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Special Care and Nutrition for the Older Horse

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Special Care and Nutrition for the Older Horse

Thanks to improvements in nutrition, management, and health care, horses are living longer, more useful lives. Many horses are living well into their thirties or even forties with the help of a healthy lifestyle, proper care, and good nutrition. Giving your senior the proper feed and care can help them stay comfortable through their golden years. Providing the best care means understanding some of the special health challenges older equines face.

Health Challenges of Senior Horses

  • The digestive tract isn’t as efficient as it used to be.
  • Elderly horses often feel the aches and pains of arthritis.
  • The immune system is not as strong, so horses become more susceptible to illness and slower to recover from both disease and injury.
  • Parasite infestations can also take a heavy toll.
  • Older horses tend to develop more respiratory and dental problems.
  • Senior horses are more sensitive to environmental issues like wind, wet and cold.
  • Hormonal changes may affect overall body condition, hair growth, appetite, and energy levels.

Some signs of decline may be caused specifically by the aging process but others may have an underlying medical problem, so be sure to speak with your veterinarian about any changes in your horse.

Special Nutritional Needs

While every aspect of horse care is important, nutrition is the most important. As horses age, their digestive systems become less efficient. Some hormonal and metabolic changes can affect or interfere with their ability to digest, absorb, and utilize essential nutrients in their feed, especially protein, phosphorus, and fiber. Many horses benefit from eating a diet that includes senior feed.

When out shopping for feed, use this list to know which feed would work best. The senior horse diet should be:

  • Highly palatable
  • Easy to chew and swallow
  • Clean and dust-free to prevent or lessen the impact of allergies or lung disease
  • Provide 12 to 16 percent protein
  • Contain enough high-quality fiber to aid digestion
  • Provide essential minerals, including calcium and phosphorus in the proper ratio
  • Include all essential vitamins, especially vitamin C and B-complex vitamins
  • Provide enough readily available energy to maintain proper body condition
  • Include adequate, palatable fat from a vegetable source to promote healthy skin and hair, aid digestion, and boost energy intake

Senior Dental Care

A horse that can chew its feed properly will waste less, get more nutritional value from feed, and be less likely to choke or have colic. Have your veterinarian examine and float your horse’s teeth at least once a year — twice annually if the horse is over age 20. This will keep his teeth in good working order and help him get the most from his food. It also gives the veterinarian a chance to check for broken or lost teeth, and check for tongue, gum or other problems.

Make Your Vet a Partner in Care

While there is a lot you can do to keep your older horse healthy and spry, some conditions associated with aging require medical intervention. Your veterinarian can identify and treat such things as tumors, hormone imbalances, renal disease, Cushing’s syndrome, arthritis, reproductive problems, and other issues. Remember that older horses are at greater risk of developing laminitis (founder), so proper nutrition is essential.

The veterinary team at Carolina Equine Hospital has experience caring for senior horses. If you’re looking for knowledgeable equine veterinary care, contact us today.