Common Health Problems in Older Equines

As equines age, they can develop various issues associated with their dental health, bones, weight management, and much more. The good news is that most conditions are efficiently treatable if noticed early. And even the conditions that cannot be cured can still be managed through medications and exercises! 

Dental Issues

When equines grind their teeth, it can result in uneven wear, loose molars, and extremely sharp points. Along with grinding, horses may also experience abrasions in the tongue and cheeks, causing discomfort and making it difficult for older horses to receive adequate nutrition. 

If you notice that your horse has been spitting out food that has been chewed up partially or is dribbling from its mouth, make sure you have a vet check for any dental issues. After a lifetime of grinding hay, excessive tooth wear and other dental problems are almost unavoidable. Be sure to contact your trusted veterinarian if you see any of these problems arise! 

Arthritis in your Equine

Arthritis begins to worsen with age in horses. Most horses that are older than 20 will likely have some arthritis. Sadly, Proteoglycans in the cartilage such as hyaluronic acid and chondroitin sulfate decrease as horses age, causing wear and tear on cartilage and joints, thus creating arthritis. In addition, horses lose muscle mass as they age, weakening their tendons and ligaments and negatively impacting the joints. Stiffness or soreness, especially at the start of work, is a vital sign of arthritis. Most horses with this condition benefit from light to moderate exercise, which keeps joints moving. You can help by giving your horse long, slow warm-ups and avoiding hard, rough or sloppy footing.

Equine Cushing’s Disease

Another common health problem among older horses is equine Cushing’s disease, which results from a portion of the pituitary gland being overactive, typically seen in horses that are years old. Some signs that your horse has Cushing’s disease are excessive drinking, urinating, and a pot belly. Also, if your horse has a long, wavy coat, it may not shed during summer. Equines with Cushing’s disease may also have a weakened immune system with recurrent infections without probable cause. Your vet will need to do several blood tests to diagnose the condition. Although there is no cure, there are medications that can help control it!

Weight Management

It is very common for older horses to lose weight as they grow older. This is because there may be decreased saliva production, making it difficult to swallow food. They may also experience difficulty producing stomach acid that helps digestion, resulting in weight loss.

Bullying from more youthful horses can produce stress, causing older horses to develop stomach ulcers. If you keep your older horses in a herd, they may also fail to compete effectively for food. Instead, contact your veterinarian or consider feeding your horse supplements that can facilitate weight gain.

Eye Problems

Older horses may also experience eye problems due to age-related physical changes. These issues do not necessarily evolve into total blindness, but some older horses may develop a mild case of cataracts. It is also common for older horses to experience changes in their retinas. Pigmentation changes can affect the back of the eye, but it may not necessarily be a tremendous problem. Your horse may just have some difficulty seeing in low light. Having a vet check your horse for any signs of vision problems is essential!

Laminitis in Equines

Laminitis is a condition that also tends to be more common in older horses. Older horses afflicted with Cushing’s disease are at an increased risk of laminitis. Studies have proven a horse with only Cushing’s will not get laminitis. But if they are Cushing’s and IR (insulin resistance), they can get laminitis. Why? Cushing’s high ACTH hormone interferes with insulin’s normal action so their body pours out high amounts of insulin to overcome this and triggers laminitis. Additionally, horses with chronic obesity and metabolic disease also have an increased risk of developing this condition. With laminitis, the soft tissues in the hoof become inflamed, resulting in extreme pain and an inability to walk. The horse may also experience weight loss and a general drop in its quality of life. Laminitis occurs in the form of increased digital pulses, heat in the hooves, sensitivity to hoof testers, and lameness affecting more than one limb. The condition is usually diagnosed through radiographs and clinical presentation. Contact your veterinarian if you assume your horse may be experiencing this disease. 

Equine Medical and Surgical Associates LLC know precisely what it means to keep your horse in peak health, regardless of age. If you have questions about your equine, please contact Dr. Reilly today. We understand your time is valuable – we will call you back quickly and email responses right away – you need information to help your horse! Dr. Reilly respects the veterinarian-client relationship and urges all owners/trainers of horses to consult their barn veterinarian and farrier regarding information and products obtained from Equine Medical and Surgical Associates LLC.