From AAEP’s Ask the Vet: Feeding Forage When Pony Lacks Teeth

I have a 28 year old Quarter Pony gelding. He lacks adequate dentition for eating hay. His weight and appetite are good. He is fed senior feed split over 2-3 feedings per day. He also gets one feeding per day of beet pulp. I add a hay extender pellet to his senior feed, but he doesn’t eat it up well. When he tries to eat hay, it just balls up. Should I add a cubed hay product which is soaked before feeding? What would the risk be of choke or obstruction? Would this improve the appearance and frequency of his bowel movements? His manure is formed, but floppy. He makes only 2-3 piles per 12 hours, on average. It would be nice to feed him something when the other horses are getting their hay. Thanks! – Catherine

Dear Catherine,

Fortunately for you, I recently had a training session with the HAYGAIN Steamer folks, and learned that steamed hay is not just for horses with respiratory allergies, to reduce the molds, pollens and other triggers. Because steamed hay is also soft and wet, it’s also ideal for horses with poor teeth, those recovering from colic surgery, and other horses that might need roughage that is not quite so . . . rough. If you try this, however, and he stills balls up the hay, then unfortunately long-stem forage may have to be permanently taken off his menu to avoid the risk of choke from poorly chewed materials being swallowed.

To answer your specific question though, yes, soaked cubed hay is an excellent choice for horses that can no longer chew the long-stem forage that is so vital to their digestive and overall health. Have you considered soaked beet pulp? It’s a palatable and nutritious feed for all ages and types of horses, but especially those with difficulty chewing.

At the recommended feeding level as written on the bag however, senior feed is also fine as the sole diet for these teeth-challenged guys. It’s called “complete” feed because it is an all-in-one product, like getting hay and grain in a bag. Just make sure you’re feeding enough of it, like 15 or 20 pounds per day. Most horse owners provide senior feeds like they do traditional fortified grains—like 5 pounds per day—and that’s simply not enough of this dilute product to meet a horse’s nutritional needs when hay is not also offered.

Make any diet changes gradually, and think about adding digestive support to his regimen, especially since his stool is less firm than desired. Ingredients like the active live yeast Saccharomyces as well as probiotics and prebiotics have been shown to assist in the management of proper formed manure. Stick with it, you’ll eventually find the right recipe!

Lydia Gray, DVM MA, is the Staff Veterinarian for SmartPak. Prior to joining SmartPak, Dr. Gray served as the first-ever Director of Owner Education for the American Association of Equine Practitioners. She has authored numerous articles in publications such as The Horse, Horse Illustrated, Western Horseman and a variety of veterinary journals and magazines. Dr. Gray is also a frequent speaker at horse expos, veterinary conventions and other events. After graduating with honors from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine and receiving her Master's Degree in Interpersonal and Organizational Communication, she practiced at the Tremont Veterinary Clinic for several years. Dr. Gray is active in the American Veterinary Medical Association and Illinois State Veterinary Medical Association. She enjoys training and showing her Trakehner, Newman, in both combined driving and dressage, and is a USDF “L” Program Graduate (with distinction). Find Dr. Gray on Google+

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2 comments on “From AAEP’s Ask the Vet: Feeding Forage When Pony Lacks Teeth
  1. Louise Perry says:

    How about using a bagged forage product? I give my 30 year old mare Triple Crown Safe Starch Forage. She has Cushing’s so I cannot use a senior feed. I feed her Blue Seal Carb Guard mixed with corn oil. I have been feeding this regimen for 8 months and she looks great! Good luck and Happy Holidays!

  2. Aspen Black says:

    I have a 30+ year old mare in the same situation. I have been feeding her soaked alfalfa cubes AM and PM along with her regular ration of senior feed. She was sold to us because the previous owner had difficulty keeping weight on her. She balls up hay, grass, etc. as well due to teeth issues that will never be any better. She now looks as healthy as any other horse on the farm. Her weight is up and no one would ever know she was a hard keeper. She has even been able to be ridden in beginner lessons several times a week and not lose weight after exercise (which was a previous problem for her.) I wish you the best of success with your horse.

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