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Answer Exchange

  • Q:

    I own a four-month-old Quarter Horse filly with a body condition score of 3; she obviously needs to gain weight. She was born in a field to an unhandled mare, and I volunteered to take on this filly’s care. Unbeknownst to me, the filly was removed from her dam’s side, loaded into a trailer, and shipped to my farm all in a single day. Now, she’s habitually sad and stressed, to say the least. She has some filling in her hind legs and, though we try to hand-walk her several times a day, the filling is not subsiding. Right now, she spends about 20 hours a day in her stall with unlimited good-quality hay and the remainder in a small pasture by herself. Can you offer any nutritional or management tips for this filly?

  • A:

    Assuming she has a normal body temperature and has been evaluated thoroughly by a veterinarian for health and well-being, the primary recommendation is to offer more access to pasture in hopes of reducing the soft-tissue swelling in the hind limbs. In order to make her more comfortable and settled in the pasture, can you provide a companion animal such as a pony, donkey, or goat to help relieve stress? A companion can sometimes significantly improve the outlook of a horse, especially a young one whose world has been turned topsy-turvy.

    Even though weight gain is desired, it is important not to overfeed the filly. Adding weight to underweight foals should be a gradual process in order to reduce the risk of developmental problems that can result from rapid growth. You’re on track with the nutrition program. Providing good-quality forage is a great first step and will satisfy the filly’s desire to chew. Make sure to clear out any uneaten hay each day and replace with fresh, so it is the most palatable for her. In addition to forage, feed a concentrate (textured or pelleted) designed for foals, and follow the manufacturer’s feeding instructions to determine an appropriate amount. Work your way up to that amount gradually, usually over a period of seven to ten days.

    The stress this filly has endured early on definitely warrants nutritional immune support. Supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids is ideal because they contain anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties. DHA and EPA are the most  important omega-3s, and they are prevalent in certain fish oils. Kentucky Equine Research (KER) offers a research-based, deodorized fish oil called EO•3.

    Another beneficial supplement for horses under stress and in poor health is EquiShure. EquiShure works to buffer excessive acid in the cecum and colon, and to maintain a more stable environment in the hindgut for optimal digestion. Maintaining a more moderate pH in the hindgut promotes a robust microbial population, which is important for immune health. EquiShure supplementation has benefited many horses that have not been diagnosed with acidosis but have presented with suboptimal digestive health including those that are underweight. EquiShure has proven very helpful for foals during the stress of weaning, so I think it would be useful in this filly’s circumstances.

    Finally, have a conversation with your veterinarian about the filly’s deworming and vaccination schedule. Most veterinarians will suggest a fecal test to determine parasite burden and then an appropriate deworming agent, if necessary, will be recommended.

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