The needs of horses change over time and older horses often need extra care. Nutritional supplements can be one way to improve the overall performance and quality of life for the ageing horse.
Improvements in veterinary and dental care, in addition to a changing culture of horse ownership, have resulted in horses leading longer lives, with many horses staying in competition at all levels well into their late teens. These older athletes can often benefit from some extra help to keep them in top form, as they are more prone to injury and the development of age-related diseases.
What are common health concerns of older horses?
Lameness in older horses
One of the most common health issues in older horses is lameness. When lameness develops, it is always best to get in touch with your veterinary surgeon as soon as possible. Your vet will be able to assess your horse’s lameness to identify the root cause, with common causes including general wear and tear in older horses, but also direct trauma, such as a fall or kick. Your vet will be able to work with you to create an appropriate treatment plan, which may involve medication such as pain relief, anti-inflammatories and antibiotics where appropriate.
Joint supplements such as Ost-O-Flex can be a useful addition, as the product works to support cartilage and joint fluid production, helping to promote normal joint function and can be used long term. Ost-O-Flex contains glucosamine, a key component of cartilage, in addition to methylsulfonylmethane and chondroitin sulphate. These nutrients support cartilage production and the natural anti-inflammatory pathways within the joints. The supplement also contains powerful marine collagen, an excellent source of calcium and hyaluronic acid, which is a key component of joint fluid. Ost-O-Flex comes as a liquid formulation and is ideal for daily dosing with feed.
Weight maintenance in older horses
Any horse that is losing weight should be checked by a vet for underlying causes, including disease or dental problems. Many ageing horses will need help generally maintaining weight though, particularly during the colder months.
Adding an oil to the diet can allow older horses to easily absorb additional calories. A linseed and flaxseed-based product, such as Kentucky Karron Oil, provides a concentrated source of energy for these horses. These seeds are also rich in omega 3 and 6, which help to support the immune system and help to promote coat condition and shine.
Vitamins and minerals for older horses
While a high-quality, balanced diet is important for all age groups, there are some vitamins and minerals that are particularly useful in senior horses. Antioxidants can be beneficial in ageing horses who are more prone to muscle loss and injury, as these nutrients help to support normal muscle functioning.
Nutritional liquid supplements V.S.L. and Muscle Max both contain vitamin E and selenium – both powerful antioxidants. These products also contain lysine, an essential amino acid which helps to support normal muscle growth and recovery. Added to feed daily, these active ingredients can help maintain topline muscle mass – something that is often lost in older horses, giving them an ‘old horse appearance’.
Cushing’s disease, scientifically known as Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction (PPID), tends to affect older horses. Cushing’s is a disease of the pituitary gland which results in hormone imbalances within the body. One of the most characteristic signs of this disease is a long curly hair coat, but horses with Cushing’s may also show signs of laminitis, lethargy, weight loss and increased thirst and urination. If you think your horse may have Cushing’s disease, it is important to get in touch with your vet straight away.
The longer, woolly coat of horses with Cushing’s disease makes them prone to increased sweating. This can lead to the loss of important electrolytes, and so the addition of electrolytes to the diet can be beneficial.
Equi-Lyte G is a nutritional supplement containing key electrolytes including sodium, potassium, chloride, magnesium and calcium. Equi-Lyte G has been specifically designed to replace electrolyte losses and support healthy body function. The supplement comes as a highly palatable powder formula which can be added daily to feed or water.
Have a question about maintaining older horses? Why not contact one of the Foran equine health advisors?