Managing Weight for Senior Horses

Picture courtesy of Purina Animal Nutrition

BY Purina Animal Nutrition

Some owners struggle with determining when their horse is a senior horse. How do you know when it’s the right time to adjust your feeding management? What are some things that could indicate a diet change may be in order? Here are some signs that your horse is entering his senior years and some nutritional steps you can take to help keep those years as healthy as possible.

1. Changes in eating behavior

Your horse’s ability to chew forage is generally a major indicator as to whether switching to a complete senior feed formulated to replace hay or pasture is in order. Some common changes in eating behavior include:

  • Quidding: Often the result of poor teeth, quidding is when a horse stores feed in the side of his mouth and drops it after a few bites, or drops feed quickly after taking a bite. 
  • Behavioral shifts: These may include atypical actions when the horse tries to chew, such as lifting, shaking or twisting his head.
  • Slower eating: Because of chewing problems, senior horses often eat more slowly than they used to.
  • Increased risk of choke: Poor teeth, decreased saliva production, poor musculature of the throat area and other factors can lead to a blockage in the esophagus, commonly known as choke. This can make swallowing difficult or even impossible.

2. Body condition

Weight loss and diminished body condition are indicators that your horse is not digesting feed as efficiently as he should, especially if you haven’t changed anything in your horse’s feeding or exercise programs. Because senior horse feeds are typically more easily digestible than those formulated for younger horses, a senior feed may be better able to provide your horse with needed nutrition in a way that is easy to chew, digest and utilize.

3. Musculature

Loss of muscle mass is a normal part of aging but can also indicate digestion or other health issues in senior horses.  If your horse isn’t building muscle even if you are still riding and working him as you normally would, talk with your veterinarian about placing your horse on a senior feed. A feed with high-quality protein can help your horse maintain muscle mass.

The evolution of senior horse feed

Over 30 years ago years ago, research demonstrated that older horses had reduced apparent digestibility of fiber, protein, and phosphorus. This data prompted further research into the nutritional requirements of senior horses, leading to the creation, in 1993, of Purina® Equine Senior® horse feed — the first nationally available feed specifically formulated for senior horses. 
Here are the key features and benefits of Purina® Equine Senior® horse feed.

1. It’s a complete feed with built-in forage that is easy to digest
Because Purina® Equine Senior® horse feed is easy to chew and highly digestible, even a horse with poor teeth or loss of body condition can benefit from it. Fiber sources include a combination of soluble and insoluble fibers such as beet pulp and top-quality hay.

2. It addresses the special needs of aging horses
Purina® Equine Senior® horse feed has several features specifically geared to older horses:

  • ActivAge® prebiotic, which has been proven to protect against inflammation, strengthen immune function and boost response to vaccinations.
  • The proprietary Amplify® Nugget, which has been scientifically formulated with rice bran, flaxseed and vegetable oils for an optimal fatty acid profile and nutritional balance, while maintaining strong palatability.
  • Easy Soak™ pellet technology, which can create a mash in five minutes with warm water, making it easy to chew and swallow for horses with dental problems or missing teeth.

3. It offers a total nutrition package
Purina® Equine Senior® supplies 100 percent of required vitamins and minerals and also contains high-quality protein that can help maintain muscle mass. Added antioxidants (vitamin C and vitamin E) offer additional immune system support. Studies have shown that senior horses with low body condition continue to benefit from changing to a senior feed and feeding ample amounts to promote weight gain.

For more active senior horses, Purina® Equine Senior® Active is another excellent option, designed for feeding with hay or pasture.   Purina® Enrich Plus® Senior has the technology included in Equine Senior and Senior Active in a low-volume, lower total calorie ration balancer for easy-keeper seniors.

Help your senior horse enjoy an active, healthy life 

Talk with your veterinarian about your senior horse’s nutrition to be sure you are feeding properly. A few small adjustments in your feeding regimen can help your horse fully enjoy his senior years.