There is no magic number set for when an older horse will need special care. Some say that 20 years of age is when you start to see a decline, but it’s only a baseline. A horse 20+ years can still be thriving and doesn’t require any changes to its routine. Age should never be the criteria for considering specialized care, as it all comes down to the equine. Below we discuss 5 common medical conditions of an older horse.
Look at some of the people you meet. Folks well into their 70-80s are still dancing and living life to the fullest. So, remember that age is just a number. What you want to watch out for is signs of specific health problems. Here are a few of the most common issues seen with an older horse.
1. Tooth Loss
The teeth of any animal are often used as an indicator of age. As an equine gets older, its teeth become brittle and will rot. One thing to look for is sharp points, which can make chewing painful.
Additionally, it’s not uncommon for the molars to fall out, allowing the upper tooth to grow into the space below. This condition is called wave mouth, and it’s exceedingly painful.
Just like a human, a horse needs to have its teeth cleaned and examined twice a year. Any abnormalities detected should be addressed immediately.
The many years of general wear and tear can cause a horse to develop arthritis. Bearing weight on an arthritic joint can cause excruciating pain. The issue may be due to inflammation or tissue degeneration, or a combination of both.
The most common arthritic conditions seen in horses are called ringbone and spavin. While you can manage the issue, it’s not curable. Additionally, you might see a horse take longer to warm up in the mornings when they have arthritis, but soon they can loosen the joints as they begin moving.
One common sign that a horse is suffering from arthritis is when they won’t lay down, or they can’t get back up from the pasture without assistance.
3. Thyroid Dysfunction
Both thyroid and pituitary issues are common in older horses. The good news is that it’s relatively easy to manage such a condition. It’s imperative that horses have vaccinations and deworming at regular intervals, which will reduce the risk of such issues.
While there are several treatments available, they’re a bit controversial. The cost is one primary consideration, as are the side effects. A veterinarian can direct you on the best path to treat these common conditions.
4. Weight Loss
If an aging horse can’t keep their body at a stable weight, it’s often a sign of disease. First, make sure they’re dewormed and have no parasites in the body. Second, a mouth speculum is used to look for malabsorption of its nutrients due to a dental issue.
As mentioned above, when the teeth begin to grow from the top into the bottom space, a horse may not eat properly due to pain. Making some adjustments and having the teeth filed down is a viable answer. If the teeth aren’t the issue, then they may need some help in maintaining their weight.
The things that seem to help the most are vegetable oil and brewer’s yeast. If you need to make dietary changes, do it slowly so that you don’t shock their system. Additionally, notate the time of year that you see the weight loss.
It’s not uncommon for an older horse to lose more weight during the wintertime. By adding more feed to their daily routine, you can help supplement the additional energy used to keep their bodies warm.
5. Liver and Kidney Issues
Though it’s not commonplace for an older horse to have kidney or liver failure, it does happen. Both issues are considered progressive, but they can’t be cured. The good news is that you can manage the condition with an alteration to their diet.
When a horse has stones in their kidneys or bladder, they will lose weight, their appetite and can even die from this painful condition. Low-calcium diets are the best way to prevent such an issue.
A simple change in food can help to prevent or manage these conditions, such as using quality grass, hay, and corn. Also, avoiding anything that has alfalfa and clover in it can be beneficial.
Final Thoughts on Medical Care and the Older Horses
It’s easy to see that horses have many of the same conditions that humans face. At Oak Haven Acres, our veterinarian watches close for any issues that commonly plague our beloved equines. When a horse ages, it’s not as easy to care for them and their demanding needs, which is why a retirement center like ours is valuable.