Nutrition Guidelines For Older Horses

As your equine partner enters old age, it is important to keep his dietary needs in mind. Many older horses begin to lose body condition if kept on the same diet they were fed as youngsters. They simply don’t digest and absorb nutrients as well as they did when young, thanks to aging teeth and intestinal tracts. Age-related diseases like Cushing’s and COPD also affect the way a horse eats and can alter their nutritional needs.

Time For Change

There is not a set age at which horses’ nutritional needs begin to change. Rather, when your horse begins to lose body condition, show a rougher coat, or experience low energy, it is time to re-evaluate and feed a more senior-friendly diet that adheres to these basic guidelines:

Feed free-choice forage with crude protein levels between 12 and 14%: Diets that are too high in protein cause added stress on the kidneys of older horses, while those that are too low in protein may result in muscle wasting. Feeding a grass/alfalfa mix hay will satisfy these protein needs. For horses with poor teeth, replacing part of the hay ration with soaked alfalfa pellets for horses will help meet these forage needs.

Keep starch and sugar content low: Carbohydrates are hard on an aging horse’s liver. The concentrate portion of an older horse’s diet should be a feed made specifically for older horses, as these are lower in sugars and starches than the sweet feeds and performance feeds for younger horses. Depending on the feed, your horse’s size, and his activity level, between 2 and 8 pounds or concentrates/grain per day are suggested.

Keep an eye on vitamin intake: Since older horses have a harder time absorbing vitamins from their food, make sure the feeds you choose are as nutrient-dense as possible. Choose green, leafy hay over yellowing grass hay. If good hay is hard to come by, supplement it with alfalfa pellets for horses and consider adding a vitamin supplement.

Aim for easy digestibility: Most concentrated senior feeds are extruded, which makes them easier to chew. Soak your horse’s hay and alfalfa pellets in water for easier eating.

When changing your horse over to a more senior-appropriate diet, be sure to do it gradually to prevent colic and other digestive issues. With the proper diet and veterinary care, your older horse can thrive well into his 20s and beyond!