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Did you know that 70% of horses over 20 years old have some kind of health issue that requires either management or vet attention?
That’s a lot of old horses who need some extra TLC.
So what exactly can you do to make sure your old horse feels their best?
In this post, we’ll break down common illnesses an old horse faces, as well as how you can make sure your old horse is well cared for as they age. Plus, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about the best supplements for senior horses.
So before we foal around any more, let’s get into it.
Common Illnesses and Symptoms an Old Horse Often Faces
As horses age, things tend to slow down, just like humans.
There are both physical and mental signs that you might be dealing with an old horse. That can be things from more slowness to poor hearing to serious diseases.
Think of how we humans remark someone has “slowed down” — they just may not have the same capabilities as they once did.
In general, the signs you may have an old horse on your hands include:
- Poor eyesight
- Grey hair
- Less muscular or loss of muscle mass
- Stiffness, especially in the morning
- Excessive weight loss or gain
- Loss of molar teeth, and elongated incisors
- Increase in general infections or illness
Those are just a few signs your young horse may be becoming an old horse, but let’s talk about common illnesses an old horse may face, and what to look out for so you know when it’s time to call the vet.
Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction (PPID), also known as Cushing’s Disease
PPID, also known as Cushing’s Disease, is not a good time for your horse to say the least.
The endocrine disorder happens to about 20% of mature horses, so you could say it’s pretty common.
It happens when a horse’s pituitary gland becomes enlarged and overactive due to the degeneration of neurons that help produce the hormones needed to regulate important bodily functions.
That’s a lot of science in one sentence, so here’s a handy visual diagram to help you understand how Cushing’s Disease affects horses:
Now that you know what it is, what do you need to know when looking for Cushing’s Disease in your old horse?
Common signs and symptoms of PPID in an old horse include:
- Changes to their coat (long, curly, non-shedding coat, thicker earlier in the season than normal)
- Excessive drinking and urinating
- Loss of muscle
- Hoof abscesses
- Persistent skin infections
If you spot these symptoms alone or in conjunction with other symptoms, it’s time to call the vet for your old horse. This is a serious disease that can cause your horse discomfort or even increased chances for infection and illness since it weakens your horse’s immune system.
So how is this PPID treated? There is only one kind of medicine for treating this disease, and Cushing’s Disease has no cure. That means the treatment is focused on lessening the painful symptoms your horse faces using medicine, diet, and exercise to make your horse as comfortable as possible.
You’ve heard the idiom, “dog’s years” to describe a long time, but what about horse years?
As horses live into their 30s (which basically translates to being in their 80s in human years), an old horse can feel discomfort thanks to arthritis.
Arthritis is typically an age-related degenerative disease that happens when the cushiony material between your horse’s bones, the cartilage, breaks down and stops regenerating over time.
That means it will unfortunately worsen and worsen if not treated.
With less lubrication and less cushion in their joints, an old horse will be prone to the following symptoms:
- Stiffness or slowness that goes away as you warm them up
- Puffiness around joints
- Warm or painful-to-the-touch joints
- Reluctance to exercise or perform tasks as they once did
Repeated strain and force on joints, such as in performance horses, can lead to earlier instances of arthritis.
The key to arthritis management is managing the problem from the start. As soon as you see your horse exhibiting unusual behaviour or stiffness, it’s time to call the vet.
Early intervention is key to managing inflammation, and there are several common pathways for treatment, outlined in the chart below:
|Treatment for Arthritis in an Old Horse||How it’s Administered||Benefits|
|NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)||Oral paste, tablets, liquid or powders||
|Topical Creams||Cream applied directly to the affected area||
|Corticosteroid Injections||Steroid injection into the synovial fluid of the affected joint(s).||
|Glucosamine Supplements for Horses||Orally through powders, pellets or liquids|
Dental issues are one of the most common issues affecting an old horse.
In fact, in one UK study, 94% of the geriatric horses had dental issues, yet, only 24.5% of owners in the study were aware their old horse had teeth trouble.
That’s quite the spread of owners who are unaware and horses who need a visit from the equine dentist. The key is equipping yourself with the knowledge to spot and treat dental problems in your old horse before it becomes an issue.
Did you know that horse teeth continue to grow for their whole lives? Cool, right?
Unfortunately, that also means they “use up” their teeth over time. As the tooth exposed is worn down through chewing, and they erupt at more of an outward angle like this:
This can create an unbalanced chewing surface, and over time your old horse can have remaining parts of teeth fall out or they can develop sharp points inside the mouth that can cause pain and lead to the development of ulcers.
A very old horse can even get a condition called “smooth mouth”, which is basically when their teeth are completely smooth and they lose the ability to grind food down. This is when a special diet and easy-to-eat foods are important, and where adding horse supplements can be helpful to ensure they are getting the nutrition they need.
Think of this as basically the horse equivalent of realizing you need dentures because you can’t chew food properly anymore.
Here are a few signs your horse may have dental problems:
- Difficulty chewing (or not chewing in a circular motion)
- Nasal discharge
- Foul smell from the mouth
- Drops food while eating it
- Weight loss
- Long fibres or grains in their manure
Prolonged dental issues can be a detriment to your horse’s overall well-being, especially when they are losing too much weight and not getting enough nutrients to perform, or even just enjoy a lazy stroll.
