Older horses often need adapted nutrition. Most horse owners know that. But it’s not like you buy a bag of senior food on your four-legged friend’s 18th birthday and then you’re done. One elderly horse is not the other, so always keep a close eye on your horse.
With aging horses you have to take a number of things into account. Firstly, the teeth, which wear down and can cause chewing problems. A good dentist, who checks regularly, is therefore very important for an old horse. In addition, the digestion of an older horse changes. From the age of 20, the processing of food becomes less efficient. Organs such as liver and kidneys also start to function somewhat worse. Older horses are therefore less able to obtain energy, protein, vitamins and minerals from their diet. It is therefore important that they get enough of these substances and that these substances are also easily absorbable.
Look at your horse!
Every horse is different. First make sure you know if your older horse’s teeth are in order and then look further. If your horse shows signs of laminitis or PPID, have it checked out by your vet. Many older horses have to deal with hormonal changes, so a blood test is often not an unnecessary luxury for a lean or listless older horse. What exactly you should feed an older horse depends very much on what is going on. Some horses are not ‘old’ until much later and can stand on ‘normal’ food for a very long time. So always opt for customization!
Teeth and the role of chewing
When chewing fibers from hay and other roughage, a horse produces a lot of saliva. When the teeth start to wear out, or if your horse develops painful dental conditions such as EOTRH, he chews less well. Less saliva is therefore released and the roughage will be less well prepared before it ends up in the stomach. This means that the rest of the digestion also goes less well, because the chewing phase is super important for a horse. An older horse should be checked by an equine dentist at least every year – and preferably every six months. You can see whether your horse chews badly because he makes clumps of his feed or because there are undigested pieces of roughage in the manure. Weight loss can also be a sign of bad teeth.
Offer roughage differently
If your older horse is indeed less able to chew, then it is wise to adjust the roughage accordingly. Good, fibre-rich, roughage is the basis of the ration for every horse. If your horse can no longer process normal hay, choose softer hay, chopped roughage and especially pasture grazing. Older horses can often still digest grass well, while hay or silage can become a challenge. If you don’t have any grass available, for example in winter, soaked grass chunks can be a good alternative.
Because senior horses can digest less well, they often have to eat more. So give unlimited roughage or grazing. Does your horse continue to lose weight and are its teeth in order? Then it may be a good idea to add some oil to the feed. Salmon oil contains many essential fatty acids and is often found very tasty by horses. In addition, it promotes appetite and ensures stable blood sugar levels. It is also good for the resistance. Also make sure that your older horse is not too cold in the winter. Digesting roughage helps your horse to keep warm, but if it’s not as efficient anymore, it may be helpful to help him with a rug.
You can also add proteins to the ration. This helps to maintain muscle mass. Older horses often lose muscle, especially on the topline. You can give extra proteins in the form of, for example, alfalfa or a special food or supplement. Be careful with kidney problems: if your horse has poor kidney function, he cannot process the extra proteins. Amino acids are also important. A horse also builds proteins itself, from amino acids. The essential amino acids needed to build extra muscle mass are: lysine, methionine and threonine. Your horse must get these substances in his diet. There are special chunks that contain these substances, but you can also buy them separately. Vitamin E supplements often also contain lysine.
Higher vitamin requirement
Older horses have a higher need for vitamins and minerals. Horses, for example, make their own vitamin C in the liver, but this decreases as they get older. Vitamin C is important for the immune system. The need for zinc, copper and selenium is also higher. In addition, vitamin B and vitamin K are points of attention. Hydrolyzed silicon supports the muscles, ligaments, tendons and connective tissue and also ensures that cartilage and bones remain as healthy as possible. Silicon ensures that your horse’s natural glucosamine production is maintained. It is also best to supplement other minerals in liquid form, as they are best absorbed and your addition is most effective.
Special senior food?
If your horse chews badly or continues to lose weight, special feed products for seniors are also an option. Make sure that this food does not contain too many sugars, starch and ballast materials. Ordinary concentrates or sports pellets are not suitable for older horses. It usually contains too much starch that is not digested well. Special senior food usually contains more fiber to compensate for the poor absorption of roughage. Always check carefully which food suits your horse best.