Your horse is your world. They’re part of your family. It’s hard to see them get older but it’s even more difficult to watch them become a senior. That’s when it starts to feel real as you notice the things horses go through as they age. Just like humans, horses need high-quality care, attention, food, and other necessities as they get older.
Each horse may have unique problems or perhaps no problems at all. Sometimes it’s genetics, sometimes it’s care, sometimes there are other factors at play. You’ll want to look out for signs of aging such as arthritis, weight loss, tooth loss, dental disease, pituitary or thyroid dysfunction, reduced kidney and/or liver function, among other issues that arise. Thanks to 21st-century medicine and management, your horse can live a long life.
Horses are Living Longer
Horses start to show signs of aging in their teens but can live upwards of 20 years often in the 30-year-old range. Some horses have been known to live over the age of 40, but that’s the equivalent of some turning certainly over the statistical average but not completely unheard of. As your dearest Seabiscuit adds years of age to its life, you might start thinking about what type of special care it may need. It’ll likely need to be put onto senior feed at some point. Breed, lifestyle, and proper equine management can elongate a horse’s life expectancy. There are new advances to veterinary medicine all the time. If you feel hopeless because there’s a problem in your older horse that feels unsolvable, you never know what future medical advancements might soon develop.
How Do you Care for a Senior Horse?
From dental problems to respiratory disease, there are a number of things to consider when it comes to taking care of your beloved old horses. The fact is, horses are living longer than ever thanks to many factors such as advanced veterinary care medicine. Proper grooming plays its part, too. That random hoof check or tooth check could be a saving grace. You might be able to catch something you wouldn’t have otherwise seen for days. Immunizations and deworming are great ways to stay proactive and keep your horse healthy.
Now more than ever, geriatric horses have a better chance of enjoying a good quality of life in their golden years. Most horses aren’t undergoing as laborious working conditions as they once did many years ago plowing, sowing, or carrying heavy loads of families across the Oregon Trail. Everyday things such as food, temperature, and weather influence how your horse may feel. Regular grooming and daily check-ins can play an important part in monitoring senior horses.
Diet needs are a big factor in the horse aging process. Older horses may need special feed and monitored water intake per day. Fat, fiber, protein, and other vitamins and nutrients can be adapted for a particular body condition. There are a number of high-quality food options available on the market if you have to adjust their diet or monitor calorie intake. Beet pulp, high-quality alfalfa, and certain proteins may be added to your senior horse’s diet if approved by the vet. There are even horse treats with protein, fat, and fiber, so you can reward your horse without fretting about nutrients. Meet the nutritional needs of an elderly horse with a high-quality diet. Ask your veterinarian if any changes are necessary for your horse.
There could be decreased nutrient absorption in your aging horse even if they eat their normal amount of food. Wondering at what age should a horse be put on senior feed? Around the time you begin noticing changes in your horse or your vet approves the swap. You’ll want to find a highly digestible feed to accommodate for any nutritional malabsorption or digestion issues for optimal equine health. Senior feed can help your old horse feel better when it comes to gut health and digestion. Added probiotics, yeast culture, enzymes, flaxseed oil, and other good nutrients can be really good for your old friend. Digesting protein in the small intestine might be harder for older horses. There are a number of senior feed options with fiber, high-protein, or balanced with vitamins and minerals to meet the everyday diet care horse needs.
Equine senior feed is designed to be easy to chew and palatable for elderly horses. It can help provide the necessary fuel to support digestion, skin, hair coat, hoof condition, and muscles in an aging horse’s body. It might help to feed senior horses apart from younger horses because the younger ones tend to be more dominant in the pecking order and might eat the bulk of the food. Should your horse have trouble chewing, add water to serve the feed as a gruel. Senior horse feed can include ingredients and nutrients like:
- Beet Pulp
- Crude Fat
- Crude Fiber
- Crude Protein
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin D3
- Vitamin E
Vitamins and Minerals
It might not be enough for your older horse to eat hay and call it a day. Vitamin and mineral absorption isn’t the same as when they were younger. From vitamin C to fiber, supplements might be necessary to fortify vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Senior horse supplements can support the health of joints and other areas. Known as the drink of life for many species, water intake plays a part in equine health as well.
Body Weight in Older Horses
Weight loss and gain are common health problems in aging horses as well, whether they aren’t eating as much as they normally do or they aren’t able to move around as freely. Ingredients in your senior horse feed can make a big impact. Oils such as corn, canola, and linseed can be integrated into meals to assist with weight loss problems. Weight gain is particularly helpful for cold weather and frigid winters. Weight loss could be caused by a medical condition like chronic infection, liver failure, or kidney dysfunction. Gut health plays its part in a good quality of life for humans and horses alike. An elderly horse’s body might not be absorbing nutrients correctly from the gastrointestinal tract, which can alter your horse’s weight. Don’t forget about those creepy crawly parasites as a hidden culprit. If your senior horse appears to be eating abnormally, make sure to have a veterinarian perform a thorough physical exam with a blood sample to check for disease or unknown condition.
