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Older, Elderly or Geriatric Horses Need Special Care & Nutrition as they Age

A horse is considered to reach the senior stage of life at the age of 15 years, which implies it is estimated that one year of a horse’s life encompasses three years of aging in human terms.
Fortunately for the horse aficionado, the advances in modern technology and the innovations with respect to horse feeds have increased the life expectancy of older horses to reach into the thirties. Of course, on the downside of this, an increase in aged equines within the general horse population can also mean that less than adequate diet and proper veterinary care will lead to a higher rate of equine infections, parasitic infestations, dental illness, and have other detrimental health effects.
Horse owners have noticed that the body condition of older horses declines rapidly at a certain point in the horse’s advanced years. Extreme weight gain is sometimes a cause for founder, cardiovascular illness, and arthritis. On the other hand, sudden weight loss – which leaves the horse vulnerable to disease – is also observed, which can usually be explained with poor dental health, such as worn, broken or entirely eroded teeth, which directly affects a decrease in the ability to properly digest feed. Digestive problems leave telltale clues in the equine's manure, and you may look for whole grains and stalks of hay that have passed through the horse without being properly digested. As you can see, dental care is of the utmost importance when discussing the health of the geriatric horse!

Of course, not all aged horses have bad teeth, yet some still suffer from malnutrition in spite of the ability to properly chew their feed. It is important to know that the intestinal tract gradually decreases in its ability to draw nutrients from the feed. To this end, the owner of the aged horse will need to ensure that quantity is exchanged for quality, and easily digestible feeds that are made of high quality ingredients need to replace harder to digest feeds. You may choose to purchase a feed specially formulated for geriatric horses, or you may decide to put together your own feed. If you choose the latter, keep in mind that the aging horse is in need of larger amounts of high quality protein, easily digestible carbohydrates that are low in starch, and a balanced mix of vitamins and minerals.

Some horse owners have begun to use a base of broodmare feed (you may also use growth feed) which they supplement with complete feeds or beet pulp. Probiotics, which contain beneficial bacteria and digestive enzymes, are added to enhance digestive health; so are laxatives that do not upset the water concentration in the gut and corn oil which not only provides energy to the horse but also favorably impacts the horse’s coat. Water in the intestines permits the feed to move easily and prevents colic; to this end you may wish to supplement the feed with bran mash and psyllium seeds. Should you be unsure about the content of your feed, your veterinarian or a feed nutritionist will be able to help you decide if you are giving your geriatric horse the feed that will help her or him to live healthily for years to come.

Read the next horse health tips article on Allergies.
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