When people see a starving horse, often they are struck by horror and want to help.
We humans love the idea that we can “save” something and make it better.
But a severely starved creature is tricky to rehabilitate. Something that has been in a nutritional deficit for very long takes a knowledgeable and gradual program in order to avoid a fatal condition known as “Refeeding Syndrome”.
Refeeding Syndrome is a serious, potentially fatal, complication of nutritional restoration. A major cause can include low phosphorus blood levels following intake of foods high in calories or glucose. Phosphorus depletion causes abnormalities in the cardiorespiratory system. Symptoms also develop in response to changes in potassium and magnesium levels. Rapid changes in nutritional intake can place excessive strain on the impaired heart which is then unable to maintain adequate circulation. The liver and the central nervous system are almost always affected also.
Heart of Phoenix has never lost a horse to Refeeding Syndrome and specializes in rehabilitating the severely emaciated horse. We have never lost a horse whose sole problem was starvation.
When you see a horse suffering from severe starvation, please do not try to “help” without at least first seeking out educated assistance. Unfortunately, many vets have not received true training on this matter, so make sure you locate a source that has a proven track record of actually seeing these rehabilitations through.
If you want to learn about our re-feeding process at HOP, visit this link