On to the next disease that commonly affects an old horse, laminitis.
When the soft tissues (called laminae) of the hoof become inflamed, you’ve got a case of laminitis on your hands (or should we say hooves).
Because of the inflammation and damage to the laminae, the coffin bone of your old horse’s hoof becomes unstable and separates, while the pedal bone rotates to press on the sole of their hoof causing extreme pain for your horse. Ouch.
See the diagram below to get a full picture of how this painful condition can look.
This disease is most prevalent for an old horse, however, even a young horse can be affected. If your old horse has Cushing’s Disease, they’re more likely to be affected by laminitis as they are diseases that tend to come as kind of a terrible package deal for your horse.
Another factor for your horse’s likelihood of getting laminitis Is obesity. This is often due to excessive grain intake or access to a pasture with flora high in sugars.
If you notice the following signs, it may be time to call the vet:
- Rocking back to put the weight on their hindlimbs
- Lying down more
- Soft tissue around the top of the hoof (coronary band) and the hoof wall are hot to the touch
- Digital pulses are pounding, strong and rapid
- Generally withdrawn
- Resisting exercise
Something else to note when you’re observing your old horse for signs of laminitis is that it more commonly affects forelimbs than hind ones. But especially in horses with PPID, it can affect all four legs. That will look less like a “rocking horse” stance and more like a “V” stance, with fore and hind legs both under the body.
Once a horse has had laminitis, especially if you have an old horse, it can be more susceptible to it again.
4 Tips on Caring for Aging Horses
Now that you know what kinds of health challenges can befall an old horse, you’re probably wondering what to do about it.
Ever heard the saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”?
Well, it’s certainly true when you’re trying to manage the health of an old horse. Ensuring they have the care they need as issues arise is one thing, but potentially helping to avoid these painful, long-term issues can be addressed by taking preventative measures.
- Modifying their diet to a senior horse diet
- Using equine supplements
- Providing adequate hoof care
- Maintaining hydration
- Visits with an equine dentist.
So let’s quit foaling around and get to our five tips for caring for an old horse.
1. Senior Horse Diet
Like we mentioned before, sometimes older horses need special diets.
As their bodies age, horses see changes in their system that can make eating the way they used to a little more challenging. Feeding a senior horse requires close monitoring because as herbivores, they already have specific dietary needs and a long digestive tract that favours many small meals over a few big ones.
Typically, horses eat a diet based on the following categories:
- Pasture Grass (tender plants)
- Grains (like Oats)
- Concentrate mixes (a blend of grains, flaxseed, molasses, bran, etc.)
When they age, horses undergo changes that affect how they eat and feeding the senior horse can become a bit more of a fine art than before. Those changes are outlined in the chart below.
|Old Horse Problem||What Happens||Solutions|
|Dental Disease or Loss of Teeth||
|Fibre digestion trouble||
|Loss of function in the small intestine||
Whether you are crafting the perfect balance of nutrition yourself for your old horse, or trying senior horse feed that focuses on tackling specific issues your aging horse faces, focusing on a good quality senior horse diet is one key to longevity.
2. Equine Supplements for an Old Horse
Next up on the list of things to do to make sure your old horse is taken care of well into their golden years —provide them with a supplement.
We just talked about the importance of feeding an old horse the right diet, and how they can start to miss out on the nutrients they need. A nutritional horse supplement can make sure essential vitamins and minerals are added back into horse diets through powders, pastes and liquids.
Making up for lost nutrition is one thing to consider when choosing supplements for your horse.
The other side of it?
Preventing injuries and future problems.
One of the biggest things that affect horses is arthritis. That is the painful degradation of cartilage between joints, and the lessening of internal production of synovial fluid.
That’s science for your old horse can be in pain when they walk, trot, or jump because the cushion between their joints is less than in young horses, and their bodies can’t lubricate the joints the same way anymore.
But how do you prevent it?
While nothing will ever 100% guarantee that your horse is safe from arthritis, using equine supplements for joint health can really help.
Joint supplements for an old horse should contain the following ingredients:
- Glucosamine: Acts to repair cartilage by contributing the necessary building blocks to its formation.
- Chondroitin: Prevents cartilage breakdown by inhibiting the destructive enzymes in the joint.
- MSM (Methylsulfonylmethane): Reduces inflammation in the joints.
- Hyaluronic Acid: Helps increase the supply and viscosity of the synovial fluid to make joints more mobile and lubricated.
3. Make Sure Your Horses are Hydrated
You know that feeling.
Your head is thumping, you’re irritable, you just feel gross and you realize you drank mostly coffee today. You’re dehydrated.
Horses experience dehydration, too. Except they can’t grab a bottle of water from the fridge and call it a day. They need your help, especially as they age, to make sure they are getting enough water in their diet.
An old horse may chew less, in turn making less saliva. That combined with poor teeth means they may not be able to eat the dry hay that helps queue them to be thirsty. This can cause poor performance and can lead to impaction colic.
