In the past horses were considered to be geriatric at 16 years old but now horses, like humans, are living longer and many are still competing in their early 20s.  As the horse ages it is likely to show common signs of aging including drooping lip, grey hairs around the eyes and muzzle, muscle degeneration especially over the top line and hollowed appearance of the face.

The older horse may also suffer from: laminitis, cushings disease, cataracts, weight loss, arthritis, loss of body condition and tooth wear.

Dentistry on an elderly pony
Dentistry on an elderly pony

Why do older horses have dental problems?

Horses teeth have adapted over the duration of evolution to chew grass and fibre, and this wears down the teeth at a rate of 2 to 3 mm per year.  This wear is balanced out by new eruption at an equal rate.  However, when the horse gets to the mid 20s all of the crown reserve has erupted so many horses suffer dental issues and thus have difficulty eating.  This causes weight loss.  Owners often first notice this when their horses start to ‘quid’ (partially chewed hay or grass is spat out and can be seen on the stable floor or in the paddock).  Also another sign is the length of fibre in the horse’s dropping get longer, indicating the fibre is not being chewed properly.

Feeding the underweight veteran

Many horses lose weight as they get older. It may be due to poor teeth but it can also be due to reduced digestive ability or underlying causes such as worms, PPID (Cushings Disease) and liver disease.  If you are worried about your older horse please contact your vet.

Management and diet can be changed to try and increase weight gain.

  • Access to good quality grass for as much as the year as possible.
  • Feed an age specific feed with high protein and oil content, for example Honeychop Senior
  • Add soya oil to the diet
  • Try haylage in place of hay
  • Use rugs to help keep the horse warm so calories are not expended trying to keep warm
Access to good quality grazing
Access to good quality grazing

If your horse’s teeth are in poor condition due to age ensure your vet or EDT regularly checks your horse.  Grinding food can become very difficult so changes may need to include;

  • Steaming hay to soften it
  • Short chopped chaff such as Honeychop Senior
  • Soft meadow hay
  • Grazing on young grass pasture
  • Forage replacers –This can be fed as a total of 2% of bodyweight. Ensure this is divided into different feeds throughout the day.
  • High fibre nuts – which can be soaked
  • Sugar beet – soaked
  • Grass nuts – soaked
  • Vitamin and minerals additives.

Pretty pony wearing a grazing muzzle to avoid obesity
Pony wearing a grazing muzzle to avoid obesity

Feeding the Overweight Veteran

An overweight veteran is a serious problem and can cause major health issues.  If the horse’s nutritional intake is greater than physical energy demand then the horse can become overweight.  A balanced approach needs to be taken, which can be difficult if exercise is reduced.  Using a weigh tape can help monitor the horses weight or to try and reduce calories you can;

  • Use a grazing muzzle – only use a muzzle for a limited time daily and check it is fitted correctly.
  • Reduce the quality and quantity of grass
  • Mix hay with Honeychop Chopped Oat Straw
  • Use a vitamin and mineral supplement
  • Exercise

If you are concerned about your older horse then please contact your veterinary surgeon.