Story by Eleanor Kellon, VMD
Thanks to advances in management and veterinary care, our horses are living longer than ever before. Learn what your senior citizen needs to enjoy his golden years.
During your horse's twilight years, don't just turn her out to fend for herself-especially in a herd situation. Daily care and monitoring are important.
When is a horse old? Every horse is an individual. How quickly a horse ages isn't necessarily related to his calendar years. Some horses look time-ravaged in their teens, others are vigorous at 30. Take your cues regarding when to start special care by how the horse looks and acts. What is aging, anyway? That question still plagues scientists. There's no real consensus on why aging occurs. It's not as simple as the tread wearing off a tire. Living things come equipped with mechanisms for reproducing cells and repairing damaged tissue-but only for so long. One theory of aging is that cells are programmed to be able to produce only a finite number of copies. Another theory is that tiny bits of DNA are lost every time a cell is copied, eventually resulting in enough damage or change that it doesn't function properly. There is also considerable evidence that damage from free radicals (molecules having a single, unpaired electron) is involved. But the bottom line is, aging probably involves all of these mechanisms and occurs as an interaction between the horse's basic genetics and environmental factors. We can't do anything about the horse's genes, but we can do our best to make sure we provide the horse with the proper care and nutrition he needs to live a long, healthy life. Signs of Aging Aging is a gradual process. The changes of aging are similar in all species and include:
•Appearance of gray hairs on the face, sometimes throughout the coat
•Decreased elasticity of the skin. •Decreased muscular strength and definition
•Loss of elasticity in tendons and ligaments
•Reduced digestive efficiency and increased risk of colic
•Gum and dental disease
•Reduced exercise tolerance and difficulty in conditioning
•Reduced mental alertness and increased napping
•Trouble maintaining weight
•Reduced tolerance for extreme heat or cold
•"Slowing down"-less interest in movement in general
•Reduced resistance to infections and parasites
•Development of vaccine reactions and allergies.
• Many of these things interact to produce the typical picture of an old horse. For example, loss of elasticity in the skin and tendons, combined with loss of muscle strength and definition, can lead to the sagging back and belly we associate with an older horse. Hormonal problems often compound the muscle loss that occurs with aging and inactivity. Loss of digestive efficiency involves many things. The horse may chew inefficiently. He may not produce as much saliva and digestive enzymes. He may suffer from cumulative parasite damage, although that's not as big a problem today with our modern, easy-to-administer dewormers. There may be changes in how well the digestive tract mixes and propels feed along the route. Poor digestion, in turn, contributes to a pot-bellied appearance, sluggishness, difficulty holding weight, manure changes and muscle loss.
•Separate your senior at feeding time so he doesn't have to compete for food.
•Provide shade, shelter, blankets or fans to help regulate body temperature.
•Stable your senior with a gentle companion so he isn't being bullied.
•Modify diet as needed, but be judicious when it comes to dental care.
•Provide regular hoof care, and deworm and vaccinate as recommended by your vet.
•Maintain a regular exercise program as befits your senior's soundness and condition.
The Essentials: Turn out, and even continued regular exercise, is beneficial for the older horse but with some qualifications. In a herd situation, the older horse is usually at the bottom of the pecking order. Being weaker and slower than the others puts older horses at a disadvantage when it comes to competing for shelter, food and water. Decreased efficiency of chewing means they will take longer to eat and may also need special feeds to hold their weight. If the horse has lameness issues, he may not travel to drink as often as he should. One of the earliest signs that the horse is not competing well in a herd situation is weight loss. There can be other causes for this as well (poor chewing and poor digestive efficiency), so it's important to make sure the horse has adequate feed and enough time to eat as a first step. Exposure to extremes of weather is also a problem. Keep a close eye on how your horse is interacting with other animals in a group setting and check daily for any evidence of bites or kicks. If the horse is being picked on, move him to a smaller area with one gentle companion.
Caring for seniors properly is a challenge, but if you understand their needs and adapt your care routines appropriately, your old friend can live out his golden years with you in the best health possible.
Animal Nutrition Solutions genuinely cares about your horses’s best health, and we are committed to consumer education. We want you to understand what is BEST for your horse and WHY. Pampered Pooch and Pony’s dedicated nutritionist is always available to our customers, free of charge, to answer any questions you may have relating to dog or horse nutrition. All of our products have been tested and researched to provide the best nutrition possible, with the fewest amount of ingredients. Our supplements are created to provide what is lacking from their diet, optimizing nutrition and cost. Equine Mineral Balancer with Joint Support is a perfect supplement for senior horses, and contains human grade quality joint supplements, while providing the same mineral supplementation as Equine Mineral Balancer . Both are veterinarian recommended!
Dr Eleanor Kellon offers equine nutrition courses including electrolytes http://www.drkellon.com