SPILLERS was the only UK feed company represented at the recent European Equine Health & Nutrition Congress (EEHNC) held in Belgium. Dr Pat Harris, head of the WALTHAM Equine Studies Group which provides the science behind the SPILLERS brand, chaired a panel discussion on feeding the senior horse. Here we share some of the take home messages which we hope will help you to provide the very best care for your much loved senior.
Young at heart or Geriatric?
In terms of nutrition, senior horses can be categorised as either ‘aged and normal’ or ‘geriatric’ – a term used to describe horses and ponies with clear signs of age related changes such as reduced thermoregulation, dental disease, Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction (PPID – also known as ‘Cushing’s syndrome), reduced immune function and sarcopenia (a loss of muscle mass and/ or strength). Although ‘aged and normal’ horses may not need any additional nutritional support or changes in management, they should be monitored regularly to ensure the gradual onset of age related changes is spotted and managed appropriately.
- Replace hay/ haylage with short chop fibre or forage replacers that can be soaked to make a mash. Horses unable chew long fibre sufficiently are at risk of impaction colic, choke and weight loss.
- Ideally divide hay replacers (or other forage replacers) between 5 meals, 4 hours apart.
- Poor teeth (and/ or osteoarthritis in the jaw) may not be the only the challenge! Osteoarthritis in the neck or forelimbs may make pulling hay from net or lowering the head to graze or eat painful – try feeding from raised buckets or mangers.
Daily turnout provides gentle exercise but avoid fields that are heavily poached, uneven or on a steep incline. Older horses may be at risk of bullying or prevented from eating so look out for changes in herd behaviour and choose field companions carefully.
Older horses may find it difficult to regulate their body temperature and may become too hot or too cold sooner than other horses.
- Remember that your horse/ pony may need their rugs changed more frequently.
- Consider clipping and rugging accordingly, particularly for those with PPID (Cushing’s).
- Getting too hot may increase the risk of colic and lead to reduced appetite (particularly for those with PPID).
- Horses sweating heavily may need to be supplemented with electrolytes. In many cases table salt will be sufficient – speak to a nutritionist for more advice.
- Not all senior horses are underweight – remember weight gain/ obesity can be a problem in older horses too
- Horses and ponies with PPID may have large fat deposits in areas such as the crest and loin despite being thin overall – as a result body conditioning score systems should be used with caution.
Tips from Nicky Jarvis, Head Vet at Redwings Horse Sanctuary
- Look out for horses that are constantly found snoozing whilst others are grazing – they may feel unable to lie down and rest fully due to the chronic pain of osteoarthritis or other underlying disease
- If your horse or pony has PPID bathe their eyes regularly to help reduce the risk of conjunctivitis
- If your horse is on non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ‘bute’, remember to assess his movement/ comfort before you administer his daily medication.
- Carry out faecal worm egg counts every 3 months. Nicky explained “We often find faecal egg counts are higher than expected in horses and ponies with PPID so regular monitoring is essential”.
For more advice on feeding your senior horse or pony contact the SPILLERS Care-Line on 01908 226626advice for horse owners, equine care, equine health, Redwings Horse Sanctuary, senior horse