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Techniques to Improve Quality of Life for Older Horses

Digestion/Nutrition
Older horses become less efficient at digesting food and can benefit from many of the following suggestions:

  • Regular dental care — check teeth once or twice yearly.
  • Fecal exam and appropriate parasite control.
  • Senior feeds.
  • Increased number of feedings.
  • Hay cubes or beet pulp.
  • Probiotic supplements.
  • Fat supplements — one idea is corn oil, 1/4 cup twice daily.

Dental Care
This helps in the prevention of choke, colic, weight loss, chronic pain, and infections. Treatment may include removal of diseased or broken teeth and general filing of points, hooks, and ramps. Correction of uneven incisor bite, wave mouth or step mouth in molars is possible with power dental tools. Major problems may require a second visit; a conservative approach may be better than correcting everything at the same time.

Respiratory Allergies
Allergies tend to increase with age. Management can be extremely helpful.

  • Sprinkle or dunk hay before feeding.
  • Improve ventilation or put allergic horses in the best ventilated stall.
  • Don’t store hay next to the horse.
  • Consider constant turnout with a shed as an alternative to an indoor stall.
  • Use medication as needed but try management changes first. One hour of exposure makes a horse allergic for the other 23 hours.

Cushings Disease and Secondary Laminitis
This pituitary gland dysfunction is common in older horses and affect the endocrine system, hair coat, immune responses and often causes founder.

  • Diagnosis is based on clinical symptoms and blood test.
  • Treatment involves medication — such as pergolide, cyproheptadine and chasteberry extracts
  • Routine health care is extremely important in these cases.
  • Body clip as needed.
  • Provide a diet with a low glycemic index — higher fat, high fiber, good quality protein (but not high levels) and lower carbohydrate levels.
  • Senior feeds are a plausible option.
  • Limit pasture and avoid high sugar content (slow growth, stress and sunlight increase sugar). Consider a grazing muzzle.
  • Provide appropriate hoof care and treat for founder as needed.
  • Keep weight at proper level.
  • Avoid stress and give regular exercise if possible.

Arthritis

  • Diagnosis differs little from younger horses but therapy and management should be tailored to the age and use of each horse.
  • Generic therapy could consist of powdered aspirin, 1-2 heaping tablespoons daily or intermittent bute-2 grams daily for 4 days then 3 days off.Supplements could include glucosamine, sodium hyaluronate, MSM, Vitamin E, Vitamin C, Selenium and Chondroitin (in descending order). Omega 6 & 3 may also be helpful and are found in rice bran.
  • Hoof care that seems to benefit most types of Arthritis would include some of the following: squared toes, rockered toes, reverse shoes, proper hoof/pastern axis and laminitis/founder trimming if indicated.
  • Regular exercise that is not too much or too little, and a safe (non-threatening) turnout area.