Dr. Lydia Gray of SmartPak Answers Your Health Questions: What is the Best Feed For My Senior Horse?

by Dr. Lydia Gray | September 1st, 2014 8:00 AM | No Comments

Originally published in the September issue of Show Horse Today.

DrLydiaGray_SmartPak-cropped-2251I run barrels and ride a 14yr. old mare, she will be 15 next month. Should I put her on any certain supplements or a senior feed? All she gets now is a 12-4 pellet feed. She is doing ok right now, but does have days where she acts stiff or sore in her hind legs. – CG
Dear CG,
Unfortunately, there is no consensus among experts about what constitutes a “senior” horse—some say 15 years, some say 20. Most agree, however, that it is not based on chronological age but on physiological age. That is, the age at which physiological functions like digestive efficiency and immune status begin to decline. Therefore, you and your veterinarian must work together to determine if your mare is aging well (looks and acts like a horse under 10) or aging poorly (looks and acts like a horse over 20). A horse that is “showing its age” may have a poor quality hair coat, reduced activity and muscle loss especially over the topline.

If this describes your horse, then it may be time to gradually switch to a commercial senior feed, which has high-quality, easy-to-digest protein, increased amounts of certain nutrients (like B vitamins and Vitamin C), and reduced amounts of other nutrients like phosphorus. Some owners like to add direct-fed microbials (probiotics) to their senior horse’s diet to help maintain normal intestinal function. Of course, high-quality hay is still an important part of your horse’s ration, as long as she can safely chew it. As horses get into their teens and twenties, I generally recommend increasing the frequency of dental examinations to twice a year instead of just once, to catch problems earlier.

And while a horse her age in her line of work certainly may be experiencing “wear and tear” of her joints, there may be other reasons for her to be stiff and sore in the hind. I recommend you have your veterinarian examine her and provide you with an appropriate diagnosis and treatment plan that may include an oral joint supplement as well as prescription medications and specific management suggestions.
About the Author

Dr. Lydia Gray is the Medical Director/Staff Veterinarian for SmartPak Equine where she networks with veterinarians; provides print and electronic media content, and guides food, supplement and pharmaceutical selections. Dr. Gray has earned a Bachelor of Science in agriculture, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM), and a Master of Arts focusing on interpersonal and organizational communication. After “retiring” from private practice, she put her experience and education to work as the American Association of Equine Practitioner’s first-ever Director of Owner Education. She continues to provide health and nutrition information to horse owners through her position at SmartPak, through publication in more than a dozen general and trade publications, and through presentations around the country.

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