What you see. The starting point for addressing any equine health related issue is your observation.


Not Eating, Loss of Appetite, Not Hungry


Horses are usually aggressive eaters. When they show less or no interest in feed, it should be a warning sign. Appetite is regulated in all mammals by the hypothalamus part of the brain. Disease processes of different kinds create chemical signals that affect the brain and may decrease appetite. Horses experiencing abdominal pain (colic) are oftentimes (but not always) reluctant to eat.

Horses with pain in their mouth will usually try to eat but have difficulty. Those with pain in the throat and esophagus will chew feed but may have difficulty swallowing. Horses that suddenly experience choke or pain while eating may immediately stop and walk away from feed.

Any time a hay or feed is changed, there is a chance that a horse will be reluctant to eat the new feed, until they become hungry enough to begin eating again. Horses that have recently been given oral medications may not eat until they rid their mouth of the taste of the medication.

It is important to try to determine whether your horse has truly lost their appetite, or is hungry but prevented from eating by something (pain, mechanical obstacle, etc...).

  • Code Red

    Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours
    • If this behavior persists without an apparent cause.
    • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) in the resting horse indicate fever (Temp >101F/38.3C) or heart rate greater than 48 BPM.
    • The feed is the same as it has been. Nothing has changed.
  • Code Orange

    Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours
    • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) suggest the horse is otherwise normal.
    • A change in the feed could explain the horse's lack of appetite.
You also might be observing
Very Common
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your role


What To Do

Assess your horse's general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), and try to determine whether your horse is having difficulty chewing or swallowing. In some cases, it may be helpful to assess their mouth (wear gloves). Offer your horse a small amount of feed and watch what they do. If you recently switched feeds, offer the previous one that they may prefer.

If you cannot clearly attribute this behavior to a simple management or feed change, or if you notice any other abnormal behavior, call your vet to discuss your findings and concerns.

What Not To Do

Do not give flunixin (Banamine) and then feed a horse without first talking to your vet.

your vet's role

Your vet will take a careful history, considering the above factors. A physical exam offers clues to the body systems that might be involved. Often, laboratory work is needed to help rule out more subtle causes of inappetence
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • Does the horse have access to green grass?
  • Have you given the horse any medication recently?
  • Are you seeing other signs of abdominal pain (colic)?
  • Do you notice any other problems?
  • When did you first notice this?
  • Has anything changed in the environment, feed or management?
  • Has the hay changed recently?
  • What are the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE)?

Diagnoses Your Vet May Consider

The cause of the problem. These are conditions or ailments that are the cause of the observations you make.

Very Common
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Treatments Your Vet May Recommend

A way to resolve the condition or diagnosis. Resolving the underlying cause or treating the signs of disease (symptomatic treatment)

Very Common
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Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP