The Alberta SPCA is urging livestock owners to ensure they have supplemental feed for their animals and are not relying on pasture grass to provide nutrition. The problem is most acute for horses. Horses have the ability to paw through the snow to get to grass leaving false impression the horse is getting enough to eat.
“Many horses denied supplemental hay or other feed will be in very poor condition and even die,” said Dr. Duane Landals, Alberta SPCA President, and a retired veterinarian. “The reality is, pasture grasses lose most or all of their nutritional value once they begin to die off and long before the onset of winter.”
With livestock feed in short supply this year, many owners may be trying to stretch pasture feeding for as long as they can. However, horses confined to pasture year-round without supplemental feed find themselves losing body fat throughout the fall, long before the cold weather sets in.
“When the weather gets bitter and energy demand goes up, they have no fat reserves to call upon and quite simply suffer and die,” said Dr. Landals.
Despite the mild December weather, the Alberta SPCA has already received numerous complaints of malnourished horses, including several cases where horses have died. There’s a concern the mortality rate will increase once the frigid temperatures arrive.
Another factor complicating the issue is a lack of fresh water for horses. While horses do have the ability to consume snow as a water source, this is not an ideal situation. Horses that consume snow are using valuable energy to melt the snow.
“When the horses are already challenged for energy,” said Dr. Landals, “eating snow speeds up their loss of body condition.”
If you are unsure of how to best feed your horse, the Alberta SPCA recommends you consult with your veterinarian, an animal nutritionist or another knowledgeable horse person.
Anyone found to have allowed their livestock to starve faces potential charges under the Animal Protection Act. The maximum penalty for causing an animal to be in distress is $20,000, and the courts may impose a ban on future animal ownership as part of the sentence.
Anyone who believes they have seen livestock in distress is encouraged to report the incident to the Alberta SPCA’s Animal Distress Line at 1-800-455-9003.
For further information, please contact
Alberta Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
17904 – 118 Avenue NW, Edmonton, AB T5S 2W3