Is Your Horse A Senior?
How do you really know when to start caring for your horse as a senior? Is it all about their age, or is there more to the equation? Sure, Blaze’s namesake may be looking a little greyer lately and he just celebrated his second decade, but he is still kicking—you don’t think he is old.
Our handy chart helps you determine your horse’s status and Dr. Mary Rose Paradis, DVM, MS, Associate Professor Emerita at Tufts’ Cummings School of Veterinary Science gives us some senior horse care tips so you can give your horse the best care possible—no matter his age.
Put simply, a senior horse can be 10 or 20 as all horses age differently throughout their lives. Dr. Mary Rose Paradis, DVM, MS, specializes in equine geriatric care and suggests that owners start thinking about their horse’s age when they are around 18 years old. But, she warns, to always be on the lookout for age-related problems. “These problems may be related to Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction (Cushing’s disease), dental wear and tear, or chronic degenerative joint diseases such as arthritis,” she says. “The older equine athlete may also need adjustments to their training program as older horses need more time to get fit than a younger horse.”
It is always important to keep your horse at a healthy weight, and that becomes more imperative as your horse ages. “Older horses that are in good body condition can eat what they have always eaten. The problems begin when they are either too heavy or too thin,” says Dr. Paradis, noting that not all aged horses need to be on a senior-friendly grain.
Horses on the heavier side are prone to problems that are related to insulin dysregulation such as Equine Metabolic Syndrome which, when combined with Cushing’s, creates a high risk for developing laminitis. For horses that are subject to or have these problems already, Dr. Paradis suggests they have their diet evaluated. “The goal of treatment is to decrease the starches and sugars in the horses diet—this begins with eliminating grain and grazing. Normally we feed our horses about two percent of their body weight in grain and hay, but this should be decreased to one and a half percent.” On top of decreasing the amount of feed they get a day, hay and grain should be analyzed for their non-structural carbohydrate levels. “Hay and grain should have a non-structural carbohydrate plus starch level that is under 11 percent,” advises Dr. Paradis. “Beware that some low-carb options of grains are still too high. Companies make special grains that are appropriate for these types of conditions.”
For the horse that is thin, you need to ask why. “A common problem in the older, thin horse is in the teeth; as the horse ages, its teeth wear down and they are not able to effectively grind their food. This leads to quidding—when the horse begins to spit out wads of semi-chewed up food,” says Dr. Paradis. If this is the case, a senior feed, soaking the grain, or feeding smaller amounts multiple times a day may be a solution. A senior feed can also provide different amino acids that help build protein in older horses that can eat properly but are thin. As with all equines, remember to change your horse’s grain gradually over a sevento 10-day period. “Other problems such as dental pain and gastrointestinal diseases can also lead to loss of appetite and weight loss,” adds Dr. Paradis, followed by a reminder that when in doubt, call your veterinarian.
“Try to identify problems that you have the ability to change before they become a quality-of-life problem,” recommends Dr. Paradis. It is as simple as scheduling an annual examination that includes a thorough physical, blood work, fecal egg count, and a dental exam. Whether your horse isn’t considered a senior yet or is older and healthy as a horse (pun intended), prevention is the best medicine.