Understanding the Aging Equine Immune System

Horses experience less profound immune system changes than humans as they get older. However, researchers still have much to learn about equine aging.

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Understanding the Aging Equine Immune System
The immune system changes we see in our aging horses aren’t as profound as those we see in aging people, and we still have much to learn. | Photo: iStock
As humans and animals age, our immune systems undergo functional changes that put us at greater risk of certain health conditions as well as mortality. The effects of aging in humans are well-studied and well-documented, but what about in horses? How can we help our equine partners age slower and better?

Dianne McFarlane, DVM, PhD, MS, Dipl. ACVIM, CVM, professor of physiological sciences in Oklahoma State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, in Stillwater, addressed this topic at the 2019 British Equine Veterinary Association Congress, held Sept. 11-14 in Birmingham, U.K.

How Our Immune Systems Age

“As we age, our bodies deteriorate and fail us,” McFarlane said in opening. “Two things happen primarily: The immune system loses its ability to respond appropriately and sufficiently when challenged (immunosenescence) and loses its ability to balance anti-inflammatory events with proinflammatory events, therefore becoming more proinflammatory (what’s called ‘inflammaging’)

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Alexandra Beckstett, a native of Houston, Texas, is a lifelong horse owner who has shown successfully on the national hunter/jumper circuit and dabbled in hunter breeding. After graduating from Duke University, she joined Blood-Horse Publications as assistant editor of its book division, Eclipse Press, before joining The Horse. She was the managing editor of The Horse for nearly 14 years and is now editorial director of EquiManagement and My New Horse, sister publications of The Horse.

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