Although most horse specialists determine a horse to be a senior at 15-years-old, many horses live 30 plus years. It is not unusual to see a 20-year-old horse running and playing like its younger counterparts. Environment, genetics, healthcare and nutrition play a major role in the manner a horse ages.
Horse owners should determine the time to switch to senior care by observing for signs of a decline in basic physiological functions, rather than chronological age. A weakening immune system and a decreased ability to digest, absorb and metabolize nutrients may be the most notable age gauge. Diet, exercise, management and preventative care can compensate for issues experienced by an aging horse.
Senior horses often develop joint pain and stiffness. Inflammation results in deterioration of the articular surfaces of the joints causing arthritis. Veterinarians do not have a cure for arthritis; however, there are methods to ease the pain.
Owners should watch for changes in the behavior of a senior horse, which may signal a health issue. Early detection of arthritis is the key element to controlling the extent of the issues of the disease. Horse owners should watch for signs of pain, puffiness, warmth and stiffness. The horse may take shorter strides. Arthritis may cause a hollow back.
A diet high in omega-3 fatty acids and low in omega-6 fatty acids is important for senior horses. Inflammation should decrease by increasing the levels of fatty acids in the diet. The horse should experience less pain and take longer strides. Chia seeds, flax oil, and fish oil contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. High-quality joint supplements containing glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, manganese and natural vitamin E should be added to the regimen. Soybean meal is an excellent protein for senior horses. Most veterinarians recommend NSAIDS to prevent ulcers in a senior horse.
A healthy weight places less strain on the joints resulting in a more agile horse. Hoof maintenance is important as uneven hoof surfaces increase stress. A routine exercise program will increase circulation, help digestion and strengthen muscles and tendons. Always ask a veterinarian before adding an exercise program if the horse has been sedentary. Maintain dental care to aid proper digestion and to prevent choking. Relocating a senior horse from one farm to another or changing pastures may cause stress. Owners should be aware of the affects temperature may have on an older horse. Separating senior horses from younger aggressive horses should prove beneficial to lessen environmental stress.
Summary: The life expectancy may be extended for a senior horse along with improved quality of life with proper nutrition and care.
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