It’s important to keep your senior horse active and exercising to the degree that they are capable. If they have injuries, stiffness, soreness, ask your veterinarian what’s the best option for exercise. If the injury or element is temporary, then they will benefit from light exercise once your older horse heals. They may have quite a few years of age but they can still walk around to get body movement. Going outside is also beneficial for your horse’s mood, not just their body weight. They might appreciate the fresh air, the feeling of fresh grass on the hooves as they eat hay. Walking side-by-side for a few minutes and short trots are great starting exercises. Your horse might be slower than they were in their younger years. Be patient. If your horse is more agile, you can do quick rides on the trail or brief runs to keep them challenged within reason.
If your horse isn’t particularly fond of exercise, you can opt for a Jolly Ball horse toy to eliminate boredom, destructive behavior, and getting your horse to move around a bit. If they’re not in pain, it is quite beneficial to keep your horse active. The exercise keeps them agile even as they age, which allows for their joints, tendons, muscles to stretch and get some use. Inactivity could cause problems by itself. Slow and careful exercise should remain a consistent part of their lifestyle.
Dental issues often arise in aged horses. Age-related gum and dental disease may branch off into tooth pain, teeth loss, and pain when chewing. As horses age, it’s important to watch what they eat. Senior horses with missing teeth may want to stray away from grains, chopped hay, or hay cubes because they are unable to fully chew them. This could cause pain or even be a choking hazard as they are unable to fully chew. Older horses can benefit from soaked hay pellets or beet pulp to help keep them comfortable and fed.
Check that your horse can indeed chew and doesn’t have any trouble doing so. Monitor for any signs of drooling, issues swallowing, and excessive tooth wear. If teeth issues are serious, your veterinarian will guide you on special needs and the best food options for your beloved older horses. There are specially designed easily chewable senior feeds to allow proper diet for horses who have teeth problems. Different food textures like chopped or cubed might assist your horse when it comes to enjoying their food.
Ultimately, worn down teeth are a sign of aging in horses. Think of it like when humans get their wisdom teeth removed; you can still enjoy food but chewing is a bit harder and you might have to alter the consistency compared to what you’re normally used to. There’s still a quality of life even as life throws you those curveballs. Sometimes it’s as simple as adding water into their meal to make it easier to chew. It might be time to switch things up if you notice that your old horse might be showing signs of dental issues. Consult your veterinarian if your senior horse is in chronic pain or for questions on dental care.
Aged horses are more sensitive to hot and cold temperatures compared to younger horses. Shade is a necessity for those blistering hot days. The sun can be brutal, think about flaky red sunburns you get after a long summer day at the beach. Shelter is needed on those rainy or cold days as well. On those winter days, it helps to have a blanket or something to warm your older horse, particularly if you have an underweight horse. A warm water bucket for cold days can encourage your horse to drink water, so it’s beneficial to monitor water drinking habits. It’s harder for an older horse to adapt to environmental changes. Your older horse shouldn’t spend long lengths of time in extreme conditions. Proper shelter can make a difference in their overall mood as well.
Ultimately, veterinary care is a huge part of senior horse health management. We’ve come a long way over the years. Your veterinarian can identify problems, answer questions, and make genuine breakthroughs to benefit older horses who need attention. Older horses are susceptible to a myriad of issues such as weight loss, teeth loss, and infectious diseases that require special attention from veterinarians. Keeping up with immunizations is highly important, too. Older horses are more susceptible to viral infections because of pituitary dysfunction and disease. Make sure your horse has its usually scheduled deworming and vaccinations. Blood tests might be able to identify issues that aren’t visible to the naked eye. Your old horse might have a compromised immune system so your veterinarian will be able to decipher the best vaccination course of action. Whether you have a 15-year-old or a 35-year-old horse, a standard checkup might be the saving grace in identifying an unknown problem in a senior horse.
Your Love Matters Too
Your thoughtfulness can help your geriatric horse live a thriving life. As a treasured part of your family, it might be hard to see your horse in pain or go through the changes of aging. There are many things to think about as you enable your dear old horses to savor their golden years. They lived a long hard life and are ready to enjoy the freedom of retirement. Body condition, dental problems, and coat can range as the horse ages. One horse might have a load of problems and a different horse may live a carefree life. You know your horse better than anyone. You spend time with them and know their personality, their funky quirks, what makes them tick, and what makes them happy. You are their caregiver. If you notice little changes or differences in your senior horses, it’s time to call the veterinarian.
Thanks to advancements in equine care, your horse can live a magnificently long and wonderful life, filled with peaceful days in the pasture. Your attentiveness can be all the difference in keeping your horse feeling happy and comfortable. Your old buddy might have general aches and pains, just like us humans, and that’s okay. There are ways to manage and navigate through pain to give your horse the help they need. It’s all a part of the beautiful circle of life. They care for us, you care for them, we’re all part of each other’s world. Take things day by day as you understand how to best attend to the changes of your older horse. Soak up every moment while you can, these are some of the most cherished days.