When are horses considered old? How should old horses be fed?
The age at which the horse is considered geriatric depends on the individual, because some horses age earlier than others. The general rule of thumb is that they can be considered 18 to 20 years old, but while some horses remain in excellent body condition and health until the moment of death, others deteriorate gradually or rapidly over time. Due to the physiological changes normally associated with aging, geriatrics may require special adaptations in health, environment and diet.
Geriatric horse nutrition:
Roughage is an important part of the horse diet, and if not consumed in appropriate amounts, problems in the digestive system can occur. Dental problems or a lack of appetite can make it difficult to get enough feed. Older horses can easily chew and digest fresh green grass, even if some molars have lost their teeth. It is important that the amount of protein is sufficient. Protein digestion appears to be a particular problem in geriatric horses, especially those with parasitic damage in the digestive system. Loss of muscle tissue is a common occurrence in the aging horse. If the diet is deficient in protein, the body will begin to break down its own muscle tissue to provide protein for its essential functions. Since their ability to absorb protein in the digestive system is reduced, their geriatric diets should be richer in protein and of higher quality compared to healthy adult horse rations. Fat can be added to increase the energy level of the ration. However, care should be taken in horses with liver problems. This can also be important for horses with respiratory problems. The use of yeast can improve fiber and phosphorus digestion in feed. Vitamin and mineral supplementation should be higher than adult horses due to reduced digestive efficiency. If ready-made feeds are used, it is important that it is a well-formulated feed and produced by steaming, micronization or extruded methods.
If we become aware of the problems that geriatric horses face, we can offer them the chance to live healthier and longer. Routine care, environment, and changes in nutritional management of geriatric horses can help achieve this goal.