The vicious cycle of meal fed, hungry hoovers can be remedied. In this post we’ll focus on some of the physical (including obesity) and mental effects of stress and cortisol levels you may not be aware of. Stress can be associated with a wide range of causes including but not limited to: lack of forage, confinement, lack of direct physical interaction with other herd members, pain, lack of nutrients, vitamins and minerals necessary for proper thyroid, hormone and neurological function, rigorous training, travel and lack of movement.
Each time your equine consumes a meal, the psychological cycle repeats itself. I must eat all of my hay as quickly as possible to "self-medicate." Their stomach does not feel well due to the build-up of acid or ulcers and know as soon as they start chewing and eating it will start feeling better. Chewing activates saliva production (an alkaline substance), which buffers gastric acid. Learn more in our Slow Feed Savvy post.
Providing a slow feeder for meals certainly helps but will not relieve the stress of being without forage for periods of time which perpetuates the viscous cycle. Either your horse has forage available 24/7 or they don’t. This can be a difficult concept for some! It's equivalent to being sort of pregnant; either you are or you aren't.
Stress produces the hormone cortisol. Horses are stoic by nature as they are prey animals; they may not show outward signs of stress. Lack of forage is stressful for your horse which signals cortisol production; resulting in fat storage by ignoring insulin’s attempts to uptake glucose into the tissues. This can be the cause for easy keepers and air ferns. If appropriate forage is available at all times, they can typically eat more and maintain or lose weight.
Chronic stress and release of cortisol may also be responsible for conditions including aggressive behavior; decreased growth and reproductive capability; inhibition of the immune system; and increased risks of gastric ulceration, colic, and diarrhea.
Juliet M. Getty, Ph.D. (2015) Obesity. The Real Cause. The Real Fix. Retrieved from
Karyn Malinowski, Ph.D.(2016)Reviewed in 2004 by Carey Williams, Ph.D. Stress Management for Equine Athletes Retrieved from http://esc.rutgers.edu/fact_sheet/stress-management-for-equine-athletes/
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Monique Warren is the owner of Hay Pillow Inc.