Nutrient requirements of senior horses can be challenging to establish due to the fact that their ability to digest and absorb nutrients is notably less than their younger counterparts. There are no specific recommendations regarding maintenance energy requirements of geriatric horses; the individuals’ voluntary activity level and concurrent disease needs to be carefully considered in each individual case. In general, it is suggested that older horses require more crude protein, more phosphorus and may benefit from supplementary amino acids to maintain muscle mass.
All horses, including geriatrics, should receive forage (pasture) and long-stemmed hay as a foundation of their daily diet. However, our old horses may not have reduced ability to graze and chew due to dental problems. If this is the case, feeding large quantities of hay is not going to add much to their daily metabolic energy requirements and in fact, may increase their risk of impaction colic due to inadequate mastication. If your horse is struggling with hay, chaff or processed ‘complete’ feeds high in fiber might be a better solution. If, however, your old horse has great teeth, and no trouble chewing their hay, it is recommended to be feeding high quality hay that has a highly digestible fiber content.
Most senior horses benefit from supplementary feeding with commercial feeds which are formulated specifically for the geriatric horse. Typically, these feeds are highly digestible and come in a pellet or extruded form. Pellet formulations are particularly beneficial as they can be soaked to a bran/mush consistency which is ideal for horses lacking teeth or ability to masticate effectively. In addition, their specific composition is mindful of crude protein, fiber requirements and micro and macro nutrients.
Often geriatric horses are bottom the herd hierarchy. As such, it is important to manage your horses is such a way that the geriatric is able time to graze and eat their supplementary feed without interruption or competition. This may mean feeding the older horses separately or running them in individual paddocks.
It is recommended that all horses have a dental examination every 6- 12months. This is particularly important for the geriatric patient. The prevalence of age-related dental disorders increases notably over the age of 15. Disorders include periodontal disease, wear abnormalities, cheek tooth displacements, diastemas and loss of teeth. All of these disorders will negatively influence the oral comfort of the horse and will impact the ability of the horse to appropriately and adequately chew and thus be detrimental to your horses ability to maintain condition.
Routine health check in geriatric patients is crucial for early identification of disease and development of health plans for chronic diseases. There are a number of diseases that are common in older horses including Cushing’s (PPID), Equine Metabolic Syndrome and arthritis. Yearly examinations allows our vets to identify subtle clinical signs that may indicate disease, recommend specific testing and treatment plans. Tying this health check in with yearly dentals is often the easiest option.