Had a stressful day? As taxing as it was, your anxiety was probably nothing compared to the stress foals experience during the weaning process. According to new research, weaning is one of the most stressful events in a horse’s life.
Weaning affects physiological, nutritional, and cognitive-behavioral responses. Regardless of technique, weaning commonly results in:
• Increased frequency of vocalizations;
• Increased general motor activity during the first few days;
• Altered feeding and sleeping patterns;
• Irritability, anxiousness, and aggressiveness;
• Suspension of normal play behavior;
• Elevated glucocorticoid (stress hormone) levels; and
• Weight loss, performance decline after weaning, and higher risk of infectious diseases.
“Based on the study by Mach and colleagues, increased circulating stress hormones can negatively impact the gastrointestinal tract of foals during weaning. Specifically, those hormones could alter the intestinal microbiome, potentially allowing for overgrowth of harmful organisms such as Escherichia coli,” explained Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., nutritionist at Kentucky Equine Research (KER).
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