Veteran Horse Care
Horses are living longer thanks to improvements in diet, management and veterinary care and these older animals need more attention and in some cases special care. Physiological changes within the body mean that older animals are more susceptible to illness and that recovery times will be longer.
What are the signs of an ageing horse?
• Muscle and Ligament Degeneration and Loss - dipped back, loose skin, drooping lower lips
• Cataract Degeneration
• Grey Hairs
• The appearance of clinical conditions associated with age; messy eating due to worn or missing teeth, lameness due to arthritis and weight loss are all commonly seen.
What do I need to think about in an elderly animal?
Whilst we advise that all horses and ponies have their teeth checked twice yearly this is even more important in older animals. Dental issues that cause pain and weight loss are much more common in elderly animals and regular check ups will allow us to identify issues before they become too large a problem for the animal. Common issues can include loose teeth, worn down, aged teeth and painful diastema (gaps between the teeth).
A healthy older horse needs good attention to their diet because their guts aren’t as efficient at digestion and absorption of nutrients. They should have a palatable, easy to digest high energy diet that is tailored to their dental situation. Elderly animals that have lost several teeth need additional fibre in their diet and will often struggle with long fibres like in hay.
General care remains essential in the elderly as in all animals. Monitoring for worms, regular body condition checks and grooming along with providing shelter are all important. Exercise is encouraged as long as the animal is comfortable. Good farriery remains as important in retirement as it was when the horse was competing.
This is a very common ailment of elders animals. Signs include stiffness and lameness that often improves with gentle exercise. Once present we can not cure arthritis but we can take steps to reduce or eliminate any pain associated with the condition.
Cushings disease is a common syndrome that we see in horses and ponies and whilst it is certainly not limited to elderly animals, it is progressive and as such it is more likely to be identified later in life. Laminitis, Lethargy and Recurrent Infections are all symptoms associated with Cushings in addition to the more commonly seen changes to the coat, fat deposits and increased drinking. Cushings disease, thankfully, can be easily controlled with medication which can vastly reduce the impact of the condition and most significantly, the risk of developing laminitis.