How to put weight on a horse

Medically reviewed by James Edward, PharmD

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You finish a great ride with your horse and dismount, making your way to the stable. You notice his ribs and shoulders sticking out under the skin as you walk next to him. Stopping, you take a closer look and realize your horse is losing weight. You thought you were giving him enough food to maintain a healthy weight.

This blog covers horse weight gain, why horses lose weight, and how to put weight on a horse naturally.


Horses can lose weight for several reasons. Here is a quick list of possibilities.

  • Poor Diet – A poor diet is one of the simplest ways a horse loses weight. Younger horses need to eat different foods than mature horses. Likewise, with pregnant horses and racehorses, there are specific nutritional requirements. CBD may assist in balancing the ECS to help maintain optimal health through increased appetite, which is one of the possible side effects of CBD.
  • Dental Problems - Even a single sharp point on a tooth can cause considerable oral pain. A horse can drop feed when eating (a condition known as quidding), be unable to chew and digest food adequately, or even refuse to consume a meal. Weight loss because of dental disorders is a regular occurrence, particularly in older horses. A Washington State University study suggested significant evidence of an association of CBD in improving health and pain in horses.
  • Intestinal Parasites – Parasites in the intestine hijack a horse's nutrients as well cause damage to the lining and intestinal tract. The parasites hinder the horse's ability to absorb nutrients and result in weight loss.

    The University of Toledo is studying the effects cannabis has on parasites. Dr. Richard Komuniecki notes that cannabis limits parasites' ability to move and leaves them confused. There is too little research to know if CBD can treat parasites or how to use it. That said, this is exciting research, and there's hope that one day it could lead to new treatments for parasites!
  • Illness and Disease - Chronic illnesses and diseases like Inflammatory Bowel Disease, cancer, and diabetes can lead to weight loss. Disorders like arthritis and laminitis can additionally cause weight loss. According to peer-reviewed research, cannabinoids may be involved in various processes, including cell migration, invasion, inflammation, and metastasis. The study says CBD has been shown to inhibit cell growth. Although further research needs to be conducted, the available information may be pointing to CBD's possible benefits for illness and disease.
  • Lack of available food – A horse may be losing weight because its caloric needs are not being met.
  • Social Interaction - As most horse owners know, Horses can be highly aggressive against one another. If you're feeding horses in a herd, you'll have to contend with the natural order of power. Not only might younger, smaller, and more timid horses be pushed away from the feeders, but they may also be stressed, which causes them to waste more energy and predispose them to health issues such as stomach ulcers and colic.

    In general, it's critical to feed underweight horses individually, ensuring that they are receiving the correct amount of food. Studies have shown CBD can reduce anxiety in animal and human research. Anecdotes from veterinarian professionals that work with horses and use CBD to treat them report that it helps manage equine anxiety. CBD may have the potential to reduce social anxiety interactions.


Coming to the realization your horse is losing weight sends many thoughts flying through your head. You ask yourself if it is your fault and what can help the horse gain back weight. First, you must identify the source of the weight loss. Once you have that answer, you can hopefully find the solution.

If the problem is extreme and you can see every part of the horse's skeletal structure, you should immediately consult a veterinarian. If the horse has only lost a little weight, the owner may be able to manage the weight gain themselves. If unsure, always consult with a veterinarian!

A horse must ingest a daily amount of 2 to 3 percent of their body weight to maintain a healthy weight; at least 1.5 to 2 percent of it must be forage. That implies two pounds of total feed for every 100 pounds it weighs or 20 pounds for a 1,000-pound horse merely to keep him going—more will be required for weight gain. If you give your high-quality horse forage and there is still no weight gain, other measures need to be taken.

Several supplements and feeds in the market are formulated for gaining weight. They usually contain minerals, vitamins, and other nutrients that help horses build and maintain muscle. Here is a list of some natural ways to put weight on a horse.

  • Open Access to Hay and Clean Water – Provide your horse with the basics of hay and clean water. A horse can put on weight eating hay and its normal ration of food. If the horse is not putting on weight, it may be time to add some fats to its diet.
  • Vegetable Oil - There are some alternatives to expensive supplements. For instance, many horse owners use oil like canola, corn, peanut, MCT, and other vegetable oils. The oil should be introduced slowly to avoid diarrhea. The oil can be added to their ration of food.
  • Alfalfa – Alfalfa is loaded with calories, proteins, and high calcium levels. It is best if it is mixed with regular hay. If your horse is not active, its alfalfa intake needs to be monitored as it can your horse to gain weight too fast.
  • Horse Concentrates - Concentrates are feeds like sweet feed, grains, and pellets added to a horse's diet to make up for any nutrient deficiencies in the forages. Horses working, growing, or pregnant/lactating require more calories or protein than hay or pasture alone can provide.
  • CBD Oil - More research is needed to understand the full effects of CBD on appetite. One thing we do know about CBD is that it may stimulate the appetite. Appetite change is one of the side effects of CBD. Researchers interviewed 117 parents of children given CBD for epilepsy in a human study. Along with the fewer reported episodes, 30% claimed that CBD oil increased their child's appetite. The similarities in mammals' ECS may also point to a positive benefit for horses. In summary, some studies show an increase, and others offer a decrease in appetite; more research is needed, but there is a correlation between CBD and weight.