In summary, how to make the last decade of your horse’s life a happy one?
Seadown Equine Vets

In summary, how to make the last decade of your horse’s life a happy one?

The welfare of your older horse or pony, will depend on many factors. Well organized, regular health care is a key to keep your companion happy and pain free.

We all know how important it is for equine owners to pay attention to general health issues. Whilst the immune system needs to be boosted with vaccinations, the parasitic burden also needs to be kept under control, and dental care must not be forgotten. Detailed dental examination should be performed at least once a year. However, diastemas, periodontal diseases and caries that are frequently encountered in our elderly patients may require more attention. We need to remember, that severe oral discomfort impedes adequate food intake and limits performance. Infundibular carious processes can be a beginning of sinus(es) inflammation, that requires surgical management.  Preventative measures such as the filling of the carious lesions, is a solution now readily available in the UK and is worth considering before infection spreads too far.

A change in your horse’s behavior (stoicism does not need to be age related!), decreased appetite, poor skin condition are not associated only with dental issues. Hormonal disorders, like pituitary pars intermedia disorder (Cushing’s disease) and equine metabolic syndrome are known for making our companions heavier and laminitic. However, with more subtle presentations, we can often make a significant change in the horse’s welfare with the benefit of a blood test.

The feeding of the elderly patient also does not need to be complicated! Keeping your horse fit, means providing sufficient amount of good quality forage, while tailoring its source to its dental condition. If chewing of the hay becomes challenging, alternative sources of forage can be introduced, and there are so many of them (hay cubes). Reduced digestion of fibre and protein makes the senior orientated “predigested” diets very useful. Adequate nutrition warrants better performance. It is vital for the horse’s longevity to have regular exercise sessions. It can be wandering around the field, stretching sessions in the box (baited exercises) or even low-level exercise sessions that keep the muscles toned and the joints happier. The vital locomotor structures may require some support, which can be offered in form of oral supplementation (with chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine) or intra-articular/intra-muscular deposition of substances classified as disease modifying drugs (hyaluronic acid, polysulfated polysaccharides). The soundness of older horses should be preserved as long as it is possible to maintain a good quality of life.

In closing, the lifespan of both humans and horses has greatly increased with the progress in veterinary medicine and to an extent ‘age is definitely just a number’.  Here at Seadown in the New Forest we have many wonderful examples of older patients, like Kowtow and Ben’s Delight mentioned in this article and indeed with Summer Day (a horse with two serious injuries that at 24yrs, is thriving and loving life)  

When all is said and done, age does not usually define the ability to older horses to recover. When given a chance and with the right care, they can potentially regain their fitness and strength and last at our side for a few more years. This is the dream that as a vet we want to realise for our clients and that we seek to come true. 

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