Caring For The Senior Horse

Dr. Travis McKinzie

Your older horses wouldn't still be with you if they weren't special. The “bomb proof” kids’ horse, the one that really takes care of you on a trail ride - whatever the story, our senior friends need special care. With the many advancements in equine care and veterinary medicine, these horses can now live longer productive lives. Here are some of the most common health issues to consider as your horse ages.

Dental Care

Teeth are a primary concern for the older horse. Since they continually erupt, the roots get shorter over time. Tooth loss is the eventual outcome. Routine floating and dentistry are always important for keeping the normal sharp edges of teeth smoothed for proper chewing. But they become even more important as the horse ages. If a tooth is lost, the opposing tooth will overgrow. Without proper dentistry performed by your veterinarian, this will make proper chewing difficult.
Immunity As a horse ages, the immune system gets weaker. This leaves them more susceptible to diseases and parasites. Therefore, routine vaccinations and deworming are even more important to senior horses. Good biosecurity practices to reduce the horse’s exposure to disease also becomes more important as the horse ages. When at an event, do not use a water tub that is shared by everyone; keep your horse away from any other horse that appears sick; and don't share grooming equipment with animals from other barns until it has been cleaned and disinfected.

Changing Metabolism

Your horse’s metabolism will also change with age. Some horses will have problems getting too heavy, while others won't be able to keep weight on. Remember, you want to be able to feel the ribs but not see them. When properly conditioned, fat should be deposited between the ribs but not covering the top of them.
The key to maintaining a healthy weight lies in proper feeding. For many horses, the intestinal tract loses some of its absorption capability with age. This, coupled with possible dental issues, creates the need for specialized senior horse feeds. The extrusion process used to make these pelleted feeds actually partially digests the ingredients making them more bioavailable to the horse. As we have to feed these horses increased amounts, it is often important to slow the eating of horses that bulk their feed down making them at risk of choking. Adding a mineral block, brick, or large rocks to their feed pan for them to eat around will help keep the bite sizes smaller.

On the other hand, some older horses, especially “easy keepers,” will struggle with being too heavy and can be prone to laminitis. This could relate to endocrine issues as discussed below. Either way it is important to monitor your horse’s weight and feed appropriately. Endocrine Issues

If your horse is not shedding properly, has unexplained weight loss or gain, or abnormal fat deposits, your veterinarian may recommend blood testing for endocrine problems like Cushings or insulin resistance. There are treatments available to help maintain horses with Cushings. Other metabolic issues may just require some feed changes and monitoring. Your veterinarian can help you decide if other medical management tools are appropriate.

Hoof and Joint Problems

Many supplements are available for hoof and joint support, and you may find these beneficial as your horse ages. If general joint discomfort is replaced by arthritis, several anti-inflammatory and joint health medications are available. Talk to your veterinarian about which supplements, injections, or other medications are right for your arthritic horse. Golden Years
These days, senior horses don't just need to be retired. With good care and veterinary supervision, horses can continue to work for many years longer than used to be possible. Even when an old horse is ready to retire from performance, many of them can be repurposed. We all know that it is easier to give special care to a horse that is in use than one that is just turned out. So enjoy your old buddy.

Endocrine Issues

If your horse is not shedding properly, has unexplained weight loss or gain, or abnormal fat deposits, your veterinarian may recommend blood testing for endocrine problems like Cushings or insulin resistance. There are treatments available to help maintain horses with Cushings. Other metabolic issues may just require some feed changes and monitoring. Your veterinarian can help you decide if other medical management tools are appropriate.

Hoof and Joint Problems

Many supplements are available for hoof and joint support, and you may find these beneficial as your horse ages. If general joint discomfort is replaced by arthritis, several anti-inflammatory and joint health medications are available. Talk to your veterinarian about which supplements, injections, or other medications are right for your arthritic horse. Golden Years
These days, senior horses don't just need to be retired. With good care and veterinary supervision, horses can continue to work for many years longer than used to be possible. Even when an old horse is ready to retire from performance, many of them can be repurposed. We all know that it is easier to give special care to a horse that is in use than one that is just turned out. So enjoy your old buddy.