Thanks to advances in preventative veterinary medicine, horses live longer than they did just a few decades ago. Even so, age-related issues are common, becoming a physical burden for the horse and a financial burden for the owner. Caring for horses 20 years old and above requires an understanding of their unique medical and nutritional needs. Below are four of the most common medical problems these animals face:
Years of chewing in a circular motion wears at a horse’s teeth. Over time, the outside of the upper molars and inside of the lower molars will naturally file into sharp points. Regular floating is part of a standard equine dental routine and can avoid this issue, but it’s not a foolproof method. Some horses simply lose all their teeth when they get older.
“Poor teeth make it hard for older horses to properly chew their food.”
Aside from puncturing the inner mouth, poor teeth make it hard for older horses to properly chew their food. This ultimately leads to malnutrition and digestive issues like colic and impaction. To make sure your horse gets the right nutrients and can digest its food properly, give it processed grains and forage. You can also feed your horse mashes by mixing pelleted feeds with water.
Even elderly horses with perfect teeth are still at a higher risk of digestive problems. An aging horse’s digestive system isn’t as efficient as it used to be, meaning impaction, ulcers, colic and other problems are more likely. To aid digestion, give your older horse feed that’s been processed through cracking, crimping, rolling or steam flaking, all of which break the seed coat of the grain. Also, mix in absorbable, energy-rich foods like beet pulp or fat supplements. You can also give your horse Finish Line’s U-7 Gastric Aid, which contains herbs and vitamins to support a horse’s gastric system.
Recurrent airway obstruction, also known as heaves, isn’t strictly an age-related issue, but it does affect older horses more than it does young ones. Years of exposure to dust and mold leads to a recurring cough at best and flared nostrils, nasal discharge and the appearance of a heave line at worst. Horses that often suffer heaves also tend to have chronic inflammation which, coupled with a weak immune system, puts them at risk for other respiratory issues. Move the horse to pasture and clean the barn if you notice a persistent cough. Treat heaves with anti-inflammatory drugs and bronchodilators, and ease the cough with Finish Line’s Air Power.
Pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction, commonly referred to as Cushing’s disease, is incredibly common among older horses. An imbalance of antioxidants leads to the overproduction of free radicals in the body, which causes certain neurons to stop producing dopamine. This tricks the brain into overproducing several other hormones, leading to a host of symptoms including insulin resistance, fat deposits along the neck or tail, muscle loss, skin problems, allergies and a weakened immune system. Horse’s with Cushing’s disease often develop laminitis and grow an overly long coat or fail to completely shed their coats. EquiSearch recommended giving these animals feeds low in starches and sugars and supplementing their diets with vitamin E. Try Finish Line’s Vitamin E & Selenium, which comes in a tasty apple flavor.