Shana Bohac is a local veterinarian who writes a column about animal issues.

Older horses need special love, attention and care. Good nutrition, proper maintenance and consistent veterinary care are a few things that will help keep your older horse healthy.

When properly cared for, a horse can lead a long, wholesome and productive life. The most important issues to consider when caring for a geriatric horse include lameness problems, dental issues, vision loss and nutrition as well as immunity and hormone changes.

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. Your veterinarian will also check for issues involving lameness and teeth. They will also counsel you on proper nutrition for your old friend.

Lameness tribulations in older horses are most frequently due to 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 FDA-approved and their efficacy is varied. It is best to consult your veterinarian prior to starting any treatment for arthritis.

The other most common cause of lameness in older horses is 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.

Horses’ teeth continuously 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, which 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 choke, long fibers or whole grain in feces and quidding (storing in the side of the mouth or dropping a bolus of food or hay)

Older horses require a special diet due to 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 fat added to his 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 ensuring 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 prior to feeding. This will reduce dust particles and soften feed for horses with poor dental health.

Dr. Shana Bohac is a veterinarian and the owner of Navarro Small Animal Clinic.

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