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Horse chewing tail

From: Alyson

Hey Jessica, hope you can help me here! I have three horses that are all turned out together. Two are older mares and one is a young filly out of one of the mares. They all get along real well, they never fight or anything like that. I think that maybe they get along too well. The foal is chewing up the tail on the other mare (not her mother). She started doing this when she was about four months old. Now she is nine months and she has pretty much eaten the mare's whole tail. It's not a big problem because we're going into winter and there aren't any flies left, but it looks pretty bad and I guess I can't show the mare next spring. What I want to know is two things, one is how can I make sure the filly doesn't start on her mother's tail next? Because I do plan to show that mare in the spring. And I also want to know if there is something I could use to make the filly stop doing this.

They are on a big drylot but they all get a flake of hay morning and night with their grain and pellets. And they have a big salt block and water. I hope you can help. My friend says I should just soak the mares tail in tobasco sauce. Should I?  Sincerely, Alyson

Hi Alyson! I think you should talk to your vet as soon as possible, because this is not a good situation. Tail hair doesn't digest, and if it stays in the filly's intestines, she may end up with digestive difficulties and eventually colic. I've been through this myself, with a filly who spent her two-year-old birthday in the hospital having colic surgery. The cause was a blockage, and the blockage was -- you guessed it -- tail hair, from eating another horse's tail more than a year before. I wouldn't like anyone else to go through that!

You may be able to avoid all that if you talk to your vet now, and perhaps start supplementing the filly's feed with psyllium according to your vet's suggested feeding protocol. It can help carry the hair through the digestive system. He may also be able to suggest something that you can put on both mares' tails (and manes, just to be safe) that will make them less palatable to the filly. Don't use red pepper or hot sauce anywhere but on the skirt of the tail (below the dock), because you may make your mares very uncomfortable if something caustic gets too near the delicate tissues under the tail. There are other substances that make tails less appealing: shampoo, for instance. There are also some commercial sprays "No Chew", "Bitter Apple", and the like -- that may help. Your vet may have additional ideas.

The other reason you should talk to your vet is that you're probably not feeding your horses enough roughage. There are two causes for tail-chewing that come up again and again: one is insufficient roughage, and the other is insufficient protein. When you have a very young, growing horse turned out and fed with two mature horses, it's not always possible to ensure that each horse eats its own feed. You may need to separate them at meal-times, just to ensure that the filly gets the protein that her growing body requires. When they're together, you'll probably want to make more hay available. Feeding free-choice hay is much better for your horses' digestions. This doesn't mean offering them access to a ton of your best second-cutting alfalfa -- I'm talking about high-fiber grass hay, or even mixed hay, to provide them with the roughage that they need to stay healthy.

Pellets are easily digested, but they don't provide enough "chewing time" for animals that were designed to eat a mouthful at a time, all day long.

Talk to your vet about where to get suitable hay and how to feed it, but DO get some good help as soon as possible. You want that filly to grow up healthy -- and I know that hay can be expensive, but believe me, you can buy a LOT of hay for the price of ONE colic surgery. ;-)


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