Caring for Your Senior Horse

With proper nutrition, veterinary care, and attention, the horse you love can live to be between 25 and 30 years old. Aging horses have special needs, which responsible owners anticipate. Visit VPD for horse products online that will keep your animal in good health.
Senior Horse Nutrition
The nutritional requirements of elderly equines are different from those of their younger counterparts. It’s rare for a horse to age without developing dental issues. The chewing surfaces of teeth wear down, and often a tooth will loosen or fall out altogether. Additionally, an older horse may not be digesting its feed efficiently. One way to check for this is by examining your animal’s stool. If you see pieces of forage that are more than a couple of inches long, this is a sure sign that your horse’s gastrointestinal system is not up to the challenge of breaking forage down.
Senior horse feeds are formulated for easier digestion. They are designed to replace part or all of the hay in your horse’s diet. They’re typically based on digestible fibers instead of grains and are comprised of approximately 14 percent crude proteins. They contain the added vitamins and minerals your elderly horse needs and are low in sugars and starches.
When should you switch your horse to a senior diet? Many veterinarians recommend beginning the process of substituting some portion of your horse’s food for a specially formulated senior feed when your horse turns 15. Of course, for some horses as for some humans, age is just a number. Many horses don’t start to show the signs of age until they’re in their 20s, and these animals may do fine with a regular diet.
Exercise and Senior Horses
Like humans, many horses may develop degenerative osteoarthritis (OA) as they age. Osteoarthritis is a term that describes at the deterioration of joint bone and cartilage that causes discomfort upon movement. An osteoarthritis diagnosis should be confirmed by a veterinarian who will use X-rays to determine which joints are affected and how severely they’re affected.
Obesity is one of the leading causes of equine OA. Other contributing factors include untreated joint infections and traumas, bad shoeing and strains related overly vigorous training and competing.
Lameness is the primary symptom of equine osteoarthritis. Lameness may be particularly noticeable on cold mornings or when you first begin to exercise your horse. You may also notice that your horse’s joints are noticeably swollen.
Horses with osteoarthritis benefit from regular exercise. Exercise helps these animals maintain range of motion. Exercise also helps horses maintain muscle strength and good circulation, which can enhance cardiovascular health. Of course, the level of exercise must be carefully calibrated not to strain the horse unduly. In the early stages of OA, a horse may still be able to carry a rider, but in the later stages, a horse may need to be exercised on a rope. Partnering with your veterinarian in the development of an exercise program for your aging horse is probably best.
What About Winter?
As they age, horses become less tolerant of winter temperature extremes. If you live in a colder climate, and your horse is older than 15, here are some ways to help ensure your horse’s health won’t suffer unduly as the mercury plummets:
• Make sure your horse is at an optimal weight. Your horse’s body will need to burn a lot of calories during the winter, so it’s important that it has sufficient fat reserves.
• Get your horse’s teeth checked: Your horse will be eating more hay in the colder months, and hay requires a lot more chewing. Make certain your horse’s teeth are up to that challenge.
• Your horse will be spending more time in its stable during the winter months, and that means it will be in close proximity to other animals. Some of these animals may not be in optimal health. Make sure your horse’s vaccinations are up to date.