What to do about pudgy ponies?

U. NOTTINGHAM (UK) — Humans aren’t the only creatures getting larger. Rates of obesity in horses are rising, according to a study that finds one in five horses owned for leisure activities in the U.K. is overweight.

“This provides the first snapshot of the prevalence of obesity in horses in the U.K. and an insight into owners’ management of bodyweight in horses,” says Sarah Freeman, a specialist in veterinary surgery at the University of Nottingham.

“Obesity is linked to a number of different diseases, including arthritis, laminitis, and equine metabolic syndrome. A larger study would be useful to establish the prevalence and risk factors for equine obesity in different horse populations across the U.K.”

The study is reported in the journal Veterinary Record.

Research carried out in Scotland has already shown a prevalence of obesity in pleasure riding horses but this is the first time a similar study has been done in England.

Five hundred owners were sent questionnaires. None of them kept horses for breeding, livery, riding stables, or competition, so were all classed as keeping their animals for leisure only.

Owners were asked to score the condition of their horses on a scale from zero to five. Of the 160 returned, one in five showed that their horses were either overweight or obese.

Grass was the main source of forage for half the horses and coarse mix was the main source of concentrate feed in a similar proportion. Only one in 10 horses was not fed any concentrate.

The researchers then assessed the body condition of 15 randomly selected horses to see if the scores had under or overestimated the horse’s weight.

They assigned an average score that was significantly higher for these horses; eight of the owners had scored their horse at least one grade lower than the researcher had, indicating that the owners had underestimated their horses’ weight.

On the basis of the researchers’ findings, the authors estimate that the true prevalence of overweight/obesity was likely to be 54 percent rather than the 20 percent indicated by the questionnaire responses.

“Increasing incidence of obesity is a multi-species problem, affecting both humans and their companion animals,” says veterinary student Helen Stephenson. “Addressing this issue is an important role for the profession, and I hope to do my part when I go into practice.”

More news from the University of Nottingham: www.nottingham.ac.uk/news