Equine Health And Older Horses

Just like people, horses are living longer and longer these days. Also, just like people, longer lives means more and different health challenges. In this article, we will discuss some of the health problems that are common to older equines and suggest ways of preventing, managing and/or resolving them. Read on to learn more.

According to equine health experts, it is often hard to tell if problems experienced by an older horse are caused by aging or by disease. To complicate matters further, very often an older horse will experience problems that are minor younger horses; however, in older horses these problems are more serious because they are more severe or occur with chronic frequency.

One of the first and most important things you should do if you are caring for a horse over the age of 20 is to schedule appointments for regular veterinary exams twice a year. Additionally, it is important to understand that older horses, like older people, may need ongoing medication to deal with ongoing medical challenges. When properly cared for, a horse can continue to live an active and full life into its 30s.

Problems With Teeth And Digestion

Many horses over the age of fifteen have problems with gastrointestinal lesions and with colic. One of the main reasons for this is problems with the teeth. Dental disease and dental abnormalities add up to poor chewing, which is the first step in the digestive process. Dental problems are often difficult to spot; however, if your horse is dropping a lot of food and hay on the ground at feeding time, it is a sure sign that something is amiss. Contact your vet to have your horse’s teeth examined and “floated”. This is a process wherein the vet (or sometimes a very skilled farrier) files down teeth that are sharp or overgrown.

Maintaining Proper Weight And Condition


Many people simply accept that older horses will tend to be thin, but this does not have to be the case. When well cared for and properly fed, most older horses can maintain a healthy weight and condition. Thin horses of any age should be examined by a vet to determine the cause of the problem.

There are quite a few reasons an equine might be underweight or in poor condition. Among them are disease, increased exercise, cold weather, poor digestion, poor absorption of nutrients, bad teeth and more. Your vet can identify the cause of the problem and recommend a solution.

Feeding Older Horses Correctly

Proper feeding is an important aspect of equine health for horses of all ages. All healthy horses need a diet that is high in forage (hay and grass) with feed and grain provided more as a supplement than as the main source of nourishment. In older horses, there are now specialty feeds that are formulated for older horses. These feeds include probiotics and prebiotics that promote the growth of digestive flora, which aid in good digestion and nutrient absorption. Additionally, these types of fee provide more fat, protein and amino acids to help older horses maintain a good weight with a proper muscle-to-fat ratio. For horses that have trouble chewing, there are complete feeds that include roughage in an easily chewed and digested form.

Problems With Older Bones And Joints

Just like older people, older horses tend to have achy bones and joints. This is even more the case when a horse has suffered a bone or joint injury early in life. In many ways, the treatment for these problems is also very similar for horses and people.

Horses with bone and joint problems should receive regular veterinary exams. Your vet may recommend daily light exercise to prevent stiffness and soreness along with regular doses of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to ease pain. Additionally, nutritional supplements such as glucosamine-chondroitin sulfate may be recommended.

Some horse owners have reported excellent results from non-conventional therapies such as massage therapy, chiropractic care, acupuncture, LED light therapy and aromatherapy. Talk with your vet about these possibilities.

Older Horses And Respiratory Disease

Horses of any age can get the heaves. This is a form of airway obstruction that tends to occur repeatedly if it occurs once. In older horses, this condition seems to be a bit more common. You can reduce the risk of your older horse getting the heaves by providing good ventilation in the barn and being sure that your horse is able to get outside as needed. Additionally, you may need to eliminate hay from the diet and just go with a complete feed instead. If the problem persists, you should contact your vet and discuss the use of special medications to help control allergy symptoms.

Eye Problems In Older Horses

Horses over the age of fifteen often develop eye problems. Among these are cataracts, senile retinopathy and damage to the vitreous substance within the eye. Additionally, older horses may tend to develop cancers in and around the eye. This is especially true of light colored horses, indicating that shelter from the sun, while important for all horses, is especially important for white and grey horses.

The Hardest Equine Health Decision: Saying Goodbye To Your Old Friend

Responsible horse owners know that the day will come when a respectful and merciful decision must be made. When your horse is no longer able to enjoy life because of age, illness and/or injury, it will be time to call your vet to have your horse euthanized. Be sure to make plans for this long before you need to. Having a horse euthanized and buried or cremated is not an inexpensive process; however, your old friend deserves a proper and decent farewell. Discuss your options with your vet far in advance so that you will be well-prepared when the time comes.

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