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Information for Those With Older Horses

By Erin C Brankowski

Horses are generally seen to be old when they reach around 20 years of age, many breeds such as thoroughbreds, sports horses may not live this long if they have had a hard competitive life. Many horses at 20 years old will still be physically fit and healthy if they have been well looked after.

Older horses may show changes in appearance – such as muscle degeneration causing a sagging topline, dipped back and prominent withers, and cataract development. Their face may have a more hollowed appearance with deeper depressions above the eyes and grey hairs tend to appear more noticeably around the eyes, ears, forehead and muzzle. Other signs include difficulty eating or loss of appetite resulting from worn or missing teeth, which can also cause weight loss, stiffness or lameness due to arthritis.

There are also internal signs of ageing going on inside the body. Organs such as the heart, liver, kidneys, digestive tract and immune system become less efficient and bones become brittle. In addition, muscles may become weaker and the joints and tendons lose their elasticity. Hormonal changes can adversely affect body condition. All these changes mean that your horse is more susceptible to illness and that any recovery will be slower.

It is important to take care of the older horse to ensure that they live a comfortable life for the rest of their days. Good dental care is essential now that your horse is getting older, it is advisable that your horse has his teeth checked twice a year or at any time that you notice a problem such as weight loss or difficulty chewing. Look at the horse’s diet to ensure it is still suitable, as the digestive system becomes less efficient in addition to hormonal and metabolic changes that affect their digestion and absorption of the essential nutrients needed. A diet for an older horse should be palatable, easy to chew and swallow, dust free, high in protein and fibre, provide essential vitamins and minerals, and high in energy. You may need to add new supplements to give additional nutrients. Before changing your horse’s diet, consult your vet, he will probably want to do some tests to check for any kidney or liver problems. If you do need to change your horse’s diet, make sure you do it gradually so as to avoid unexpected changes disrupting the digestive system.

Don’t forget the routine care that he has had throughout his earlier years: worming, stabling, checking for injuries, exercise, shoeing and so on. An older horse may feel the cold more so keep this in mind and make sure they have suitable rugs for the weather.

Ensure the horse benefits from regular veterinary check-ups. Although this is costly, it is often the best way of spotting the signs of disease or illness before it requires serious medical attention. Regular checks from an expert are the best possible way of ensuring your horse lives to a ripe old age. Remember the key is to watch out for any changes including rapid weight deterioration, loss of body condition and apathy towards exercise and movement.

Horses are generally seen to be old when they reach around 20 years of age, many breeds such as thoroughbreds, sports horses may not live this long if they have had a hard competitive life. Many horses at 20 years old will still be physically fit and healthy if they have been well looked after.

Older horses may show changes in appearance – such as muscle degeneration causing a sagging topline, dipped back and prominent withers, and cataract development. Their face may have a more hollowed appearance with deeper depressions above the eyes and grey hairs tend to appear more noticeably around the eyes, ears, forehead and muzzle. Other signs include difficulty eating or loss of appetite resulting from worn or missing teeth, which can also cause weight loss, stiffness or lameness due to arthritis.

There are also internal signs of ageing going on inside the body. Organs such as the heart, liver, kidneys, digestive tract and immune system become less efficient and bones become brittle. In addition, muscles may become weaker and the joints and tendons lose their elasticity. Hormonal changes can adversely affect body condition. All these changes mean that your horse is more susceptible to illness and that any recovery will be slower.

It is important to take care of the older horse to ensure that they live a comfortable life for the rest of their days. Good dental care is essential now that your horse is getting older, it is advisable that your horse has his teeth checked twice a year or at any time that you notice a problem such as weight loss or difficulty chewing. Look at the horse’s diet to ensure it is still suitable, as the digestive system becomes less efficient in addition to hormonal and metabolic changes that affect their digestion and absorption of the essential nutrients needed. A diet for an older horse should be palatable, easy to chew and swallow, dust free, high in protein and fibre, provide essential vitamins and minerals, and high in energy. You may need to add new supplements to give additional nutrients. Before changing your horse’s diet, consult your vet, he will probably want to do some tests to check for any kidney or liver problems. If you do need to change your horse’s diet, make sure you do it gradually so as to avoid unexpected changes disrupting the digestive system.

Don’t forget the routine care that he has had throughout his earlier years: worming, stabling, checking for injuries, exercise, shoeing and so on. An older horse may feel the cold more so keep this in mind and make sure they have suitable rugs for the weather.

Ensure the horse benefits from regular veterinary check-ups. Although this is costly, it is often the best way of spotting the signs of disease or illness before it requires serious medical attention. Regular checks from an expert are the best possible way of ensuring your horse lives to a ripe old age. Remember the key is to watch out for any changes including rapid weight deterioration, loss of body condition and apathy towards exercise and movement.

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