Senior Special Needs

Sharon Biggs

Dental

Be aware of your horse’s teeth in his teens and don’t wait until they are 20 to fix a problem. It’s hard to correct something that is already gone wrong in the mouth, but good maintenance in their teens will allow a horse to age well. There are many things you can do with an older horse’s teeth. Horses that have overlong incisors can be shortened, but they aren’t going to recover like a younger horse would. If it’s too late, feed your horse a mash of grain formulated for seniors and he won’t need to chew.

Nutrition and De-worming:

Be very aware of your senior horse’s weight. Use a weight tape because it is hard to tell if your own horse is losing weight, since you see him every day. Older horses also have less resistance to parasites. Owners should periodically have their horses checked for worms and have a fairly aggressive de-worming program. This depends on where you live, but your veterinarian can help you with this.

Health

One of the most common age specific diseases is Cushing’s disease or pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction, a common endocrine disease of aged horses and ponies. Owners should be aware of the clinical signs of this disease and perhaps have their veterinarian test periodically for this because there is a good treatment available. Signs are: weight loss, long curly hair coat, failure to shed out well come spring , or as quickly as they normally do, or maintaining guard hairs, and foundering for no reason.

One of the on-going research projects conducted at the Atlantic Veterinary College studied the ability of aged horses to respond to vaccination. It is likely that aged horses have a less robust response to vaccination and may require vaccination more frequently than their younger counterparts. It is advisable to keep aged horses separated from showing or traveling horses as their immune systems may be less able to protect them from exposure to pathogens, particularly new ones.

Ask your vet to help you set up a ‘wellness’ program specifically designed for your aging horse. This might include extensive physical examinations, bloodwork and dentistry care, all performed on a scheduled routine.


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