Health checks for your veteran horse

Equine vet Mark Grant explains three of the most common problems found in older horses. 

Your horse's needs will change as he grows older 

Your horse's needs will change as he grows older 

1. Help your horse stay mobile and supple

Older horses are more susceptible to mobility issues, such as stiffness and back or neck problems. 

It can be easy for such problems to go unnoticed if your horse is retired and no longer ridden. 

Keep an eye on how he moves from his stable to the field. 

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Another common problem is stiff knees and hocks. If your farrier is struggling to get your horse to keep his leg up for trimming, this could be a sign that he's suffering joint pain.

Regular checks by qualified equine physiotherapist will help establish if your horse is experiencing any back or neck pain. 

It's also a good idea to give him as much turnout as possible so he's able to move around - this can go a long way to keeping your horse comfortable in his joints. 

If he has discomfort in his neck, he may benefit from being fed at head height rather than off the ground. 

2. Spot the signs of Cushing's 

Cushing's disease - also known as Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction (PPID) - is caused by a defective pituitary gland.

This small gland at the base of the brain is responsible for regulating hormones. 

Progressive degeneration of neurons (nerves) in the pituitary lead to the reduced production of a chemical called dopamine, which is important in controlling other hormone secretions of this gland. 

This reduction results in the excessive secretion of hormones, such as cortisol, which account for the clinical signs of the condition. 

The symptoms of Cushing's include:

  • Excessive drinking and urinating
  • Failure to lose their winter coat, or part of the coat
  • A pot-bellied appearance
  • Muscle loss
  • Increased susceptibility to infections (such as mud fever or conjunctivitis) due to reduced immunity
  • Various studies also report laminitis in 24 to 82% of horses with Cushing's.

Diagnosis can be based on clinical signs alone, or a blood test. 

3. Check your horse's teeth

Your horse's teeth should be checked regularly by a qualified equine dental technician 

Your horse's teeth should be checked regularly by a qualified equine dental technician 

Dental issues are common in older horses, from loose teeth to diastemata (gaps between the teeth) that fill with food material and bacteria (this produces acid and can lead to gum disease and gingivitis). 

Gum disease associated with diastemata can be painful and any issue with your horse's teeth may affect his ability to eat, causing him to lose condition. 

Common signs to look for include:

  • Quidding - where your horse drops food from his mouth while eating
  • Weight loss
  • Bad breath
  • Becoming headshy

It's essential that your horse has his teeth regularly checked by a vet or suitably qualified equine dental technician. 

Do you have a golden oldie? Share your tips on caring for older horses in the comments below!