Signs of aging
According to the experts, physical signs of senior status for a horse include a bowed back, drooping lower lip, a dulling coat, gradual loss of condition, an increasing number of grey hairs, stiffer joints, and teeth wear. As I discuss in “Superb Senior Horse Care,” nutrition problems, lameness, vision issues, lower immune response, and hormone changes are all problem points that may arise for the senior horse.
How to help
With age, the horse will find it increasingly difficult to digest fibrous feeds and roughage. This will affect the balance of nutrients in the horse’s system, and the horse’s hindgut. If the horse cannot properly digest fiber, the horse will suffer from Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome.
One nutrition solution is to wet down concentrated pellet feet, or feed the horse beet pulp, which provides an excellent source of fiber. In general, soften-up fibrous supplements, or provide a specially formulated senior feed. Also, ask your vet about deworming treatment, as harmful parasites cause intestinal damage.
With age, the horse may become overweight or underweight. For the overweight and obese horse, many problems may arise, including arthritis and navicular syndrome.
You can avoid overfeeding your horse and give plenty of turnout time, but obesity may be caused by hormonal imbalance. In turn, this may lead to metabolic issues, such as Cushing’s Disease, which is an overproduction of cortisol. Cortisol helps maintain a number of bodily functions, including the immune system’s anti-inflammatory response.
If you catch it early enough, Cushing’s can be treated effectively with medication and altered management. This includes a routine of quality hoof care, vaccinations, deworming, a specialized diet, as well as an exercise regimen, which may help prevent metabolic problems to begin with.
The underweight senior, on the other hand, needs a diet high in proteins and fats, as well as easily digestible roughage. Be sure to maintain nutrient balance when increasing your horse’s energy intake of fats. Use a commercially formulated feed, or vitamin and mineral supplements, alongside standard feed and fat supplements.
Before altering your horse’s feed, have her blood checked to make sure she is not suffering from any liver or kidney issues. Increasing proteins, fats, and nutritional supplements may exacerbate an existing issue. Be sure to have you senior’s blood tested for abnormalities annually.
To your senior’s health
Paying increased attention to your senior horse’s health is crucial. To that end, don’t shy from consulting with your vet, and don’t shy from altering your horse’s management, feed, and medications according to your senior horse’s specialized needs.