Just like us, when horses age, they begin to need a little bit more attention and care. The good news is that their health challenges tend to be predictable and relatively easy to look after. Here are some guidelines for managing the changing needs of your older horse.
Check for dental abnormalities and tooth loss
All horses require routine dental examinations and floating. In geriatric horses—especially those reaching the end of their reserve crown or starting to lose teeth—we want to ensure their mouths are in the best shape possible.
Dental problems can result in inadequate mastication (or chewing), which leads, in turn, to increased risk of health concerns like choking and impactions. Poor mastication can also lead to malnutrition and weight loss.
Through routine dental examinations, we’re better able to recommend when you should start changing your horse’s diet to something a little bit easier to chew and digest.
Screen for Cushing’s disease
We recommend screening horses over the age of 17 for evidence of Cushing’s disease (pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction). Keep in mind that not all horses suffering from this condition exhibit the classic signs, such as a long, curly hair coat and pot belly.
Also, during the early stages of Cushing’s, a horse can appear to be normal, but it will have a higher risk for laminitis and founder. You don’t want to wait until after your horse experiences a laminitic episode to take action. By screening for Cushing’s disease, you have the opportunity initiate a treatment program that will prevent a laminitic episode from occurring in the first place.
Just because your horse is getting up in age, you shouldn’t put an end to regular workouts. In fact, staying active and performing some form of routine work is necessary for geriatric horses to maintain healthy muscle mass and well-lubricated joints. If you’re not regularly riding your older horse, it is important that they get lunged on a regular basis to keep them as fit as possible.
Regular and consistent work, as opposed to random sessions, is encouraged. And remember, older horses tend to need a longer warm-up and cool-down routine to avoid injury.
Address discomfort caused by degenerative joint disease age arthritis
While staying physically active is important, degenerative joint disease and arthritis can plague the older horse, making regular exercise more challenging. Fortunately, there are a good treatment options available. These include injectable hyaluronic acid and glucosamine, which help to maintain good quality joint fluid, and judicious use of anti-inflammatory medications, like Phenylbyutazone and Previcox.
By taking appropriate measures, you can help your geriatric horse work and be active with reduced discomfort, or none at all. Don’t hesitate to contact us about treatment recommendations appropriate to your older horse’s joint-associated aches and pains.
Older horses are more likely to get sick and may have a harder time recovering. Emphasis should be put on maintaining a healthy weight, ensuring physical and mental comfort and preserving soundness. Early recognition of health problems, along with early intervention, is key giving your horse the gift of a long and happy life.