Caring for the older horse

Dr Becky Lees BVSc Cert AVP (EM) MRCVS

Common problems of the older horse:

  • Causes of weight loss in older horses include dental problems, reduced digestion of nutrients, Equine Cushing’s Syndrome, and chronic pain.
  • Older horses have different nutritional requirements to younger horses.
  • Arthritis is common in older horses, signs are chronic lameness, stiff gait, and sometimes bony enlargements around the joints.
  • Old horses can develop cancer of the skin and/or internal organs. These do not necessarily pose an immediate threat to a horse’s life, but need to be addressed and managed for the continuing quality of life.
  • Heart murmurs are found more often in older horses and their significance can be assessed by your vet.
  • Several eye conditions are more common with advancing age, your vet can assess the significance of these changes.

Older horses require:

  • A diet designed specifically to meet their requirements with appropriate supplements as needed.
  • Regular grooming.
  • Annual vaccinations.
  • Regular dental examinations (usually at least every 6 months).
  • To be part of the de-worming programme.
  • Regular farriery.
  • Regular health checks.

Helping to prevent weight loss & maintain condition

As horses age their digestive system becomes less efficient. This means that they are cannot get the same amount of nutrients from their food, follow these top tips to help your horse maintain condition:
  • Feed a supplement containing pre and probiotics. This will help balance and enhance digestibility for all round health and vitality. Maintaining good digestive health will help reduce the likelihood of digestive problems and weight loss. Nettex Gut Balancer contains high levels of probiotics as well as a unique blend of 5 prebiotics and vitamins and minerals to help your horse get the most out of his diet and maintain condition and good general health.
  • If your horse doesn’t require any hard feed he may not be getting all of the vitamins, minerals and trace elements he needs. Nettex Supalyx are a complete all round molasses based vitamin and mineral feeding block designed to supplement dietary requirements that may be lacking in everyday feed and forage. Nettex Supalyx also contain Diamond V XPLS Yeast Culture, an exclusive natural yeast product shown to have a positive effect on nutrient digestibility. They are available in two sizes for use in the field and stable.
  • If your horse has dental problems and struggles to chew hay properly consider swapping part of his hay ration for a hay replacer that is easier for him to chew.
  • If your horse needs to gain weight it is safest to add an oil to his diet to provide calories without having to feed bulky and risky high starch feeds. Oil feeding also provides energy without ‘fizz’.  Nettex Linseed OilNettex Soya Oil and Nettex Cod Liver Oil are all excellent sources of slow release energy.
  • If you are concerned that your horse isn’t getting all of the vitamins and minerals he needs consider feeding a balancer such as Nettex All Purpose Vits & Mins. It is ideal for horses on basic diets or those being fed soaked hay where vital vitamins are lost during soaking and will provide older horses with the extra support they need.

Helping to manage stiffness & arthritis

  • Previously the only therapy available for arthritis was to give the horse ‘bute’ whenever necessary to keep him or her comfortable. Now there are many more treatment options that you can discuss with your vet.
  • Nettex Substi-Bute is available as a maintenance powder which is ideal for long term use. It contains herbal extracts to help maximise mobility and flexibility, helping to keep older horses comfortable and mobile. Nettex Substi-Bute is also available in an oral syringe to provide quick and effective results with one administration.
  • Joints supplements are well recognised to be beneficial for horses suffering from stiffness or arthritis. Nettex Arthri-Flex contains high levels of glucosamine, chondroitin, MSM and hyaluronic acid to help horses maintain their joints. What sets it apart from other supplements is the unique blend of herbal extracts that it contains to maximise mobility and flexibility, which means that you will see a difference in your horse after you start feeding Nettex Arthri-Flex.

Maintaining good health care

  • Older horses should be vaccinated even if they don’t travel. Other horses can pass on diseases such as flu to them and older horses are still susceptible to tetanus
  • Dental problems are common in older horses, signs may include weight loss, quidding, and food packing in the cheeks or favouring one side of the mouth when chewing. Teeth should be checked every 6 months by an equine vet or a qualified equine dental technician.
  • Equine Cushing’s Syndrome is very common in older horses and can now be easily tested for and treated. If you are concerned your horse may be affected discuss this with your vet.
  • Older horses can be more prone to parasites such as worms and also external parasites such as lice, so including them in the de-worming programme is vital. Regular grooming will help to identify external parasites so they can be promptly treated.
  • As horses get older problems can occur with their internal organs, such as the liver. If you have any concerns it is best to discuss them with your vet as organ function can be checked by taking a blood sample.
  • A annual health check with your vet is worthwhile so that any problems or concerns can be identified early and promptly treated.

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