At least one in five horses used for leisure are overweight, with rates of obesity that are likely to be as high as they are among people, according to a study from The University of Nottingham.

At least one in five horses used for leisure are overweight, with rates of obesity that are likely to be as high as they are among people, according to a new study from The University of Nottingham.
 
Rates of obesity in leisure horses are likely to be as high as they are among people.The pilot study, by third year veterinary student Helen Stephenson from the university’s School of Veterinary Medicine and Science, assessed the prevalence of obesity among horses whose owners were registered with Oakham Veterinary Hospital — one of the school’s clinical associates specialising in the treatment of horses.

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.

Miss Stephenson said: “Increasing incidence of obesity is a multi-species problem, affecting both humans and their companion animals. I feel that addressing this issue is an important role for the profession, and I hope to do my part when I go into practice.”

Questionnaires were sent out to 500 owners who were classed as keeping their animals for leisure only. They were asked about their perceptions of their horses’ body condition, and asked to score this from zero to five (with a score of more than 3 indicating overweight). Of the 160 returned one in five believed 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. To see if the scores had been under or overestimated, researchers assessed the body condition of 15 randomly selected horses. They assigned an average score that was significantly higher for these horses (8 owners had scored their horse at least one grade lower than the researcher did), 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% rather than the 20% indicated by the questionnaire responses.

The research was supervised by Sarah Freeman, a specialist in veterinary surgery at the vet school, who said: “This provides the first snapshot of the prevalence of obesity in horses in the UK and an insight into owners’ management of bodyweight in horses.

“A larger study would be useful to establish the prevalence and risk factors for equine obesity in different horse populations across the UK,” Dr Freeman added.

  • The results were published online yesterday (January 17, 2011) in the journal Veterinary Record.
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