Feed­ing the se­nior horse

NZ Horse & Pony - - Veterinary - By Tania Cu­bitt PHD and Stephen Duren, PHD

Due to ad­vance­ments in nu­tri­tion, vet­eri­nary care and par­a­site con­trol, many horses are liv­ing to their late 20s or early 30s. As horses age, their bod­ies nat­u­rally be­gin to fail, so it’s up to own­ers to pro­vide proper care for their se­nior horse.

Defin­ing the ‘nu­tri­tion­ally se­nior’ horse

When does a horse be­come a ‘se­nior’? In gen­eral, horses be­tween 18 and 20 are con­sid­ered to be ap­proach­ing their se­nior years. How­ever, a bet­ter def­i­ni­tion is when a horse be­comes ‘nu­tri­tion­ally se­nior’. A nu­tri­tion­ally se­nior horse can no longer eat a nor­mal diet and main­tain body con­di­tion, and typ­i­cally has one or more of the fol­low­ing: de­creased nu­tri­ent ab­sorp­tion, den­tal prob­lems and in­creased sen­si­tiv­ity to stress. The de­scrip­tion geri­atric in a horse re­lates to dis­eases and disor­ders caused by age­ing, not by a spe­cific num­ber of years spent on this earth.

Di­ges­tive and meta­bolic changes in the se­nior horse De­creased nu­tri­ent ab­sorp­tion:

In­testi­nal par­a­sites cause scar­ring of the di­ges­tive tract which de­creases nu­tri­ent ab­sorp­tion. Im­prove­ments in de­worm­ing prod­ucts have de­layed and min­imised in­ter­nal par­a­site dam­age, but over a life­time, the dam­age still oc­curs. The horse’s di­ges­tive tract be­gins to lose ef­fi­ciency with ad­vanc­ing age too, and re­search has shown that nu­tri­tion­ally se­nior horses re­quire ad­di­tional pro­tein, phos­pho­rus, and cer­tain vi­ta­mins. Den­tal prob­lems: As horses age, their teeth wear down and fall out, mak­ing chew­ing dif­fi­cult. While loss of teeth can­not be pre­vented, proper den­tal care can de­lay prob­lems. The di­ges­tive process be­gins in the mouth by re­duc­ing feed to a suit­able size for di­ges­tion, so with­out proper chew­ing the horse can­not ef­fec­tively di­gest food, lead­ing to di­ges­tive up­set, weight loss and nu­tri­ent de­fi­ciency. Horses with den­tal prob­lems

will o en spill grain or wad up for­age into par­tially chewed balls and drop them on the ground. Horses with these is­sues need al­ter­nate sources of pas­ture and hay, for­age prod­ucts in­clud­ing cha and bre nuggets, such as HYGAIN® FIBRESSENTIAL®, and com­plete feeds, like HYGAIN ZERO® which can be fed as a wet mash to min­imise chok­ing.

Stress: Our aged equines are very sen­si­tive to stress, which can come in the form of changes in tem­per­a­ture, hous­ing, the herd peck­ing or­der or pain. To al­le­vi­ate weight loss as­so­ci­ated with stress, se­nior horses should have shel­ter, wa­ter­proof blan­kets and be kept with a con­sis­tent group of horses in fa­mil­iar sur­round­ings. ey’re par­tic­u­larly sen­si­tive to the cold when their layer of in­su­lat­ing fat de­creases, and they nd it hard to chew ad­e­quate amounts of bre. Fer­men­ta­tion of bre in the hindgut pro­duces heat, keep­ing them warm in cooler weather. Se­nior horses are also sen­si­tive to changes in their sur­round­ings, so a sud­den change in pad­docks or rou­tine can cause weight loss, as can adding or re­mov­ing horses from the herd, which may send the old horse to the bot­tom of the peck­ing or­der. Horses who ex­pe­ri­ence pain from old in­juries or arthri­tis will su er from loss of ap­petite and drop in body con­di­tion. Over­weight: Not all older horses are hard keep­ers; some will hold their weight eas­ily and may ac­tu­ally be­come too heavy due to lack of ex­er­cise, which is equally detri­men­tal to their health, by stress­ing their bones and joints ag­gra­vat­ing any ex­ist­ing lame­ness such as arthri­tis and nav­ic­u­lar syn­drome. Al­low­ing them am­ple turnout time will pro­vide some ex­er­cise and help them to main­tain healthy mus­cle tone and body con­di­tion. Dis­ease: Se­nior and geri­atric horses are sub­ject to many age-re­lated dis­eases like chronic in­fec­tions, liver or kid­ney fail­ure, anaemia, Cush­ings dis­ease and res­pi­ra­tory prob­lems. ese all re­quire vet­eri­nary treat­ment and proper nu­tri­tion is key to re­cov­ery and strength­en­ing the im­mune sys­tem.

A se­nior horse’s diet re­quire­ments

When it has been de­ter­mined a horse is nu­tri­tion­ally se­nior, each horse must be fed as an in­di­vid­ual. e goal is 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 at back (no crease or ridge).

e most im­por­tant com­po­nent of the diet is for­age (hay/pas­ture). Many old horses main­tain a good body con­di­tion on pas­ture, but lose con­di­tion when forced to rely on hay − this is o en due to their in­abil­ity to prop­erly chew. Re­plac­ing baled hay with hay that has been ground and com­pressed into a nugget will help di­ges­tion. Soak­ing these nuggets will so en the prod­uct and en­hance con­sump­tion. En­ergy re­quire­ments: Se­nior horses in good body con­di­tion are less ac­tive and need main­te­nance en­ergy re­quire­ments. How­ever, if the horse has di culty keep­ing weight on, you’ll need to in­crease their calo­rie in­take. En­ergy-dense feeds, namely HYGAIN® RBO® Equine Per­for­mance Oil® and HYGAIN TRU GAIN®, an ex­truded high fat sup­ple­ment are ideal for weight gain. Full feeds, such as HYGAIN® SE­NIOR® or HYGAIN TRU CARE® are ad­vis­able as they pro­vide con­di­tion­ing en­ergy from qual­ity sources such as highly di­gestible bre, mi­cronized bar­ley and HYGAIN RBO. Pro­tein re­quire­ments: Pro­tein is es­sen­tial as se­nior horses with in­ad­e­quate pro­tein in­take will break down mus­cle tis­sue so the body has enough pro­tein to func­tion. Mus­cle wast­ing is com­mon in aged horses who are not get­ting enough pro­tein. When cre­at­ing feeds for se­nior horses, the pro­tein con­tent is sim­i­lar to what would be fed to a year­ling. Both HYGAIN® SE­NIOR® AND HYGAIN TRU CARE® pro­vide high qual­ity pro­tein sources in ad­e­quate amounts.

Min­eral re­quire­ments: Lim­ited re­search has been con­ducted on se­nior horses’ vi­ta­min and min­eral re­quire­ments, but they would bene t from sup­ple­men­ta­tion of Vi­ta­mins E, B, and C to help boost the im­mune sys­tem and di­ges­tive func­tion.

A nu­tri­tion­ally se­nior horse can no longer eat a nor­mal diet and main­tain body con­di­tion.”

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