even be the cause. A full veterinary evaluation will identify any ailments and you can begin treatment.

Listen to the animal's chest. An underfed and malnourished horse is more likely to suffer from respiratory problems than a normal, healthy animal. You might hear wheezing when the horse exhales or a wet, rattling sound when the horse inhales.

Watch the horse walk, trot and canter, if he is able. Malnourishment removes fat from the bones, muscles and joints, resulting in difficulty with movement. The horse might be lame or simply stiff, but will be obviously uncomfortable.

Spend time with the horse. Even though malnourishment is a physical condition, it can also affect the horse's mind and personality. He will likely be withdrawn, sensitive to the touch, frightened, startled by loud noises and generally unfriendly.

Tips & Warnings

  • Quarantine a malnourished horse so that parasites and diseases cannot be spread to other animals.
  • Be careful around malnourished horses. Their condition might lead to aggression, including biting and kicking.

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