Recent studies indicate that about 30% of the U.S. horse population can be considered seniors. And the appearance of these senior horses might give owners useful suggestions as to what changes need to be made in its diet.

Loss of body condition could be the result of more than one type of change. If the fat cover, as measured by body condition scoring, has decreased, the horse needs more calories. These calories can come from added fat from vegetable oils, high-quality fiber, or controlled amounts of starch and sugar. Increased energy intake from highly digestible sources can help restore body condition score.

If a loss of muscle mass is causing a visual and measurable change in the appearance of an old friend, this will not be fixed with just increasing the energy intake. The senior horse might need an additional high-quality protein source containing the essential amino acids lysine, methionine, and threonine (the first three limiting amino acids) to rebuild muscle mass. The loss of muscle mass might also be accompanied by dull hair coat and loss of hoof quality.

The change in hair coat and hoof quality could also be associated with a deficiency of key trace minerals in the diet as well as key vitamins.

Changes in body condition, muscle mass, hair coat and hoof quality may all indicate the need for dietary changes. The easiest solution might be to switch to a senior feed especially designed to meet the changing dietary needs of an aging horse. Your old friend will show you the results!

If you're unsure how to best feed your aging horse, it's advisable to seek advice from your veterinarian or an equine nutritionist.