As your horse begins to age you may have noticed that his/her needs are beginning to change.
One of the most important things you can do for senior equine is to ensure that he is not standing idle. Keeping him in a stall without turn out is one of the worst things that you can do. I prefer to keep my senior “friends” out in a pasture situation that can be closely monitored.
With lack of exercise you will see a decreases their circulation which makes it difficult for nutrients to reach his muscles. Combine this with lack of use, and you will actually see deterioration of muscle tone. If your senior has a physical issue that makes exercise painful there are additional methods of therapy that can improve circulation without irritating an existing problem – I would talk with your vet about these options which could include swimming, hand walking etc.
As your senior ages his vulnerability to infections will increase, as well as an increase in risk of dehydration and colic. Keeping this is mind, any signs of illness whether it appears to be just a cold, should not be taken lightly.
Older horses are more attractive to insects. It is not uncommon for senior herd members to be covered with mosquitoes’ and flies. It is believed this is due to a combination of factors to include” declining immunity”, thinning and increasingly dehydrated skin, and less overall activity, making an older horse easier for bugs to find, land on and bite. I like to use Endure fly spray, you’ll find the upfront cost a little more, however it is water resistant and does not come off when they sweat, reducing the amount and frequency of application which saves in the long run. A fly sheet and mask combo are also very helpful to deterring the pesky bugs. I have even gone as far as adding citronella leg bands in addition to the sheet, mask, and spray. One of my geldings is an absolute bug magnet, and without all of this, it’s not uncommon to go out and find blood on his legs from all of the biting flies.
Senior horses may be more sensitive to heat and cold. Make sure that your horse has a draft-free shelter that will protect him from the elements and that his pasture mates will allow him access to that shelter. If you notice your horse is shivering despite the shelter, you want to consider a blanket, and check him daily to ensure his blanket is securely in place and that your horse is not overheating. Malnutrition is the primary cause of lower body temperature in senior horses due to lack of energy intake. Be sure that your horse is getting enough heat-generating fiber during the cold weather months. A diet that contains 2 percent of your horses’ body weight per day in high-quality roughage is what you’re looking for, and you may want to discuss with your vet to develop a ration that suits your individual equine’s needs. For those horses that are losing their teeth their options available such as extruded complete feeds, or chopped and pelleted hay. I happen to be a big fan of extruded soy, and beet pulp J You can easily take your alfalfa pellets, hay cubes, grain, etc and mix them in with your beet pulp. Make sure that you allow enough time for the pulp shreds to expand in water. This is also a good way to ensure that your horse is taking in additional fluids.
During the winter months, your horses coat can hide their weight loss. You may want to begin a monthly check by running your hands over your horse, if his ribs become more prominent than normal adjust his feeding rations accordingly.
In the spring, you may notice that your senior is having difficulty shedding out his coat. I have a gelding that drops a significant amount of weight every year during this process and I have found it to be easier on him to just go ahead and body clip him. I keep a sheet on him while his summer coat is coming back in, and on days and evenings that the temperature drops I will add a blanket. I find that for this particular gelding, we do not have the weight loss if we handle his spring shedding in this manner. If you chose to start this routine, make sure that you pay attention to the actual coat before clipping, if your horse is NOT shedding, and you see a long shaggy coat, you may want to speak to your vet about Cushings.
Equine Cushings disease is caused by a tumor in the pituitary gland which is responsible for the regulation and production of hormones. This is a disease that you will see in a large number of senior horses. The most common symptoms are:
**Failure to shed the coat; it becomes shaggy and long. **
Increased frequency of urination
There may be a reduction in muscle mass
Appetite may be increased
Due to the increased production of cortisol, the immune system becomes depressed, with an increase in infections; this also poses a threat towards the development of laminitis.
Your vet can do blood tests to confirm the diagnoses, and in general there are several things that can be done to improve your horses’ health with this condition. Most of these are things that you should already be doing with your senior horse even without this diagnosis.
Making sure you horse is on quality feed and receiving adequate nutrition
Body clipping may be necessary during the warmer months
Prolonged antibiotic courses may be required if concurrent infections are present.
Written by: Tonya Ouellette