If you have miniature horse and pony residents, you may be relieved to know that caring for them is much the same as caring for larger breeds. However, there are a number of conditions to which miniature horses and ponies are more susceptible. Being knowledgeable about what theses conditions are and, when possible, how to prevent them, will help ensure your miniature residents are happy and healthy.
All horses are at risk of colic and should be carefully observed for any signs of distress. Miniature horses seem to be particularly vulnerable to certain forms of colic, specifically feed impactions and fecaliths (hard balls of feces). Possible reasons for this are poor dental formation and a subsequent inability to properly grind down food, and a disproportionately small intestine.
While all equines can develop Cushing’s disease, miniature horses, ponies, and donkeys are particularly susceptible. This disease is due to the overgrowth of the middle part of the pituitary gland in the brain. Symptoms include laminitis, long, hairy coats that don’t shed properly, and unusual fat deposits, along with muscle wasting and a pot-bellied appearance. Not all afflicted horses will show all these symptoms so it is important to take each seriously and call your veterinarian to diagnose and recommend treatment. Minis with Cushing’s will require special care in regards to nutrition, hoof, and dental care.
All horses require good dental care. However, there is a greater prevalence of miniature horses retaining their “baby teeth”, causing overcrowding. In some cases, these may need to be pulled. Do not attempt this yourself! Overbites and underbites are also not uncommon in miniature horses and require a veterinary exam to identify any issues this may cause during feeding.
Miniature horses are not dwarves. They have been selectively bred from larger breeds while trying to maintain similar conformation. However, while dwarfism is a condition that affects both larger and miniature breeds of horses, it is more commonly seen in miniature horses. This is important to know because dwarves often have their own special health needs.
There are two forms of dwarfism: achondroplasia dwarfism (short limbs) and diastrophia dwarfism (twisted limbs). While Achondroplastic dwarfs typically lead normal lives, Diastrophic dwarfs may have multiple limb deformities, domed heads, and roached backs, and may require extra support, including splints or surgery, to move properly.
Dystocia (Difficult Birth)
Due to their smaller size and the relatively larger size of the fetus, miniature horse mares have a higher likelihood of experiencing a difficult birth. This can be very serious and even life threatening. If you have a pregnant mini resident, be sure to contact your veterinarian to prepare for the birth and any complications that may arise during the pregnancy and birth.
"Hyperlipaemia is defined as an excess of lipids in the blood."
Miniature horses, ponies, and donkeys are all at a higher risk of Hyperlipaemia as their bodies tend to mobilize fat if their bodies sense an “energy crisis” and they are not able to meet their metabolic demands. Late-term pregnancy, lactation, stress, illness, or any factor that impairs appetite for more than 24 hours can initiate such a crisis. Unfortunately, this leads to a breakdown of fat, which is transported to the liver, turned to glucose, and released into the bloodstream. In turn, this level of fat can overwhelm the liver and cause Hepatic Lipidosis, also known as “Fatty Liver Disease”.
If your miniature horse resident hasn’t eaten in 24 hours, exhibits signs of lethargy, depression, weakness, diarrhea or incoordination, call your veterinarian immediately. Their survival counts on early prevention so don’t postpone calling the veterinarian if you suspect Hyperlipaemia. Prevention is key and is generally achievable through providing an appropriate diet year round.
Excessive Weight Gain
Many minis tend to be overweight as they are often overfed and have limited exercise. Too much extra weight can contribute to the development of serious health issues, including laminitis. Providing proper nutrition year round can prevent a host of ailments.
Upward Fixation Of The Patella (“"A locking stifle in a horse affects the stifle joint which includes the kneecap and ligaments and is the most complex joint in the horse. In horses with this condition, one of the ligaments in the kneecap catches over the inner ridge of the femur. This causes the hind limb to be locked while extended."”)
This can happen to any horse, but is more common in miniature horses. A Locked Stifle is when the patella slides up and becomes stuck, preventing the horse from stepping forward. Often a mini horse will self-correct this by stepping backward and “unlocking” the stifle. However, there are times when they cannot and may need assistance. Ask your veterinarian about the best treatment route for your mini horse residents if you observe this issue.
Nutrition For Miniature Horses
All horses require good quality hay or forage, including minis, and should make up the majority of their total diet. However, you should only give your mini limited access to early spring pastures to avoid laminitis. Grain can also help maintain a good body condition, but too much can lead to colic and weight issues. If feeding grain, smaller, more frequent feedings are better than one large feeding. Trace mineral salts are also important to provide minerals to your mini residents. Trace mineral salts can replenish electrolytes in hot weather and encourage your mini residents to drink more water, helping to prevent colic.
With a better understanding of the special needs of miniature horse and ponies, you can develop a care program that suits these needs and helps ensure happy, healthy mini herd!
Miniature Horse Care Considerations by Amber D Barnes
Feeding the Miniature Horse | Michigan State University Extension (Non-Compassionate Source)