Care Of The Geriatric Horse

Older horses require ongoing veterinary care, just as their younger counterparts do. Read our advice on the care they require and health problems we commonly see in older horses.

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Horses, like people, are living much longer than previously, and it is not uncommon for horses and ponies to continue working well into their 20s or even 30s. The responsibility for ongoing veterinary care and farriery lies with their owners, but sadly many veterans do not receive as much preventative health care as younger horses, when in reality they require more!

Older Horse Healthcare

Annual Vaccinations

Flu and tetanus. Many geriatric horses do not receive flu vaccinations as “they don’t go anywhere” but in reality they are more susceptible to catching it (particularly if they are mixing with younger horses that do travel), and it is likely to be more serious than in a younger, otherwise healthy horse.

Regular Dental Examinations

Usually at least every six months. Horses are generally very stoical about dental pain, often only showing visible symptoms when their dental disease is very advanced. Sometimes dietary modification is required to supplement these horses and ensure they are receiving the calories and nutrients they need.

Worm Control

Older horses can be more affected by both internal worm burdens and external parasites such as lice, sometimes due to immunosuppression as a result of uncontrolled PPID (cushings). Good pasture management and following a worming programme recommended by a vet is vital to manage this.

Regular Farriery

Older horses should still receive as regular farrier care as their younger counterparts. Allowing the feet to become long or unbalanced can put additional strain on the joints and aggravate degenerative conditions such as arthritis or sidebone.

Regular Health Checks

It can sometimes be difficult to differentiate between normal ageing, and clinical signs of disease, particularly if the symptoms develop gradually. Therefore, it is important to have regular checks from a vet to help identify these signs so they can be treated early

Common Health Problems In Older Horses

Weight Loss

This can be due to dental problems, reduced digestion or absorption of nutrients, equine Cushing’s disease (PPID), and chronic pain.

Arthritis

Chronic variable severity of lameness, stiff gait, and often bony changes in the joints (commonly hocks, fetlocks and knees).

External Tumours

Such as sarcoids, melanomas or Squamous Cell Carcinomas. These can occur in many locations, e.g. on hairy skin, around the eyes, or around the genitals. Whilst these are rarely life threatening, they can cause significant welfare issues such as fly bother, so need treating/managing to ensure this is minimised.

Heart Problems

Many horses develop heart murmurs in their later years. Again these are rarely life threatening, however their progress/deterioration needs to be regularly monitored by a vet to ensure changes are picked up early.

Eye Conditions

e.g. cataracts. These are a common finding in geriatric horses and need regular monitoring so that sensible decisions about the horse’s management can be made.

Cushings Disease (PPID)

This is a progressive hormonal disease causing overproduction of an important hormone called Dopamine. The hormone is absorbed into the bloodstream and causes clinical signs such as coat changes, lethargy, immunosuppression, increased sweating, weight loss and excessive drinking and urinating. It usually affects equids >12 years old, and can be diagnosed by a blood test. Treatment involves a daily tablet to normalise the hormone level, and whilst treatment is lifelong, most horses can quickly return to living a happy and comfortable life once they have stabilised.

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