The health and well being of senior horses are important topics to horse owners as these horses are frequently considered treasured members of the family. There are many different criteria that are applied to determining when a horse would be considered a “Senior Horse”. One of the important criteria is when we determine that, because of changes in ability to chew pasture or hay, we need to consider different forage options for our old friend. Quidding (spitting out unchewed wads of hay) is one of the signs we look for in making this determination. Inspection by a veterinarian may confirm that the condition of the teeth requires an adjustment in fiber sources.
Fiber Source Options
- There are now a variety of Senior Horse Feeds available that can be fed as a complete diet. These feeds are designed with sufficient fiber to help maintain gut heath as well as providing the required energy, protein (amino acid balanced), minerals and vitamins for the balanced diet. They will also normally contain added pre and probiotics to help maintain gut health. For horses with extremely poor teeth, these feeds can be made into a mash as well to make consumption very easy.
- Dehydrated alfalfa or alfalfa/grass pellets may also be used as a good fiber source. While not a complete balanced ration, these products work well for senior horses as they require minimal chewing. They can also be soaked to form an easily consumed mash for horses with limited chewing ability. Diet balancer products work well with this type of product to provide the addition amino acids, minerals and vitamins that are required to provide a balanced diet.
- Beet pulp is also a good highly digestible fiber source and is a good source of calories. Again, beet pulp is not a balanced ration, but may be added to a diet to provide energy. Beet pulp pellets or beet pulp shreds can also be soaked for ease on consumption.
- Soy hulls are also a good highly digestible fiber source. Soy hulls are more likely to be used as a part of a Senior Horse Feed rather than being offered as a separate product.
Monitoring Body Condition Score and Topline Evaluation Score can help determine what changes may be needed in the total diet. Loss of Body Condition Score tells us that our senior horse needs more Calories. Loss of muscle mass may tell us we need a better amino acid profile in the diet.
Senior horses also need access to salt, preferably loose salt, free choice and free access to fresh, clean water. Water temperature is important to senior horses as water that is too cold may cause discomfort to badly worn teeth and may limit water intake, which can contribute to other problems such as impaction colic.
Providing an appropriate fiber source is a key management tool to help our old friends enjoy a long and happy life!