Weight Support for Senior Horses

Winter weather and loss of good pasture make all owners of thin senior horses anxious.  Some things to consider when a horse is underweight span all age groups, but seniors have additional considerations.

Senior horses face many weight challenges

Older horses need frequent, but not necessarily aggressive, dental care. Problems such as worn teeth, loose or missing teeth, abscesses and gum irritation from food packing into diastemas (gaps at the gum level) are common older horse issues which interfere with effective chewing and/or cause pain. Wear also changes the angle of the chewing surface which reduces the effectiveness of chewing.

The goal of dentistry should be to remove pain, not necessarily “fix” things. Horses with significant dental issues reap the most benefit from a wet, if not soupy, diet. Hay cubes or pellets can be thoroughly soaked, as can complete feeds,  beet pulp and bran. Get professional advice in formulating the diet.

I commonly recommend incorporating psyllium into these wet senior diets. It further increases how easily they are swallowed (choke is a concern with seniors) and is an excellent prebiotic. Use 1 to 2 oz of psyllium husk fiber per meal.

Older horses often have reduced natural immunity to parasite infections and may even become positive for parasites normally only seen in foals, like roundworms. This is one cause of weight loss you can control. Keep an eye on fecal egg counts and work with your vet on developing an individual deworming program for your  senior.

Supplementing fat, up to 0.5 kg/day, considerably increases the caloric density of the diet. Begin with a flax based supplement like CocoOmega to replace omega-3 fatty acids if the horse is not on fresh grass. Use at least 0.15 kg/day of this or even up to 0.5 kg/day.  If feeding less than the full 0.5 kg/day of flax based supplement I recommend making up the difference with something that will not upset the omega-3:omega-6 ratio, like Uckele’s CocoSun.

Senior citizens of all species may suffer from reduced  digestive efficiency. Even the diversity of the microflora in the large intestine of the horse decreases with age.  A supplement with both high digestive enzyme activity and good numbers of live probiotic organisms can be very helpful for seniors.

Vanishing toplines is a common complaint with older horses. When this is seen the horse should always be checked for PPID – pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction, aka Cushing’s Disease – because high cortisol activity in these horses causes muscle loss. There may also be a factor of poor protein digestibility and/or inadequate key amino acid intake.  Supplementation with the triple combination of L-lysine, D,L-methionine and L-threonine is an inexpensive safeguard on the nutritional end.

Problems such as heart failure, kidney failure, liver disease or malignancies are rare in younger horses but anything goes with a senior. All of these may have weight loss as a component. It’s always wise to involve your veterinarian when having weight issues with a senior.  Odds are one or more of the factors mentioned earlier will be the explanation but keeping your vet informed of the issue and what was tried will save precious time in deciding on diagnostics and treatment down the road.

Eleanor Kellon, VMD


About Dr. Kellon

Graduate of University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School. Owner of Equine Nutritional Solutions, www.drkellon.com, industry and private nutritional consultations, online nutritional courses. Staff Veterinary Expert at Uckele Health and Nutrition https://tinyurl.com/vdxfex5h .
This entry was posted in Equine Nutrition and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Weight Support for Senior Horses

  1. Marsha Brandt says:

    Dr Kellon, I have a PPID mare, 28yo, who has EOTRH. I am conflicted with having her incisors removed. We are waiting until warmer weather as the equine dentist felt that it would be better. We have x-rayed and he feels it wont be too difficult to remove the incisors. She is eating a soft soaked diet, her PPID is controlled. Do you see a problem with doing these extractions? I am thinking it is painful for her and I worry about systemic infection. I keep wondering if this is too much to put her through???


    • Dr. Kellon says:

      I would encourage you to get it done. She is in pain even with the soft diet. As long as her PPID is controlled there shouldn’t be an issue. They typically recover uneventfully.


      • Marsha Brandt says:

        Thank you! Next month we will! The dentist said best then as his hands will not be freezing while trying to work! I have her on 57mg of equiox for the pain until sx. Your comments make sense to me! I always appreciate your opinions.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.