Equine Science Update
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Existing body condition scoring systems may not be sufficiently accurate for monitoring weight loss in dieting ponies according to new research.
Researchers at the Department of Veterinary Clinical Science at the Liverpool Vet School conducted a study to evaluate a restricted diet for producing weight loss in overweight ponies, and its effect on health and behavior.
The research, supported by the World Horse Welfare, was presented at the British Equine Veterinary Association Congress in Birmingham.
The study involved five mature, overweight or obese ponies and aimed to restrict their feed intake (on a dry matter basis) to 1% of body weight of a chaff-based complete diet for 12 weeks. During this time their weight change, health parameters and behavior were monitored.
Ponies were housed individually and were allowed 30 minutes turnout exercise daily. The chaff-based complete diet provided 8.5MJ/kg Digestible Energy, 25% fiber, 8% protein, 9.5% ash, and 4% oil. Ponies were weighed weekly and the amount of feed given was calculated at 1% of body weight. The allotted ration was divided and fed in two meals.
The researchers recorded body condition score, girth measurements and measured the depth of fat over the rump and ribs using ultrasound. They also estimated the body fat content at the beginning and end of the study.
All ponies remained healthy throughout the whole trial and an appropriate and safe rate of weight loss was achieved. Heart and belly girths decreased over time, as did the depth of subcutaneous fat deposits. However, the body condition scores remained constant. So it seems that body condition scoring is not the most effective way to monitor early weight loss in ponies.
The restricted diet had a marked effect on the amount of time the ponies spent engaged in feeding behavior. Feeding activity fell by 74% during the study, compared to ad libitum intake.
The researchers point out the need for a practical feeding system that is both effective at managing weight loss but also sensitive to behavioral needs
In response to the study the research group is developing a new condition scoring system designed specifically for ponies. “This will involve validating the relationship between actual measurements of body fatness and the external appearance of the pony,” said Alex Dugdale, lead researcher at Liverpool University.

Reference:
Managed weight loss in obese ponies: Evaluating weight change health and welfare. A Dugdale, G Curtis, PA Harris, C McG Argo.
Proceedings BEVA Congress (2009) 48, 248
Written by Mark Andrews. Published online 28.09.09.
© Copyright Equine Science Update  2009
Body condition scores fail to detect weight loss
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