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Osteoarthritis and dental problems: support your horse as it gets older

If your horse is becoming a senior, he may develop ailments of old age. Sometimes you as an owner do not immediately realize that. Not surprising, they are slow processes. Part of aging is that your horse’s joints and teeth begin to wear out. What can you do to ensure that your horse remains mobile and can chew well for as long as possible?

The age at which a horse becomes ‘senior’ differs a bit per breed and per horse. But in general we are talking about horses from the age of 18 to 20. Then the first age-related ailments start to show up.

Joints: Stiffness and osteoarthritis

In older horses there will often be some wear and tear on the joints. Also, the production of cartilage is slower in older horses, so that the ‘resilient’ cartilage between the joints is slowly but surely becoming thinner. Cartilage and cartilage fluid (synovium) together ensure smooth movement of the joints. If the cartilage becomes thinner and there is less lubricant (synovium), your horse will move more rigidly and take longer to warm up. Osteoarthritis often starts with minor damage to the joints, changes in shape and inflammation. The symptoms of osteoarthritis include stiff movements, lameness and difficulty getting started. It is usually worse in cold and wet weather. After the horse has had a good warm-up, he usually walks more smoothly.

Prevent discomfort in stiffness and osteoarthritis

Although you cannot completely prevent joint wear and stiffness with age, there are a number of things you can do to keep your horse supple and healthy for as long as possible.

Tip 1: Not overweight

If your horse is overweight, his joints and tendons are overloaded. Joint wear will also go faster and osteoarthritis will be able to spread more quickly. So keep your horse at a healthy weight.

Tip 2: Movement

Older horses are often less trained and are often in the stable for longer. This is bad for the mobility of muscles and joints. An older horse benefits from a lot of light, free movement. So put your horse outside longer and do light activities with him, such as walking or groundwork. Expect a longer warm-up and cool-down.

Tip 3: Take care of the hooves

Bad hooves and abnormal leg positions aggravate osteoarthritis and cause pain and less desire to move. Have your farrier visit regularly and make sure that your older horse is always neatly on the hooves.

Tip 4: Give silicon

Silicon is an excellent supplement to keep the cartilage as healthy as possible. Silicon is only easily absorbable for horses in hydrolysed, liquid form. Silicon is the building material for all connective tissue and stimulates the production of the body’s own glucosamine. Silicon ensures more production of the cartilage fluid and that ‘lubricates’ the joints. It is also good for tendons, muscles, bone formation and hoof growth. By starting silicon in time, the onset (or worsening) of osteoarthritis can be delayed.

Tip 5: Braking inflammation

Osteoarthritis often causes small inflammations in the joints. As a result, moving can be painful. You can combat these inflammations with mild anti-inflammatories and painkillers such as cannabinoids or devil’s claw. Choose a supplement that can be given for a long time. For example, devil’s claw is known to cause stomach complaints in some horses, so look for a product that suits your horse.

Dental problems in older horses

Dental problems also regularly crop up as horses get a bit older. Sometimes inflammations arise in the mouth, for example because the spaces between the molars become larger and food gets stuck in them. The position of the teeth can also change or the molars can wear down so much that chewing becomes more difficult.

Symptoms of dental problems:

  • Weight loss due to poor chewing and poorer food intake
  • tuffing the food
  • Working endlessly with roughage
  • Gobbling of concentrate
  • drool
  • Playing with food
  • Esophageal obstruction, cough when eating, food falls out of mouth
  • Nasal discharge during or after eating
  • smelly mouth
  • Swelling in the jaw or nose

In addition to the aforementioned dental problems, EOTRH (Equine Odontoclastic Tooth Resorption and Hypercementosis) can also occur in older horses.

Managing dental problems in older horses

It is wise to pay more attention to the teeth in older horses. The longer an older horse can chew properly, the better it is for the horse’s digestion and health. Also, undiscovered dental pain can cause a lot of discomfort in an older horse. Remember that horses always do their best not to show that they are in pain!

Tip 1: Have the dentist come more often

For older horses, the advice is to have the dentist come twice a year. This way you are faster if inflammation or other problems arise. You cannot always recognize horses with dental problems by their abnormal eating behaviour. Mild mouth infections can be suppressed well with the help of cannabinoids.

Tip 2: Provide enough minerals

An older horse sometimes absorbs vitamins and minerals less well. Therefore, provide a mineral and vitamin kibble in the right composition and quantity for older horses. In addition, liquid silicon can contribute to bone and tooth formation and magnesium can also be a good supplement.

Tip 3: Adjust your food

Horses that no longer chew well have difficulty processing hay and other roughage. Long-stalked roughage requires good teeth. If your horse chews badly, you can ensure that he gets enough fiber with short chopped roughage, or, for example, soaked roughage such as beet pulp or soaked grass chunks. If your horse has really bad teeth, you can supplement this with bran.


Finally, it is wise to be vigilant on PPID/Cushing. This hormonal condition can also cause all sorts of problems, including stiffness. If you are not sure whether your horse has ‘normal’ age-related ailments or whether there is more to it, have your vet do a test for PPID

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