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"Just add oil" for weight gain?

It's very common practice for horse owners to add oils to their hard keeper's diet, and if you scroll through Facebook comments on a post asking what to add to help a horse gain weight, most of them will be a curt "just add oil". But is adding oil enough to support weight gain? As with many things in nutrition, it depends - so let's delve deeper.

Oil is an energy-dense feedstuff that provides 2.25x more energy than the same amount of grains, without the risk of starch overload or 'hot' behaviour. That said, whether oil will help your horse reach their ideal body condition depends on several factors:

  • Reasons for weight loss: Underlying health or diet issues can be contributing to weight loss. Treating the cause of the issue rather than only the symptom (weight loss) is key to supporting your horse's comfort.

  • Energy content in the current diet: Energy balance in the diet is key to maintaining an ideal body condition. When energy expenditure > energy intake, the horse will lose weight. For instance, exercise can increase energy requirements by 3.3 - 9.9+ Mcals per day, depending on the intensity. Evaluating the energy content in the current diet will help you identify the quantity of additional calories required to support your horse.

  • How much oil is fed: Many recommended feeding rates (ie 60 mls/day) do not supply significant energy. Looking closer, 60 mls per day will only provide +0.54 Mcal). An additional 1.8 - 6.7+ Mcals above maintenance are typically used in weight gain diets, depending on the desired period for weight gain. If feeding for extra calories or to meet requirements to correct a negative energy balance, this will likely not be enough, depending on the rest of the diet.

Remember that while horses can do well on fat-supplemented diets, they do not have a gallbladder! As such, they cannot store bile, and will need to adapt to the amount of fat in their diet. A general rule of thumb is that feeding up to 100 ml/100 kg BW can be safe, but as with any diet change, slow and gradual adaptation is key.

HOW TO INTRODUCE OIL: Start with 1/4 cup (60 ml) per day and increase by 60 ml every week until you reach the desired amount.

Have a question? Let's connect!


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