First, we should define the senior horse. We typically think of a senior horse as one that is in its teens, but individual horses become seniors at different ages. The age at which a horse's nutritional needs shift from those of a mature adult horse to those of a geriatric horse is determined by genetics and the way that horse was managed throughout its life. Basically, the horse itself determines when it becomes a senior. We look for some common indications of changing nutritional needs to determine when to start addressing the various needs of a geriatric horse.
For instance, if it is becoming more difficult to maintain the horse's body weight on its traditional diet of hay or grass and feed, or the horse starts dropping wads of partially chewed hay on the ground (quidding), then it is likely time to switch to a diet designed for senior horses. Some horses require dietary adjustments around age 16, but others go well into their twenties before needing any major diet changes. It is best for the horse if you pay close attention and address any special needs before significant decline in condition or health occurs. Working with your veterinarian will be helpful in determining when to begin addressing concerns of the aging horse, as well as essential to ensure the continued good health and longevity of your horse.
Some of the problems common to older horses include:
- Worn or missing teeth
- Decreasing digestive efficiency
- Respiratory problems
- Difficulty maintaining body weight
- Poor haircoat
- Chronic lameness
Each of these situations may have causes unrelated to age, but addressing the nutritional needs of the individual horse may improve or help manage the condition.