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Reasons That a Horse Won't Eat or Drink

| Updated September 26, 2017

If your horse is not eating or drinking, it may be because he doesn't like the available food or water, or it may be the sign of a serious medical condition. Monitor your horse's symptoms and consult a veterinarian if your horse stops eating and drinking.

Finicky Eater

While some horses will eat anything you put in front of them, others are finicky about their food and will stop eating if there is even a slight change. If your horse senses a difference in smell or texture of the feed, he may decide not to eat. Adding supplements or medications into his grain may also cause him to stop eating. Determine what feeds your horse enjoys and keep his diet consistent as much as possible.

Unpalatable Water

Your horse should have access to clean water at all times, unless he is hot from exercising. Some horses will not drink if the water temperature is too cold or if there is a layer of ice on top of the water bucket. Consider using heated water buckets or a submersible heater during freezing temperatures.

If you are traveling to a show, the water may taste different to your horse than it does at home. Adding electrolytes or apple juice to the water may help encourage your horse to drink.

Impaction Colic

If a horse is colicking, he may stop eating or drinking. Other symptoms include rolling repetitively, standing with legs spread, kicking or biting at his belly, and being reluctant to walk. Although treatable, colic can be deadly, so contact your veterinarian if your horse shows symptoms of colic. Keep him on his feet and walk him if possible. Do not offer your horse food or water until he is evaluated by a vet.

Teeth Problems

If a horse has dental problems, he may be unable to chew, or chewing may be painful. A horse's teeth never stop growing, so the possibility of dental problems increases in older horses, especially if they haven't had routine dental care throughout their lives. Symptoms of dental problems include dropping feed from the mouth, refraining to accept the bit, undigested grain in the horse's manure and decreased coat condition due to decreased nutrition.

Have your horse's teeth checked at least once per year, and floated as necessary. Floating is a procedure in which a vet or equine dentist uses a file to remove sharp edges and ensures that the teeth are even so the horse can properly chew. Additional dental care may be necessary if teeth are loose, fractured or infected.

Stomach Ulcers

Horses, especially thoroughbreds, can get stomach ulcers from stress or as the result of too much grain and not enough hay. Symptoms of a stomach ulcer include refusal to eat, declining body condition, change in attitude and decreased energy levels. Medications are available to treat stomach ulcers and relieve the pain they cause.

Esophageal Obstruction

Choke is a condition in which a horse has an obstruction in his esophagus, preventing him from eating or drinking. The airway is not blocked, so the condition is not immediately fatal. Choke is most common when grain or beet pulp expands when exposed to the moisture in the horse's saliva, causing a sticky ball of food that gets stuck. Other symptoms include excessive drooling, coughing, and food and water running out of the horse's nose and mouth.

In some cases, choke is treated by sedating the horse, which relaxes the esophagus and allows the food to continue to the stomach. In more serious cases, the impaction requires removal with a pressure from a nasogastric tube and warm water. Otherwise, a vet may have to remove the impaction by creating an incision in the esophagus.