Older horses can provide quiet, trustworthy mounts for new riders and children, and are wonderful companions for their owners and other horses. But their needs change as they age, and they require additional care and consideration to stay in good condition. Our Leatherstocking Veterinary Services team wants to help by providing senior horse care tips to ensure your older horse remains in the best possible health.
#1: Schedule regular wellness screenings for your senior horse
Veterinary involvement is critical to keep your senior horse in good health. Regular wellness screenings involve:
- Physical examinations — Annual or semi-annual physical examinations are important to detect health complications in the early stages when they are easier to manage.
- Blood work — Routine blood screening can detect subtle signs that indicate age-related internal organ problems.
- Vaccine planning — Based on your horse’s lifestyle, our veterinary team will determine what vaccinations your senior horse needs and devise an administration plan.
- Body condition score (BCS) — Keeping your horse at a healthy weight is important, and our veterinary team will evaluate your horse’s BCS to determine if they are over- or underweight and devise an appropriate strategy, if necessary.
- Fecal egg count — Your senior horse’s fecal egg count should be evaluated every three to four months so our veterinary team can make targeted deworming recommendations.
#2: Provide appropriate dental care for your senior horse
Horses’ teeth can develop sharp points on the outside of the upper molars and the inside of the lower molars, which makes eating painful. In addition, tooth loss means the horse cannot adequately chew. Also, when a tooth is missing, the opposing tooth grows down into the space of the missing tooth, which further inhibits chewing. Abnormal dentition predisposes the horse to weight loss and choke (i.e., impaction of inadequately chewed food in the esophagus). Senior horses, especially those with missing teeth, should have their teeth checked by a veterinary professional every six months so they can troubleshoot for diseased and lost teeth. Regular floating will keep the teeth’s grinding surfaces in good condition.
#3: Maintain your senior horse’s mobility
Arthritis is a common degenerative joint disease in older horses that can result in reduced performance, lameness, and decreased mobility. Tips to maintain your senior horse’s mobility include:
- Regular foot trimming — Maintaining good hoof balance promotes uniform weight bearing, reducing stress on joints.
- Daily light exercise — Regular exercise is important to increase strength and flexibility and reduce bone loss.
- Joint supplements — Ask our veterinary team if joint supplements, such as glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, can benefit your senior horse.
- Pain medications — Some arthritic horses need low dose anti-inflammatory drugs to stay comfortable.
#4: Feed your senior horse appropriately
All senior horses should be fed good quality forage, and some may benefit from senior rations, which are processed to maximize digestibility. These feeds should provide at least 12% protein, less than 1% calcium, about 0.3% to 0.5% phosphorus, and 7% to 10% crude fiber. Horses who have poor dentition or missing teeth may need their food made into a gruel or slurry to make nutrients more accessible and prevent choking. If your senior horse has underlying health concerns, these factors may affect their diet, and our veterinary team can help you choose the right feed.
#5: Monitor your senior horse for cancer
If detected early, many cancers can be successfully treated. Monitor your horse for changes, such as:
- Firm nodules under the skin — Grey horses are prone to melanoma, especially as they age. Monitor your senior horse for small lumps under their skin that can be found anywhere on their body, but frequently under the horse’s tail. These lesions are easier to address when caught before they get too large.
- Reddened or raised areas — Monitor your horse’s eyes, muzzle, vulva, and penis for reddened or raised areas that could indicate squamous cell carcinoma. When detected early, these lesions can frequently be treated locally.
#6: Test your senior horse for metabolic disease
Equine metabolic syndrome (EMS) and pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID) are common problems affecting senior horses. These conditions can increase your senior horse’s laminitis risk, their susceptibility to infections and hoof abscesses, and their parasite burden, and reduce their ability to heal. Common signs include a long, curly hair coat, delayed shedding, muscle loss, and lethargy. However, not all affected horses exhibit these signs, and regular screening is the best way to detect these conditions in the early stages before they become problematic.
#7: Make adjustments for your senior horse
As your horse ages, you may need to make adjustments, including:
- Saddle fitting — Senior horses frequently lose muscle over their back and become more prone to saddle sores. Have your saddle fitted to ensure they won’t experience problems.
- Blanketing — Senior horses are typically more cold-sensitive and may need blanketing in the winter to help keep them warm and prevent weight loss.
Additional care can help ensure your senior horse lives a long, healthy life. If you would like to schedule a wellness exam for your senior horse, contact our Leatherstocking Veterinary Services team, so we can ensure they aren’t affected by an underlying health issue.