More of our horses and ponies are living longer nowadays due to better health care and owners who are happy to keep retirees1. With older age, however, come health challenges that need special care2.
A horse is classed as ‘aged’ once they show several signs of ageing, rather than at a specific age, because health and the ageing process varies widely between individuals2
As horses become older, they may have specific health challenges2:
- Loss of muscle mass (sarcopenia)
- Increased risk of PPID (Cushing’s syndrome) which usually requires long-term medication
- Increased risk of colic, some eye conditions, and infections
- Reduced ability to digest food, and potential increase in certain nutrient requirements
- Reduced efficiency in internal vitamin C production, so may require supplementation
- Increased likelihood of musculoskeletal problems including arthritis and joint stiffness and/or pain
- Reduced efficiency of immunity and increased insulin resistance
- Reduced dental efficiency, with loss of grinding surface and/or loss of teeth, eventually requiring replacement of normal forage
Specialist Care and Management
Owners don’t always recognise health conditions in their older horses and ponies, with dental problems and lameness being two issues that were under-reported in a UK survey of horses and ponies over the age of 303. Take extra care to monitor your aged equid and consult your vet about treatments to increase their quality of life4.
Aged horses are less able to thermoregulate so should have more protection from extremes of temperature2.
Dental issues are common in older horses and ponies and can cause severe weight loss2. Regular dental care is often not enough to ensure good chewing ability because the teeth surfaces can wear smooth and the teeth eventually grow out of the gums. Most older horse and ponies will need their long forage (hay, haylage) gradually replaced with short chop, then eventually, ground fibrous alternatives. At this point they will benefit from digestive support.
Advancing age is associated with stiffness and an increased risk of lameness, with 83.5% of animals in one survey of 200 cases over the age of 15 years having a reduced range of motion in at least one joint. In the same survey, half of the horses were lame in trot1.Musculoskeletal problems are the most common health condition in ageing horses2. Strategic use of oral joint supplements to support cartilage and joint health can help to support a healthy musculoskeletal system. Products as that contain herbal support as well as nutraceuticals can be particularly useful for veterans e.g. Equestrizone Fleximover. Oral joint supplements need to be fed long term in order to be effective in veterans.
Keeping your veteran full of vitality:
- Monitor signs of health twice daily
- Keep on top of hoofcare with regular trimming if unshod because age-related stiffness means that balanced hooves are just as if not more important in older age
- Implement regular veterinary checks to assess health, especially dental and musculoskeletal health
- Consider clipping for PPID cases
- Replace long forage (hay, haylage) with more easily chewed alternatives if any signs of dental insufficiency e.g. weight loss (especially in winter), quidding and reduced consumption of forage
- Feed a good quality diet but do not overfeed energy i.e. maintain a slim body condition
- Feed a joint supplement long term to support mobility
- Use supplements strategically, including those to support joints (e.g. Equestrizone Fleximover), PPID (Vitex Agnus Castus and Vitamin C) and digestive health when there are dental issues.