Nutrition for Older Horses

(Chris) Hello and welcome to Horsin’ Around. I’m Dr. Chris Blevins of Veterinary Health Center here at Kansas State University, joined today by Teresa Douthit, welcome. (Teresa) Hello. (Chris) Dr. Douthit is an equine nutritionist over in Animal Science and is an Associate Professor over here and does great projects, has great information about horse nutrition. And today, I thought that we would have you just kind of talk a little bit about older horses and maybe some aspects of maybe starting with management of older horses, or what people should do when they have an older horse that maybe they didn’t realize how to feed them. (Teresa) OK. Well you know a lot of people know and realize that as horses get older it gets hard to maintain weight on those horses. They start to lose weight. It gets hard to keep ’em looking good. Pretty soon, you can see the ribs and the hip bones become prominent and owners know that this is an issue and a lot of times they don’t realize exactly what is going on. And these horses, there’s really three different things that kind of come to mind for me. One, a lot of times their teeth get pretty poor. And they have a hard time really chewing and really being effective when they consume roughage in particular. And so dental care becomes really important in these horses. You know, these horses a lot of times you’ll see ’em dropping feed and excess salivation and things. But you might not see that either. And so, in these horses as a veterinarian as you know, it’s really important to get their teeth floated routinely, or at least checked. So, teeth is an issue. Another one, a lot of times these geriatric horses become very submissive and if they’re fed in a group situation, the other horses tend to get all the feed and the geriatric horse backs away. It won’t fight for the feed. And so, that can become an issue. One, they won’t fight for the feed. They’re really submissive and they’ll back away. But two, they eat very slowly. And so a lot of times with these geriatric horses we need to somehow modify our management practices to make sure they’re getting enough feed. (Chris) You know and I think that’s a really great point is, sometimes people just forget about that of hierarchy and just the feeding and by nature, kind of how horses interact. So, that is really good points. The other thing that I always hear from owners and you probably do too, is we need to change their food. Do we have to change? They’re old, we have to feed ’em old horse feed or something like that. What are your thoughts on that? (Teresa) Well with old horses because their teeth are not very good, and their ability to absorb nutrients declines over time as well, they do need higher quality feeds. Ad a lot of people want to focus on the grain, but the basis of an equine ration should be hay. We need to make sure whatever roughage we’re feeding the horse is really good quality. You know a mature horse probably may do fine on mature prairie hay, but a geriatric horse probably is not going to. He needs some higher quality hay and the other thing, the big thing with these horses, is just getting as many calories into ’em as we can. And so generally something with a high fat content. Fat is easily digestible. It’s something the horse handles really well and it’s got more calories than anything else. So, whether that be purchasing a high fat feed or top dressing with corn oil, anything we can do to increase the fat content in the diet. And with the teeth issues, if the horse, even if we’ve got high quality hay, sometimes they can’t eat it very well. And if that’s the case, we may need to switch to something like a complete feed that has the fiber source already in the feed. It’s been processed and so usually it’s kind of a pelleted form and so the horse doesn’t have to chew it up as well. And a lot of times a complete senior feed would use something like beet pulp, which is really highly digestible. So you’ll see a lot of that in senior rations. And so you can start with making sure you’ve got good quality hay. If the horse isn’t eating it however, you may want to consider a complete ration where the pelleted feed provides everything a horse needs. If they want to eat hay great, but they don’t have to. (Chris) OK. (Teresa) Because they’re getting the forage in the other feed source, along with supplementing fat. (Chris) And I think those are really great information about just feeding the older horse and I think if people have questions, they have older horses, they can sure contact their veterinarian, but also equine nutritionists will really be helpful in that kind of information that’s needed to feed an older horse. So, you can sure get hold of Dr. Douthit. She’s at the Animal Science Department here at the Vet School, or not the Vet School, Animal Science in the university. Ad then at the Vet School here you can always get ahold of us too, and we can get you in contact with Dr. Douthit if needed for that too. Well, thank you for joining us for Horsin’ Around and thank you Dr. Douthit. (Teresa) You’re welcome. (Chris) I’m Dr. Chris Blevins at Kansas State University Veterinary Health Center, and we’ll see you around.

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