What you need to know about watching the health and joint care for older horses

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We’ve rounded up some of the top things you need to know about maintaining the general health and joint care for older horses. A very thorough monitored health regime should be an absolute high priority for geriatric or those ‘older’ horses who we love as a member of the family, but are just that tad more experienced.

There are a number of high risk areas that need to be monitored with our more senior horse friends including:

Dentition (Teeth)
  • What to look out for: Whilst horses’ teeth normally grow throughout their lives, older horses are highly predisposed to a loss of teeth or sharp edges (‘hooks’) developing. This can lead to difficulties in proper chewing and ‘quidding’ (balling up and dropping of feed’). Overgrowth of opposing teeth of those missing teeth can cause trauma to the gums and the insides of the mouth, leading to pain and refusal to eat, and consequently, weight loss.
  • What to do: Plan regular visits from your equine dentist (once per year minimum) to maintain healthy dentition.
Digestive System
  • What to look out for: Look out for any significant weight loss or decrease in body condition score that your aged horse may show. This could reflect a digestive problem like gastric/colonic ulceration (especially if your horses is receiving daily NSAID treatment such as phenylbutazone) or an internal disease.
  • What to do: Equine supplements like gastromedic+ containing buffers, mucosal coating agents and prebiotics are an excellent preventive method to prevent ulceration, colic and maintain healthy gut health, alongside regular medical checks.
Joint Care
  • What to look out for: The majority of older horses suffer from degenerative joint disease especially those who have competed or hunted heavily in their youth. Lameness, loss of action, joint effusion (swelling) are signs of underlying articular problems and will require extra joint care for older horses.
  • What to do: Nerve blocking and radiographs by your vet can confirm the presence of arthritis and there are many treatment options including daily use of pain relief medication or injecting into the affected joint with corticosteroids +/- hyaluronic acid or autologous serums such as IRAP. Joint supplements which contain ASU such as the synomedic+ range are used to prevent and treat damage to cartilage whilst decreasing any visible clinical signs.
Hoof care
  • What to look out for: Lameness or foot soreness (especially in ponies prone to laminitis), weak brittle hoof walls, cracks, solar abscesses and white line disease are common in all horses but maybe more prevalent in retired horses especially those living outside year-round.
  • What to do: Regular maintenance by your farrier (trimming or shoeing every 4-6 weeks), good quality husbandry ie picking out feet, adequate nutrition as well as a hoof supplement such as biomedic+ will improve hoof quality but must be given on an on-going basis.
Hormonal Changes
  • What to look out for: Horses over the age of 20 have an increased risk of getting Equine Cushing’s Disease. This hormonal dysfunction is recognisable through certain clinical signs (bloating, sweating, loss of muscle mass, recurrent infections).
  • What to do: If you suspect your horse has Equine Cushing’s Disease, contact your vet for a clinical examination and a blood test. If your horse has got the disease your vet will create a treatment plan for you with an oral medication called Pergolide which balances the hormonal system and reduces the symptoms but will need to be administered once a day for the rest of your horse’s life.
  • What to look out for: Geriatric horses are at higher risks of parasite burden due to their possible lowered immunity as well as resistance to many of the active ingredients in wormers (which can be caused by over-worming over a horse’s life). Signs of a parasite burden include weight loss/ill thrift, poor coat quality, rubbing of the tail head, colic and diarrhoea.
  • What to do: Frequent analysis (faecal egg count) of the horse’s faeces for parasite eggs and larvae along with a suitable worming regimen are simple and quick solutions that need to be carried out on a regular basis to ensure your horse’s ongoing health.

Make sure your longstanding, loyal four legged friend gets the best care as they enter their latter years with these simple tips. Don’t hesitate to enquire with your equine vet who will be only too happy to provide advice about treatments, prevention and joint care for older horses.

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