The Geriatric Horse

More and more horses and ponies are living for longer and becoming geriatrics (defined as aged 20years and over) As a horse ages it is important to monitor for certain health problems which are commonly seen in an aging population.

Dental problems are common and may manifest as difficulty with the bit, reduced appetite, weight loss or headshaking. Six monthly dental checks are recommended for horses over 15 years old. (We will check teeth for free at annual vaccinations)

Low grade lameness is to be expected as osteoarthritis sets in; this is often put down to ‘stiffness’. Most of these conditions can be improved with treatment after the lameness is localised to a particular joint or area.

Older horses (especially ponies) commonly develop Cushings disease. The clinical signs include a curly coat, recurrent laminitis, a ‘pot bellied’ appearance, lethargy and recurrent infections. This condition is treatable once it has been definitively diagnosed with a blood test.

Many older horses struggle to maintain their condition, especially over the winter months. If weight loss is sudden or dramatic we will investigate to rule out concurrent disease. However often a change in diet is all that is necessary. Horses become less efficient at extracting nutrients from their feed as they age. It is important to maintain fibre content even if the horse is struggling to eat hay or haylage. A hay replacement diet can be created with chaff, sugar beet and soaked pony nuts. We can advise you or put you in touch with nutritionist if you feel your horse would benefit from a dietary change.

Older horses and ponies struggle more with extremes of weather than their younger friends. However they generally benefit from the low grade exercise that turnout provides and would stiffen up if kept indoors for long periods. Therefore we recommend that they remain turned out but with the benefit of good rugs and a field shelter, in all but the most extreme weather conditions.

With modern medicine and treatment options it is possible for many horses and ponies to carry on working well into their twilight years. We have many patients in the practice who are still in regular work in their 20s and 30s!

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