If your old horse is no longer able to eat dry hay, you may want to soak their food in water. This can actually be a double benefit as it helps them digest food better. Just be careful to feed them the soaked hay as soon as possible to avoid mould growth.
One more way to get your old horse to stay hydrated? Offer them some salt! Not only is salt an electrolyte good for your ageing equine pal, but it also helps initiate that thirst response they need to remember to drink water.
4. Don’t Forget Dental Care
Last but definitely not least is dental care.
Like we said earlier, horses can have a lot of problems with their teeth as they age, so you don’t want to horse around when it comes to maintaining your old horse’s teeth.
If you’re hoping your old horse will be able to chew well into retirement with ease, or are already on the lookout for teeth trouble, you’re already one step ahead. To make sure an old horse gets the most out of its teeth, you’re going to want to follow this advice:
- Schedule a twice-yearly appointment with the equine dentist for your old horse to ensure any issues can be addressed and detected early on.
- If your horse has those nasty sharp points happening in its mouth, floating may help. This is essentially the filing down of sharp points in the horse’s mouth that could cause them injuries. Only vets should do this task, however, so give yours a call if you notice pointy pieces jutting out of their teeth.
- Smell their breath. As gross as it sounds, smelling your horse’s breath is a great way to make sure they don’t have any infections or problems going on that your eyes can’t easily see.
- Watch for choking when they eat, as it can mean there are unseen tooth problems preventing your old horse from chewing and producing saliva needed to help digest.
If you follow these tips, your old horse will be smiling for years to come.
Best Equine Supplements for Aging Horse Health
Now that you know how challenging it can be to make sure you’re feeding the senior horse in your life right, you might be thinking more about the benefit of adding a supplement to their diet.
But which one is right for protecting your old horse’s vitality?
Let’s break down the best equine supplements for your old horse’s health.
Integricare’s TRI-ACTA H.A.
We couldn’t make a list of the best old horse supplements without mentioning our own.
But that’s not just because it’s our own. Nope.
We believe Integricare’s TRI-ACTA H.A. is the best way to keep your old horse active for years to come.
This formulation is made with maximum strength in mind, offering a powerful dose of glucosamine (in two forms no less), chondroitin, MSM, and hyaluronic acid, all components that are super helpful for treating arthritis in an old horse as we mentioned earlier.
Did we mention no fillers, just active ingredients, in our formulation too?
Don’t just take it from us, either. Neigh-sayers out there who aren’t sold on the benefits of an old horse supplement should just read our reviews.
Price $129.99 – $369.99 as of November 2021
Grand Meadows Grand Flex Senior
Next up on the list of supplements for senior horses is Grand Meadows Grand Flex Senior.
This supplement is certainly not new to the market. Grand Meadows has been around for 35 years and they have a whole host of solutions for your horse’s joint and overall health, from pellets to paste.
This supplement in particular offers a long list of active ingredients, such as glucosamine and chondroitin,however that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily got high doses of each ingredient.
So while your horse could benefit from a wider range of vitamins and minerals (including Vitamins C and B-3), if arthritis is their primary concern, you want to ensure that your supplement packs a punch to match.
Price $50.75 – $345.25 as of November 2021
Herbs For Horses Glucosamine Plus
Next up in our picks for the best supplements for older horses is Herbs for Horses Glucosamine Plus.
This formula is administered by sprinkling powder into your horse’s daily meals. It offers a mix of nutrition aimed at fighting back joint degeneration, including:
- Glucosamine sulfate
- Collagen (sourced from Atlantic fish)
- Proprietary antioxidant blend
It’s also cost-effective at $0.61 per day for one horse. Not too shabby.
One thing we would note? While there are no fillers in this product (a must if you ask us) the “proprietary antioxidant blend” doesn’t have any further information out there, and may contain ingredients that could disagree with your old horse. As always, consult your vet before starting a new supplement regimen for your old horse.
Price $91.95 as of November 2021
How to Get Started with Maintaining Horse Joint Health During Training
Whew! That was a lot of information.
I bet you feel like hitting the hay after reading all about common health issues an old horse can face, how to better care for an ageing old horse and of course, which supplements can help alleviate their joint pain as they get older.
But now you’re informed, it’s time to get started with maintaining horses’ joint health during training while they’re young, to prevent and lessen the symptoms of arthritis as horses age.
So what’s your first move?
If you ask us, it’s to talk to your vet and to add Integricare’s TRI-ACTA H.A. to your old horse’s diet.
Our maximum strength supplement offers not only two kinds of glucosamine plus the highest quality chondroitin and MSM, but the addition of highly therapeutic, equine-specific hyaluronic acid.
TRI-ACTA H.A. for Equine
Our maximum strength formula is perfect for horses that are ageing, experiencing arthritis and stiffness, are in training and competition, or under a heavy workload.
So hoof are you kidding? Get your old horse feeling good again, and ensure years of companionship by adding an equine supplement to your old horse’s diet.
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Proactive & Therapeutic Joint Supplements
When given daily, Integricare joint supplements recover bone and joint injuries faster and help prevent mobility injuries from happening in the first place.