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Medical Conditions That Are More Common In Older Horses
            With an increased level of care and advances in veterinary medicine, it is common for our horses to live into their thirties and even forties nowadays.  But these senior citizens are at risk for developing some medical problems that need to be addressed to keep them healthy and happy.  Some of the more common conditions are described below.
  • Weight loss is one of the most common problems in the older horse.  Reasons for weight loss include (but are not limited to): dental abnormalities, changing nutritional requirements, housing and management, parasites, infections, endocrine (hormone) disorders, cancer, and kidney, heart, or liver failure.  If your horse is difficult to keep at an appropriate weight, or loses weight either rapidly or over a longer period of time, an appointment should be made with your veterinarian for a thorough physical examination.  Bloodwork and additional testing may be necessary to determine the cause of your horse’s weight loss, but many horses respond well to simple treatments or dietary and management changes.
  • Heaves, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), and Small Airway Disease are all names for a non-infectious respiratory disease that can affect horses of all ages, but seems to be more severe in older horses.  Sensitivity to inhaled dust and mold appears to be the trigger for inflammation of the airways in the lungs and mucus production in these airways- similar to asthma in humans.  Signs of this disease include: coughing, especially during exercise or while eating, increased respiratory rate and effort, and flared nostrils.  Sometimes you may even hear the horse wheezing while having difficulty breathing.  If your horse displays any of these signs, an appointment with your veterinarian should be made for an accurate diagnosis and to rule out a respiratory infection.  Horses with COPD can be successfully treated by adjusting some of the routine care and management procedures and medicating when necessary.  These management changes involve ways to minimize dust and mold such as decreasing the amount of time that the horse is stabled, wetting the grain and hay before feeding, keeping hay stored in a separate, dry building, feeding hay from large buckets or hay racks that are low to the ground, and feeding quality square bales or chopped forage instead of round bales which may contain more mold and dust.   More Information
  • Colic is another medical condition that can occur in horses of any age, but there are some unique causes of colic in older horses.  The term “colic” refers to a situation in which a horse displays signs of abdominal pain.  These signs include: pawing, teeth grinding, biting or kicking at its belly, refusing food and water, laying down repeatedly or unwilling to get up, rolling and/or thrashing, and standing stretched out as if to urinate, but not actually urinating.  Colic is always a medical emergency and your horse should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.  Causes of colic include: gas, dehydration, sand accumulation in the intestine, parasites, intestinal infections, and twisted or displaced intestines.  Additional causes that are more common in older horses than in younger horses are abdominal masses, such as tumors, and dental abnormalities causing inadequate chewing.  Treatment of colic may be achieved with medications at the farm, but hospitalization and/or surgery are required to treat some causes of colic.  More Information
  • Choke in horses refers to the inability to swallow due to an obstruction in the esophagus.  Most commonly, feed material is the offender.  In an older horse, improper chewing due to dental abnormalities is a common cause.  Other causes include: rapid ingestion of feed, inadequate water intake, poor quality feed, and pelleted or dry feeds such as beet pulp and oats.  Signs that a horse is choking are coughing, inability to swallow, salivating, and regurgitation of feed and saliva through the nostrils and mouth.  Sometimes the horse is able to clear a small obstruction if allowed to relax.  However, in many cases, a veterinarian is needed to sedate the horse, insert a tube into the esophagus, and flush the area with water, removing the feed material through the tube.  Ways to help prevent choke include: maintaining proper dental care for your horse, feed types of feed that can be adequately chewed and swallowed, and adding water to dry feeds, especially feeds such as beet pulp.  More Information
  • Cushing’s Disease is a syndrome associated with hormonal imbalances due to an improperly functioning pituitary gland.  It is much more prevalent in older horses than in younger horses.  There are no known risk factors or breeds more susceptible to the disease, although it seems more prevalent in ponies.  Signs of cushing’s disease are variable, but include: an abnormally long, curly hair coat or absence of seasonal shedding, increased drinking and urination, weight loss, decreased muscle mass, particularly over the back, and a pot-bellied appearance, laminitis, bulging of the fat pads over the eyes, and recurrent or lingering infections such as hoof abscesses, eye ulcers, and delayed healing of wounds.  To make an accurate diagnosis, your veterinarian will need to do some bloodwork, specifically to determine the cortisol concentration in the blood.  This may need to be done as series of tests before and after the administration of other diagnostic drugs.  Treatment is achieved medically by the daily administration cyproheptadine or pergolide which can improve the hormonal imbalances present.  Improvement or even resolution of clinical signs is possible with medication.  Good management practices such as routine deworming, dental care, and foot trimming, good wound care, and body clipping for horses with heavy coats are necessary to maintain the comfort and good health of these horses.  Blog posts about Cushings      More Information
 

NOTE:  Material presented by Traveller's Rest Equine Elders Sanctuary on equineelders.org or in any other manner is for information purposes only.  It is in no way intended to replace the services or advice of your veterinarian.

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