Senior horses are some of the most treasured horses down your barn aisle. They’ve been with you through thick and thin but once they start to age, it can be more difficult to figure out how to best feed them. The nutritional management of the senior horse can be challenging, as there are no set criteria that define “old age” or the “senior” horse. The nutrient requirements of senior horses differ from other classes of horses because of the changes in metabolic and digestive efficiency that accompany the aging process.
The first step to good nutrition for your senior horse is determining if they qualify as “senior”. Rather than rely strictly on age, it’s more important to determine if the horse is “nutritionally senior.” A horse that is “nutritionally senior” can no longer eat its same diet and maintain proper body condition.
The combinations below will determine if a horse is “nutritionally senior”:
- Physiological status
- Physical signs of aging
Some common physical signs of aging that require nutrition management:
- Loss of weight and decrease in body condition
- Loss of muscle mass over the top line
- Sway backed appearance
- Decrease in coat and hoof quality
- Dental problems
- Some senior horses also develop diseases such as Metabolic Syndrome, Cushing Disease, degenerative joint disease and kidney or liver dysfunction.
If your horse is of an older age and has several of the common symptoms of aging listed above, then they may qualify as a nutritionally senior horse.
GOAL OF FEEDING THE SENIOR HORSE
When it has been determined that a horse is indeed “nutritionally senior”, each horse must be evaluated and fed as an individual. The main goals of feeding programs for senior horses should be to maintain an optimal body condition, with the shoulders and neck blending smoothly into the body, the ribs not visually distinguishable but easily felt and a flat back (no crease or ridge). Senior horses in good body condition are generally less active than their younger counterparts, and only have maintenance energy requirements. However if a senior horse has difficulty maintaining body weight, then they need a higher caloric intake.
CONSIDERATION OF DENTAL PROBLEMS
A large issue with older horses is dental problems. Horses that are missing teeth or have poor tooth quality must rely on alternative sources of pasture and hay as their ability to chew is limited. Forage products, such as hay cubes and chaff, can be used as substitute forage sources. Complete feeds that use high fiber by-products, such as lupin and soybean hulls, can be used as a quality forage source.
These forage sources are often fed wet or in a “mash” form to minimize issues of choke associated with the inability to properly chew.
Commercial feeds specifically designed for the senior horse, such as HYGAIN® TRU CARE®, are easy to chew and highly digestible and in severe cases can be soaked and made into a mash to facilitate easier consumption by the horse. Senior horses with poor teeth should be offered small meals, frequently throughout the day.
Senior horses in good body condition have protein and other nutrient requirements that are similar to those of horses at maintenance. However, horses that are underweight or have lost muscle mass require higher levels of protein and other nutrients. Overall digestibility in the senior horse is decreased, especially the digestion of protein, phosphorus and fiber, therefore highly digestible and available nutrients are critical. Probiotics from live yeast cultures increase the digestibility of the fiber, phosphorus and calcium and are included in HYGAIN SENIOR® and also in HYGAIN TRU CARE®. Additionally, HYGAIN SENIOR® and HYGAIN TRU CARE® contain Glycosaminoglycans promoting joint health and Yucca Schidigera for the horse’s overall wellbeing and mobility. Water intake is especially critical in senior horses in order to reduce constipation and impaction problems that are common in older horses. The main point to remember when developing feeding programs for senior horses is that these animals should be treated as individual cases and optimized for the specific needs of each horse.
NEED A LITTLE EXTRA HELP WITH YOUR SENIOR HORSE’S DIET?
Feeding senior horses can be tricky, but it doesn’t have to be! Let Nutrikey take the guesswork out of your horse’s diet. Nutrikey offers a FREE diet analysis service and friendly expert advice. Find out more about Nutrikey at nutrikey.com.au or book your free phone consultation here.