Q: I enjoyed “Muzzled for Moderation” (EQUUS 380), which gave instructions for fitting a grazing muzzle. But I noticed that the primary concern seemed to be using these devices to prevent horses prone to laminitis from overgrazing lush pasture grass.
Is this the only appropriate use? I live in the middle of boreal forest, 600 miles north of the Canadian/U.S. border, and pasture of any kind is not much of an option. With very limited grazing opportunities, our horses are fed on good-quality hay pretty much year-round. But I still have one very easy keeper who came out of last winter in an obese state, which worries me. She normally shares a corral with two other horses. Could I use a grazing muzzle to slow her eating? Or do they not work well with hay? —Penny Byer ; Thompson, Manitoba
A: Using a grazing muzzle to control a horse’s intake of hay in a group-feeding situation is an interesting idea, but I would have several concerns. The type of muzzle shown in the article you mentioned could trap particles inside—this would be more of an issue with hay than with grass, and the trapped dust could irritate the skin and respiratory system.
In an extremely cold climate, an unpleasant layer of icy condensation may accumulate on the muzzle, much like the icicles that hang on whiskers, but with a more structured framework that I fear could become uncomfortable and inhibit breathing.
Easy keepers can be slowed down by using hay nets with small holes, but this may not be practical in group-feeding situations. Unfortunately, unless you can find some other style of muzzle that avoids these problems, I think you are left with more traditional diet and exercise programs to control your mare’s weight.
Melinda Freckleton, DVM
Firestar Veterinary Services, LLC