Monday, 5 January 2015

Caring for the Older Horse

If you read my blog on a regular basis you will know that Chesney has not been 100% recently.  

See my blogs here and here.  He has had a poorly foot (abscess) and been losing weight.  Until last year (2014) he was always a really good doer and I struggled to keep the weight off him, now I am struggling to keep the weight on him.  Following a blood test in November he has been having an Iron and Vitamin supplement.  

However, because of his foot we were unable to do a follow on blood test in December. The vet is coming tomorrow to do it now that the pus has gone and the bruise is a lot better.

He is 20 years old now and is a big horse, I believe this makes him 60 in horse years!  This has prompted me to take more of a look into caring for the older horse! 

Retired horses (like Ches) that are no longer ridden still benefit from regular footcare.  A long hoof will cause an imbalance which will put strain on the leg joints.  Feet also need to be picked out regularly to ensure the hoof has the best chance of remaining clean and free from infection.
Chesney has his feet trimmed every 6 weeks when Basil is shod and  I pick out his feet every day.

Older horses are more likely to have problems with their teeth.  The front incisor teeth meet at an increasing angle as the horse gets older and they may become long and angular and therefore wear unevenly.  A horse's molars continue to grow throughout their adult life but they do stop as the horse gets older.  Consequently, any wear and tear to the teeth makes it difficult for a horse to eat certain types of food eg: hay!  Unfortunately broken teeth and tooth abscesses are also more common in older horses. 
Chesney has always had his teeth checked every 12 months, unfortunately this is the one thing he is very difficult for and he always has to be sedated by the vet.

Degenerative Joint Disease
Older horses have an increased risk of arthritis as they age (just as with humans).  This can cause lameness because the cartilage which protects the bones is gradually worn away over time.

Any joint can be affected but the most commonly affected areas are the knee, front fetlocks, hocks and coffin joints in the front feet.  When the cartilage is considerably worn then bone will grind on bone causing severe pain and therefore lameness.  There is no cure but good management and appropriate exercise can help.

Liver & Kidneys
Older horses often have a slight loss in body and coat condition but if they also have a loss of appetite and a reduction in weight it is possible the horse has potential liver or kidney problems. 
Although Ches has lost weight I have not noticed any loss in his appetite!

Some older horses show signs of cataract growth.  This is when the lens in the eye is clouded and it can result in a loss of sight (as with humans).

Skin Problems
Sarcoids and Melanomas are skin tumours common in older horses.  Sarcoids tend to develop in the softer areas such as the inner thigh, belly, eyelids.  They can grow rapidly and sometimes ulcerate and become infected.  They often recur after removal and so early detection is essential. 
Chesney had Sarcoids when he was young which were treated with a new topical ointment from the U.S. (unfortunately it was so long ago I don't know what this was).  He does not have any now but I check him regularly.

This is a common endocrine problem in older horses and is a progressive disease.  The symptoms to look out for are:
  • excessive sweating 
  • increased appetite 
  • increased drinking and urination 
  • lethargy 
  • poor performance 
  • reduced immune function which could mean recurring skin and respiratory infections
If you are concerned, call the vet as there are treatments available now.
I did discuss this with the vet about Ches, we have not come to any conclusions yet.

If possible keeping a horse in regular work will help him keep his muscle tone and reduce any joint stiffness.
Chesney does not do any work at the moment because of a historical knee injury.  However, as he appears relatively sound I think that (having read this) I may try doing some ground exercises with him to try to build up his muscle and strength.  This is easier now I have access to an arena too!

As horses get older their nutritional needs change.  Their ability to chew and digest may be affected and so feeds which are easy to chew and are highly digestible should be fed.  Including a Vitamin and Mineral supplement can be a good idea to ensure that your horse is getting everything he needs.

I think that knowing your horse is important but as they get older we need to adjust our thinking.  Although I have been increasing Chesney's food and adding oil a more radical rethink may be needed.  I have been looking into changing his food.  He is getting an Iron Rich Vitamin and Mineral supplement (mentioned above) at the moment and I may continue with this or look at other options depending on which food I go for!

Do you have any more tips for caring for older horses?  Let me know in the comments below.

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Until next time!

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