Slowing down your eating speed at mealtime can help prevent problems such as choking and wasted feed
equals Cary A. Williams, MS, PhD, feeds horses the way some people handle holiday meals: “A horse thinks they’re very hungry, like a person saving Thanksgiving dinner,” says extension specialist and professor in the Department of Animal Sciences at Rutgers University, in New Brunswick, New Jersey. “They don’t eat all day, and then the feast is arranged, and they cover it up. Horses learn behavior if they are around other horses who also do it, or even when they are younger. Maybe they learn from their mothers.”
Horses naturally compete for food in a grazing herd, moving from heap to heap of forage. Some horses learn to eat quickly to avoid missing a meal, especially if they are older or lower in the herd hierarchy. Furthermore, forage restriction can put the horse into survival mode, increasing its rate of consumption. Lock-feeding behavior learned in the field sometimes transfers to the stall, even without competing for food.
Feed management usually influences the likelihood of latching behavior, says Shannon E. Pratt-Phillips, PhD, professor of equine nutrition and physiology in the Department of Animal Sciences at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.
“There are some types of horses that seem more greedy than others,” she says. “For example, some ponies will eat whatever they can get their hands on as quickly as possible. Horses (and ponies) are managed differently. Some may not necessarily be fed every day or at the same time or be periodically given an extra grain meal. It can “This situation can lead to horses being overly excited about their food. Horses that have been in a situation of not having any food for a while, if they are neglected, I can see them trying to eat very quickly, which poses even greater challenges for these types of horses.”
Consequences of feed clogging
Horses who are prone to gobbling down fodder before it’s thoroughly chewed and moistened with saliva can cause a host of problems for both themselves and their owners. Wasted feed, decreased absorption of nutrients in the horse’s digestive tract, and potentially life-threatening bouts of choking are reasons to slow down eating time for anxious horses.
Choking occurs when a wad of partially chewed food becomes lodged in the esophagus, causing it to become obstructed. The muscles of the esophagus contract and hold the food in place. As the horse continues to breathe through its nose during an attack of choking, it can aspirate food particles into the trachea, which can lead to pneumonia.
Clinical signs of esophageal obstruction due to a herniated disc include gurgling, coughing, spitting, saliva leaking from the nostrils, and shaking of the head or tensing of the neck in an attempt to dislodge the obstruction.
Significant changes in the teeth of senior horses, such as missing teeth, difficulty chewing, or mouth pain, can cause them to slip and/or choke on their teeth.
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