When we are concerned with the health of our senior equines, we turn to Dr. Jake, our resident veterinarian, for assistance. These days, we see horses reach 25 to 30 years, but many can live much longer. The longer lifespan is due to increased veterinarian care and proper nutrition. Just because a horse lives this long does not mean they will not suffer some of the same problems that an aging adult might face. More than 70 percent of horses, over 20 years of age, have a medical problem that requires regular veterinarian assistance.
If a horse is 12 years old, then in human years they would be about 40. A 20-year-old horse is over 60 in human years. So is it any wonder they start experiencing medical issues? Thankfully, health problems do not mean that it is the end of their good days, it just means they need some extra care. Early detection is the key to living a better life. Tackling the issue before it gets out of hand can help to reduce the pain and keep them moving. What common medical problems do horses face? Well, here is a head-to-hoof look at what to expect during some equines senior years.
Dental Health Matters
One of the most common concerns for an older horse is their oral health. Teeth become brittle and wear down. They may crumble into sharp points that can cut the inside of the mouth when they eat. If they break down far enough, the may be exposed. Exposed roots are quite painful and can cause other issues, like TMJ. It is not uncommon to find abscessed teeth and ulcerations too.
Dr. Jake reminds us that horses are just like humans. They can develop conditions like gingivitis, a build-up of tartar, and even have cavities. Most people do not consider their horses and their dental issues because it does not cause them to lose weight, and they usually eat normally. However, it is quite painful to have any dental issues. Horses will not often show signs of dental pain.
The only way to ensure that your horse has good oral health is to ensure they get regular dental examinations. A veterinarian will be able to spot any problems before a tooth becomes abscessed and infected. If a horse has problems chewing, drops their food when eating or begins to choke often, then these are all signs that warrant a vet visit.
Horses, on average, do not have as many vision problems as other animals, but they can experience some disturbances. Most commonly, horses have issues with cataracts and a detaching retina. Equines can uniquely compensate when their vision changes. Uveitis, or moon blindness, is where the body attacks the tissues of the eye. Not only is this condition blinding, but it is also painful.
Watch for any discoloration or cloudiness in the eyes. Also, be on the lookout for tearing and squinting. Eye problems can develop quickly and deteriorate causing permanent damage fast. Any changes should be reported to your vet.
Along with dental troubles, endocrine difficulties rank among the most common complications in horses. Cushing’s Disease is a problem with the endocrine system. It is caused by a tumor that sits on the pituitary gland, and this tumor causes the dopamine production to reduce. Signs of this condition include hair loss, lethargy, and laminitis. Many people just think the sluggish behavior that comes along with Cushing’s is coming from old age. By the time this condition is caught, it can be difficult to control with medications.
Over time, a horse’s back may become weak and develop an abnormal hollowing, which is known as swayback. Age is a factor as well as a lack of exercise. The muscles and tendons become weak and arthritis can develop. To prevent this problem, make sure an older horse gets plenty of exercises. Working over poles can keep their back healthy and prevent it from swaying or developing any other spinal injuries.
Without a hoof, there will be no horse. Over time, the hoof walls may crack and chip as they age. Dr. Jake says that adding a pure biotin feed supplement can help with these common issues. However, you need to make sure that a vet inspects the feet at least every six months to ensure there are no problems. Hoof abscesses and laminitis are not uncommon, and prevention is the key to maintaining overall hoof health.
Senior equines can still live a full and productive life, but they need a little special care to ensure they do not develop common age-old issues. Vet visits at least twice a year are imperative as well as visual inspections daily.