The average horse’s lifespan is 24 years and a horse is generally considered to be senior or geriatric when they reach their twenties, however this can vary from horse to horse and some breeds do age faster than others. With advances in health care, management and nutrition it is now common for horses to live into their 30’s. Discussed below are a few common health concerns that can be faced by senior horses and how you can help ensure that your senior horse stays happy and healthy for as long as possible.
As horses age they are often faced with dental problems such as poor teeth, tooth loss, broken teeth, tooth misalignment and infections. This can lead to other issues particularly eating problems, chewing difficulties and digestion issues which can all lead to malnutrition and poor condition. All horses but particularly older horses, should have regular dental checkups (at least once a year) by a qualified equine dentist or veterinarian.
As horses age their nutritional needs can change due to underlying health issues, changes in their metabolism, ability to absorb vitamins and energy requirements. There is a large selection of commercial feeds specially formulated for older horses to support their needs. Offering good quality hay or pasture is also necessary for an older horse. When feeding a senior horse you need to take into consideration their overall health, condition, exercise regime and any other medical issues. A veterinarian will be able to help you make the right feed selection for each horse.
Senior horses can also suffer from reduced immunity with their ability to fight of infection reducing as they age. They can also be more prone to parasites and it is therefore very important to ensure that their intestinal worming program and external parasite control is kept up to date. Senior horses are more prone to certain medical conditions such as endocrine conditions like Cushing’s Disease or Equine Metabolic Syndrome. As they age they can also suffer hearing loss and/or eyesight issues. Arthritis and joint pain is also more common in the senior horse as well as cancer. Senior horses, particularly those in poor condition, can be more susceptible to extreme temperatures. Providing them with shelter from the cold and heat is necessary and often a rug will be required in cold winter periods.
When it comes to exercise, horses do not need to stop exercising or being worked because of their age rather the decision should be made on how they are tolerating the exercise. As they age a horse’s speed, mobility and endurance will naturally decline so the exercise they are undertaking may need to change with their capabilities. If they are not wanting to work, lethargic, continually pulling up sore or lame this can indicate that they are ready for retirement.
Although they may require a little extra love and care in their twilight years senior horses are certainly worth it for all the love, loyalty and companionship they have provided and will continue to offer.
If you ever have any concerns about your senior horses health or how to care for them please contact your veterinarian for further advice.
Originally published in My Pet Magazine Issue 13.
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