How to Feed Senior Horses

Age is a number, not a disease, said Dr. Megan Shepherd. Remember this when tailoring a diet for your older horse.
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Twenty percent of the U.S. horse population is now over the age of 20. And with age comes increasing risk for several conditions, including colic, pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID, aka equine Cushing’s disease), dental disease, and weight loss/gain. Fortunately, nutrition can aid in managing these issues. After all, “age is a number, not a disease,” said Megan Shepherd, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVN.

Shepherd, a clinical assistant professor in Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine’s Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences, in Blacksburg, Virginia, talked about feeding considerations for seniors at the 2016 American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention, held Dec. 3-7 in Orlando, Florida.

Calories and Energy

While it’s good practice to assess and address body condition score (BCS) at all life stages, weight management is particularly important for senior horses. Shepherd said a score of 5 out of 9 is ideal for seniors. A horse with no metabolic issues can have a BCS of 6 to account for future weight loss due to illness, she added. An arthritic animal might fare better with a little less weight stressing those joints, in which case a BCS of 4 is acceptable.

Inactive and/or overweight seniors have lower energy needs than hard keepers that have trouble maintaining weight. Hard keepers often benefit from higher fat diets for extra calories, whereas easy keepers or overweight horses generally fare well with forage-based diets plus an added ration balancer

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Written by:

Nettie Liburt, MS, PhD, PAS, is an equine nutritionist based on Long Island, New York. She is a graduate of Rutgers University, where she studied equine exercise physiology and nutrition. Liburt is a member of the Equine Science Society.

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