Senior Horse Health Problems: What to Watch For

Dr. Liz Arbittier encourages owners and caretakers of senior horses to call their vet if they notice any changes in health or behavior, even when it seems minor, to identify issues and begin treatment early. Here’s what to watch for.

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senior horse health problems
Changes to watch for in old horses that might indicate a problem include drinking and urinating more often than normal, reluctance to walk or move forward, dropping feed while eating, weight loss or gain, shaggy or nonshedding hair coat, lethargy, coughing, or a sudden drop in the pasture social food-chain. | Photo: iStock

The idea that age is but a number is as true for animals as it is for humans. Horses, especially ponies, are routinely living to the mid-20s and even 30s, often still enjoying life, work, or performing into old age.

“We shouldn’t use one age to classify a horse as geriatric,” said Elizabeth Arbittier, VMD, CVA, assistant professor in equine field service at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine’s New Bolton Center, in Kennett Square. “Horses, like humans, are individuals. They show signs of aging at different rates. Sometimes I’ll see a horse at 15 and see the animal again at 17 and am shocked at how much he or she has clinically aged. Other horses are 25 years old, and you’d never know they’re a day over 12.”

One key to keeping horses healthier longer is regular preventive care visits. Arbittier recommends horses in the mid-teens see a veterinarian twice a year and have annual bloodwork to test for diseases that start popping up around this time

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