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Feeding Older HorsesBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · September 6, 2016

Old age rarely comes alone,” wrote Caroline Argo, B.V.Sc., Ph.D., head of the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences at the University of Surrey, in a recently published article*.

Instead, ageing comes with a roster of impairments in function. From loss of body mass to the onset and progression of organ dysfunction, including the dental, neurological, immunological, and other body systems, going gray isn’t always graceful.

According to experts like Argo, horse owners can help make the ageing process as smooth as possible by ensuring proper nutrition. That said, the large number and variety of feeds targeted to senior horses makes it difficult for owners of older equines to know what dietary changes should be instituted at what point, or whether they are even necessary at all.

“As described in her article, professor Argo noted that science-based information regarding the management of older horses has failed to keep pace with the growth of the ageing horse population. This leaves owners reliant on other ways to learn how to feed older horses, including trial and error,” relayed Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., an equine nutritionist with Kentucky Equine Research (KER).

Argo provided insight into feeding older horses:

  • Feed intake declines as horses age. This decreased appetite can be due to one of two causes: a primary reduction in either the ability or willingness to eat or decreased metabolic demands (e.g., older horses are less active and therefore require fewer calories);
  • Dental disease, musculoskeletal discomfort, and decreased social interaction can all contribute to anorexia and weight loss;
  • Alterations to the gastrointestinal microbiome occur for a plethora of reasons, each potentially culminating in detrimental changes in nutrient availability;
  • Cushing’s disease (pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction, PPID) compounds problems associated with natural ageing processes. Diagnosis and appropriate treatment of this condition will help maximize quality of life in older horses; and
  • Obesity remains equally important as weight loss in older horses and must be avoided for optimal health.

Do you own an old horse? Consider consulting with a KER equine nutritionist to help ensure your companion receives the best possible care during his golden years

*Argo, C.M. 2016. Nutritional management of the older horse. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Equine Practice. 32(2):343-354.