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A general rule is that a horse 18 to 20 years of age is entering the golden years. Some horses remain in excellent body condition and health until they die, while others deteriorate quickly or slowly overtime. The four factors that affect the ability of senior horses to stay healthy and maintain proper body condition are:

  1. Decreased nutrient absorption: A consistent effective deworming program helps horses living to an older age. Intestinal worms can scar and cause chronic mucosal (lining) damage of the intestines or damage blood vessels, which affects nutrient absorption. The presence of worms also causes a decrease in nutrient availability because the parasites compete for these nutrients. Worm control needs to be vigorous. The effectiveness of the intestinal lining decreases with age so nutrient absorption like phosphorous, vitamins and protein decreases. Also, if the teeth fail to chew food sufficiently, the food particles wont be able to be digested and thus nutrient absorption will be decreased. Protein digestion appears to be a problem in the geriatric horse because the production of stomach acid is reduced, especially those horses with parasite damage in the digestive tract, therefore the feed offered should be high in protein, eg soy bean meal and lucerne hay. Roughage is a vital part of equine diet. Senior horse feed should have a fibre percentage higher than 10% and a protein percentage between 12-16%. There should be added fat to increase the energy value of the feed. With increased intakes, feeding smaller, more frequent meals will help keep your senior horse wellnourished.
  2.  Without careful attention to the molar surface throughout the years, some irregularities can become severe enough to interfere with proper chewing. In cases where horses lose incisors they will have trouble tearing the grass away from the roots. Hooks and sharp edges on the edges of the teeth can irritate the cheek wall making mouth sore. Dental exams twice a year are appropriate for the senior horse. A horse can choke on any kind of food if it does not take the time or does not have the ability to chew the food properly before swallowing. If horses chew less they produce less saliva and there is less lubricant to aid the passage of feed to the stomach. Feed that can be fed as a slightly damp mash is ideal for horses with little or no grinding surface on their teeth. Chaff and chopped forages are useful.
  3. Environmental stress: Relocating your older horse to another paddock or stable can be very stressful, especially if it means a change of paddock mates. Older horses tend to fall to the bottom of the pecking order and may not feel like fighting for food. During cold weather, a horse will limit the amount of water it drinks since intake of cold water lowers internal temperature, resulting in cold stress. It is not uncommon for these horses to colic due to self-induced dehydration due subsequent impaction. Feeding meals soaked in warm water and adding salt to the meal might entice a horse to increase its water intake. Rugging a horse in cold weather will often make them feel more comfortable. Pain can also make a horse miserable and may lose the desire to eat. If your senior hoses suffers from arthritis let it exercise at will and offer some form of joint supplementation and/or mild anti-inflammatories. Attention to proper trimming and shoeing may help reduce unnecessary stresses on joints and help keep the horse mobile.
  4. Disease in the older horse: Chronic weight loss  can also be attributed to chronic infections, adrenal gland atrophy, liver failure or kidney disorders. Tumours                   such as melanomas are frequently observed on the skin, particularly on grey horses. Tumours may also be found on the thyroid or pituitary
                  glands,   which can cause hair coats to become long and rough. These symptoms are also indicative of Cushings syndrome. See your Vet for further

For more information and helpful advice please contact the staff at Mudgee Veterinary Hospital.

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Pesti Virus Steers

Here are some photos of some steers that are PI (Persitantly Infected) with Pestivirus.

They are 1/2 the size of the same aged steers in the mob