Geriatric Care for Horses

Horses over the age of 20 are considered geriatric and may require special attention in order to comfortably survive their senior years. Many of the conditions normally associated with equine aging are quite treatable and, in some cases, even preventable. Whereas young and adult horses should normally see the veterinarian annually, geriatric horses should be given semi-annual check-ups that include dental examinations.

In addition, senior horses should be housed more comfortably, with safe shelter constantly available. They should be kept away from dampness and slippery surfaces, and fed smaller, more frequent meals. It is usually a good idea to add one to cups of vegetable oil and vitamin supplements to their daily nutritional intake.

Older horses are prone to the following conditions:

  • Lameness, usually due to arthritis
  • Weight loss
  • Endocrine disease
  • Tumors, particularly of the pituitary gland (Cushing's disease)
  • Colic
  • Lipomas (fatty deposits)
  • Parasite infestation
  • Laminitis
  • Foot abscesses

Because even well-cared for equine teeth will begin to be lost in later years, it is harder for the older horse to nourish itself properly, This can lead to digestive issues and weight loss which is why dietary changes may be necessary.

Since the older horse's immune system is weaker than that of a younger horse, the aging animal is more prone to disease, infection and parasite infestation. For this reason, the semi-annual veterinary examinations are crucial to keeping the horse in as stable a medical condition as possible.

Most older animals develop arthritis, leading to pain and possible lameness, so prescribed analgesics may be needed. Because aging horses develop abscesses and other infections more easily than younger horses, antibiotics may also need to be administered. The older horse may also require more frequent deworming. More regular veterinary care is also necessary to check for tumors or lipomas that may interfere with normal functioning and for endocrine disease for which hormone therapy is available.

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