For the love of you pet: Older horses need special care

By Shana Bohac
March 20, 2014 at midnight
Updated March 19, 2014 at 10:20 p.m.

Geriatric care in horses is very important, and there are some key issues that should be addressed. Good nutrition, proper maintenance and consistent veterinary care can lead to a long, healthy and productive life for your horse.

The most important issues to consider when caring for an older horse include lameness problems, dental issues, vision loss, nutrition and immunity and hormone changes.

Lameness tribulations in older horses are most frequently because of arthritis. There are numerous supplements available to improve joint mobility. Some supplements are available over the counter while others are found at your veterinarian's office. Over-the-counter supplements are not Food and Drug Administration approved, and their efficacy is varied.

It is best to consult your veterinarian before starting any treatment for arthritis. The other most common cause of lameness in older horses is because of feet issues, which typically occur because of lack of proper care. Routine hoof care is essential in maintaining soundness, hoof quality and foot balance. This will prevent soft tissue and arthritic changes from occurring.

Horse's teeth continuously erupt or grow; therefore, when teeth are missing, some teeth grow much higher than others. When a horse chews, the teeth also wear down, which can lead to sharp point formation. If teeth are uneven, then the circular motion in which a horse chews is disturbed and can create jaw pain or other issues.

Regularly filing down or floating is needed to improve chewing and, therefore, digestion. Some common signs of dental issues include weight loss, difficulty chewing, recurrent episodes of choking, long fibers or whole grain in feces and quidding (storing in the side of the mouth or dropping a bolus of food or hay).

Routine veterinary exams are needed to assess your horse's overall health. A basic physical exam will be performed to look at hydration status, heart function, gastrointestinal function, vision, soundness, lung sounds and temperature. A fecal exam may also be suggested to make sure that your deworming program is working well.

Your veterinarian may decide to run blood work to ensure all organs are working properly and ensure that no infection is present. Annual vaccinations are also a key part of preventative care for your geriatric horse.

Older horses require a special diet because of changes in teeth, activity level and eating behaviors. A diet high in quality, easily digestible and high in energy is ideal.

Your horse will need added fat to its diet as well as increased protein, vitamins and minerals. There are many great commercial feeds that are specifically formulated for senior horses.

Another vital aspect in senior nutrition is to ensure that your feed and hay are free of mold and dust. Older horses are more susceptible to colic and respiratory irritation.

It may be beneficial to soak the feed or hay for 15 minutes before feeding. This will reduce dust particles and soften the feed for horses with poor dental health.

Dr. Shana Bohac has a veterinary practice at Hillcrest Animal Hospital in Victoria. She works on small animals and equine patients. Submit questions to



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