Aging horses have a much longer life span ahead of them today, as opposed to twenty years ago. The benefits of modern veterinarian care, supplements, preventative care, and the dedication of their owners has prolonged the quality of life of many equine animals.
The aging or geriatric horse is hard to define. Many people consider a horse to be old at the age of eighteen, but the animal itself can tell you more than statistics. Depending on the breed, genetics, health care, and prior training schedule, some horses will seem older sooner than others. Caring for the aging horse begins preventatively. Managing an illness brought on by age can be a much more daunting task than preventing it. Preventative care can begin during the horse’s early years, starting with proper healthcare, hoof care, exercise, and proper feed. Geriatric measures can be introduced as early as fourteen years of age.
There are several physical signs of aging that you can look for in your horse if you are unsure if senior care is needed.
- Change in physical appearance, a lowering of the back or potbelly look.
- Hair coat may change texture or lose sheen. The horse may not shed out properly.
- A droopy lower lip, deepened eye pockets.
- Weight may appear unevenly distributed.
- Energy level may be dropping, movement may be deteriorating.
There are many illnesses of which the aging horse is more susceptible. These problems may include, but are not limited to:
- Dental Problems. Horses wear their teeth down yearly, until there is no tooth left. This results in difficulty chewing and swallowing.
- Hormonal Problems. Tumors in the pituitary gland can result in Cushing’s disease. Symptoms of which include long, rough, wooly coat that does not shed and a more pronounced sway back. Hypothyroidism also affects the aging horse, looking overweight and lazy. Adrenal gland problems can cause an animal to become a hard keeper and drink excessively. All of these issues can be detected through blood work.
- Kidney Malfunction. These animals exhibit symptoms similar to Adrenal problems, such as being a hard keeper, drinking in excess, frequent urination, dull, listless attitude. This can also be diagnosed with blood work.
Many older horses also develop weight problems, which can be a sign of a problem, or just a signal to switch grain. Preventative senior care for the horse can involve switching to a senior type of grain. Most manufacturers put out such a product, which is easier to chew, digest, and absorb by the geriatric horse. It also contains a different mix of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates in an effort to maintain an aging horses dietary needs. Most horses have worn done their teeth after years of eating, so senior grain makes grinding and swallowing easier, with less chance of colic.
Laminitis or founder in the aging horse is a very serious problem that cannot be overlooked. While the exact cause of this potentially fatal medical condition is unknown, there are some tendencies that can lead to its development that you can try to avoid. Overeating, lack of exercise, and prolonged exposure to lush pasture can lead to founder. It is also linked to a variety of other diseases and illnesses. Many aging horses cannot digest grass and grain like they could at a younger age, so be sure to consult your veterinarian if you suspect a problem. Symptoms of laminitis include; elevated pulses in the ankles, hooves appear to be hot to the touch, elevated heart rate, inability to turn in tight circle, and pain while walking in hard ground. Call your vet right away if your horse exhibits these symptoms.
Horses can live long, healthy lives with proper care. Joint supplements and vitamins can also make your horse more comfortable, as well as a change in exercise, and grain. Routine examinations, including the teeth, by your vet can also help to prevent serious medical problems.