Seniors are seniors, whether they be a horse, dog or human their issues are much the same. Arthritis, eating issues, loss of eyesight, hearing and surprise illnesses are all a part of getting old. Combatting those issues can be a real challenge! Here are some tips to help your horse through its “golden years”.
The Myth: “I just need to give my senior horse senior feed and it will be just fine!”
Weight is not an indicator of health! Though extreme weights…far too much weight for the body size or severe lack of weight for the body size are certainly health indicators, most horses carry a fairly average weight. However, these same horses are often lacking in nutrients which can be seen in a dull, rough coat, weak hooves, and a varying assortment of issues. Just because a senior’s weight is decent, does not mean they are healthy. It simply means they are getting enough calories for their level of caloric output…i.e. how much of a workout they get each day.
Senior feeds are primarily made up of starches and sugars. For any senior humans reading this, you know the two worst things you can eat are starches and sugars! With the ingesting of those starches and sugars causes a chain reaction that may put weight on the body, but ends up with the person feeling tired, out of balance…the immune system takes a nose dive and in the end, lead to sickness and disease. What seniors need is an easy to digest diet full of nutrients! High sugar, starch, and protein are hard to digest and process. Easy to digest nutrients and healthy high omega 3 rich fats are far healthier to the senior body than the ingredients in most senior feeds.These nutrients help keep the immune system boosted as well as help alleviate the following common senior issues.
Arthritis, the wearing away of the joints, is a common issue for seniors. Keeping arthritis at bay does not start when the horse is already a “senior” but starts from the day of birth. Keeping a well-balanutrient-richt rich diet will keep bones from decaying and should be thought about from the beginning, not the end. However, once arthritis starts in, there are plenty of herbs and supplements (like MSM) to help keep those bones as strong as possible for as long as possible, while helping to alleviate pain and other symptoms. Turmeric, devil’s claw and yucca are just a few herbs that will help the arthritic older horse, without paying for “joint supplements” that may or may not work, but are trendy on today’s market.
Digestive issues are a big deal for seniors. As the body grows older, the digestive system slows down and becomes more sensitive. Add to that fewer teeth and you may end up with a senior that needs to be on an all soaked food diet. Wet feeds are much easier to process than dry feeds and nutrients will be incorporated as well as digested easier. As senior horses grind down their molars, they become smooth and make chewing hay difficult. This may make it necessary to change from hay that is wet down, or completely going to a soaked “pellet only” diet. Digestive herbs such as Slippery Elm, Licorice and Marshmallow will help increase a senior horse’s ability to digest and take in nutrients as well as Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) or Kombucha. Though most people reach for probiotics for their seniors, ACV and Kombucha are both loaded with nutrients to keep the digestive system going without the constant use of probiotics (which can lead to Candida overload when used continuously).
Eye and hearing issues can be addressed with the same herbs, those which specifically affect the head region...Eyebright, Feverfew, Bilberry, and Skullcap help improve vision as well as hearing (to a more minor degree) and will get rid of “Gunky Eye Syndrome” where the eyes have become too dry and sunken into the head, which is caused from diminished circulation…an issue we all have to deal with as seniors.
The combination of an improved whole foods diet, herbs, healthy fats, warm mashes, and a boost in nutrition will not only keep a senior living longer with a healthier immune system but will make the senior years more comfortable.
Even in all we do for our seniors, there will come the day when we can do no more. Either they will decide the day to say goodbye or will we have to decide for them. Whatever happens, make their last days their best. Your senior will thank you for it.
Photo is my new senior minis, Amber, age 26 (black and camera shy) and Sandelee, age 29 (pinto, camera hog!). Multiple attempts were made to get the girls in a great photo together. This photo is as close as it got! We have multiple shots of Amber hiding in Sandelee's mane, belly, and even under her tail! Apparently camera shyness is not just relegated to people...