Caring For Older Horses

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

Dental problems– These 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. Milbourn Equine can check teeth as part of the health check at your horse’s annual vaccination and we are happy to perform any dental work required.

Lameness – 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.

PPID/Cushings – Older horses (especially ponies) commonly develop PPID (Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction) also known as Equine Cushing’s 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. More information can be found at www.talkaboutlaminitis.co.uk.

Condition– 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.

This time of year you should also be on the lookout for Mud Fever and Colic in horses of any age.

Mud Fever– Is a condition of the skin on the lower legs which typically occurs during wet weather in horses who are turned out. It is a bacterial infection caused by a particular bacteria called Dermatophilus which live within the mud. As with many things, prevention is better than cure! Removing mud from the horse’s legs is important. The best way to remove mud is to allow the legs to dry and then to brush the mud away with a dandy brush. An oil based barrier cream such as Vaseline can be applied to legs before turn out. Checking your horse’s legs on a daily basis can allow you to intervene and instigate treatment of mud fever at the first sign.

Colic-At this time of year colic signs are common, especially when there is snow on the ground and the horses are suddenly exposed to a dramatic change in management. Prevention is not always possible however trying to keep the horses management similar regardless of weather conditions helps. Making a gradual change to hay or haylage in the autumn and maintaining the horse on the same brand or batch of long stem forage is helpful.  If snow curtails your exercise plans be sure to reduce the hard food that you are providing to the horse, continuing on high levels of hard feed when the horse is doing no exercise will often lead to tying up.
Don’t forget Worming! – Every horse should receive a larvicidal dose of roundwormer such as moxidectin in the late autumn/early winter. Most other wormers will not kill encysted roundworms and therefore the horse can colic as a result of encysted larvae despite having received a wormer. Please contact us for advice. Our Equine Healthcare Plan includes our worming programme as standard.

Make sure your horse is in tip top condition this winter. Winter Healthchecks – Only £97.50 inc VAT

Strange Veterinary Hoof Terms Explained…

Thrush and Canker

4Thrush is a common bacterial/fungal
infection which affects the frog and sole of
the foot, producing malodorous, black
necrotic material particularly in the grooves
between the frog and the sole (frog sulci). If
left untreated, it can affect deeper
structures within the foot. It is most commonly seen in horses kept in damp conditions or through poor hygiene.
However, it can occur in horses kept in a clean environment, if the frog is overgrown.

Canker is a disease affecting the soles charicterised by a foul smelling
creamy exudate. Canker is similar, but a more serious condition than
thrush. Although it is rare, unlike thrush it can be difficult to solve. It is a
severe bacterial/fungal infection (proliferative pododermatitis) that
generally originates in the frog, and affects the heels, horn and underlying
structures of the hoof. The clinical signs are the development of a
foul-smelling white/grey pus in and around the frog and the presence of
granulation-like tissue which often bleeds. Lameness is often variable depending upon the depth of structures involved.

Strange Veterinary Hoof Terms Explained…


3Quittor is a chronic, septic condition of one of
the collateral cartilages of the pedal bone 5.
Characterized by necrosis of the lateral
cartilage of the foot and one or more sinus
tracts extending from the diseased cartilage
through the skin in the coronary band region.
This results in the formulation of purulent
fistulas that open above the coronet, usually resulting in lameness. It is seldom encountered today but was common in working draft horses in the past, usually following injury to the area.

Strange Veterinary Hoof Terms Explained…


2A keratoma is a type of benign tumour that
grows inside the foot. It originates from the
horn producing cells, usually underneath the
coronet, and grows down the foot with the
normal hoof. When they reach the white line
area at the toe, they cause separation of the
bond between the hoof wall and sole. Once
bacteria penetrate the foot, an abscess forms.
The abcess is usually associated with a widening of the white line. An x-ray or MRI scan is needed to confirm the presence of a Keratoma. An underlying keratoma will always cause the abscess to recur. The cause is unknown but can be associated with chronic irritation or trauma.

Eye Injuries – What to look for

Those big soft eyes; whether they’re brown or even blue, we all love to stare into them. However, being so large has its disadvantages, as our horses’ eyes can be prone to injury. Whether it’s to get that last little nibble of grass on the other side of the fence, or while out riding and hacking, traumatic or penetrating injuries can occur and sometimes without us noticing it straight away.
The most common and obvious to the “naked eye” include eyelid lacerations.
Usually the upper lid is most involved, but all lacerations are extremely important to repair without delay to avoid further damage to the eye itself. Depending on the extent of injury, your veterinarian will most likely need to stitch the eyelid.
Another evident injury is blunt trauma to the eye. Your horse may present with just a swollen eyelid, but the key is not to panic! Call your vet to have them examine the extent of injury through the layers of the eye.
Other injuries may not be so apparent. Scratches or damage to the surface of the eyes can easily become infected and create corneal ulcers, which in turn can progress to severe scarring or rupture.

Signs to look out for painful eyes include:
• Avoiding bright light (standing at the back of the stable for example), or excessive squinting
• Closed eyes, with tear production
• Discolouration of the eye
• Swelling or redness of the eye
• White to yellow discharge from the eye

Your vet will want to examine the eye in a dark stable, with a calm and well-restrained patient, therefore sedation may be heavily indicated. Nerve blocks may also be required to relax the eyelids and allow for a more thorough examination. In addition, a special dye called fluorescein can be used to search for damage to the surface layer of the eye, by staining them in bright green.
Treatment can range from daily management routines to immediate referral for further diagnostics and/or surgery. Medical treatment will usually consist of anti-inflammatory drugs to help reduce the pain, as well as eye drops to administer multiple times a day. Atropine eye drops will help to dilate your horse’s pupil and therefore help with pain relief. Antibiotic drops or ointment may be required to fight off any infections. Although it may be onerous, it is very important to stick to the regular daily administration of these medications.

Finally, horses should be kept in a dark stable, preferably in a low-dust environment.

With a combination of early recognition, rapid assessment and the appropriate treatment, eye injuries can have very successful outcomes. Communicating with your vet is key, and soon enough you’ll both be back cantering head on into the sunset!