Older Horses: Monitor Teeth, Weight, and DietBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · July 27, 2015
Old horses may begin to lose weight because their teeth are no longer in good enough condition to completely chew hay and grain. To help these horses, some simple dietary changes will allow for better nutrition and maintenance of body condition.
In horses, the teeth continue to erupt for years as the chewing surfaces experience wear. Eventually, most of the enamel on the center of a tooth is worn completely away. Instead of a flat or ridged chewing surface, the tooth develops a concave shape that is not effective in crushing or chewing forage or grain. This dental condition usually starts to occur as horses reach their mid to late 20s.
Besides weight loss, owners of older horses may notice that it takes much longer than normal for them to finish a grain meal, and “quids” (wads of moist hay) may be dropped from the horse’s mouth instead of being swallowed. More dominant horses sometimes push these senior equines away from pasture-fed hay or fence-mounted grain feeders, leading to further weight loss.
Feed management changes can be made to help older horses with dental problems. If you manage an older horse, consider these possible modifications:
- Feed smaller, more frequent grain meals rather than one or two large meals each day.
- Change to a more energy-dense feed that can be fed in smaller amounts.
- Add oil (up to a cup a day) or rice bran (up to a pound a day) to the grain ration to provide more calories. Introduce these additives gradually over a week or so.
- Offer chopped hay or soaked hay cubes instead of traditional long-stemmed hay.
- Provide feed and forage in a space that protects the older horse from bullying by more dominant animals.
- Be sure the older horse always has access to companions, water, salt, and shelter.
To ensure that senior horses derive maximum nutrition from the grain and forage they ingest, owners can use EquiShure, a digestive health supplement developed by Kentucky Equine Research. This product helps horses maintain a stable hindgut environment and encourages proper digestion and absorption of nutrients. EquiShure may improve feed efficiency and is recommended for horses that experience weight loss.