Think beyond numbers when defining a ‘senior’ horse, because some equines age faster and look older than others. Each horse has his own individual health changes.
In this episode of EQUUS “Farm Calls,” we talked to Dr. Diane McFarlane about senior horse management. McFarlane is a veterinary specialist in internal medicine with a PhD in equine endocrinology. Her research focuses on understanding the biological changes that accompany animal aging, and she is well known for her work in equine endocrine diseases such as Cushing’s Syndrome—also known as PPID—and equine metabolic syndrome, or EMS.
As a horse gets older owners have to focus on quality of life, said McFarlane. “Their joints get creakier, it’s harder to warm up and cool down, and they aren’t as able to bend and move,” she said. “There are nutritional challenges and dental issues. There are diseases that are more common that are endocrine- or hormone-related.”
McFarlane walked through information about PPID (Cushing’s disease). “Owners need to watch for changes that occur slowly over time,” she said.
She noted that the farrier should be watching for changes in the hooves and the veterinarian for changes in overall health of the aging horse.
McFarlane also talked about the association between horses being overweight and metabolic issues of aging. She discussed slow feeders, pasture restriction and laminitis.
Because a horse’s immune system is less efficient as they age and there is more inflammation (called “inflammaging”), McFarlane talked about dealing with horses that are mildly immunosuppressed. “You probably want to manage the older horse as if they are more susceptible to disease,” she said.
In addition, McFarlane noted that inflammation can contribute to equine metabolic syndrome and arthritis. “Remember that the biology of aging is the loss of adaptability to change.”
McFarlane said that good management and observation are key to managing the older horse. “Be at the front end of a disease and get the vet out sooner rather than later,” she said. “The goal is a long health span rather than a long lifespan.”
She recommended that owners think of end-of-life decisions and talk to their veterinarians before that time comes so they aren’t making hard decisions in critical moments.
- When is a horse a “senior”?
- Issue common to aging horses and what we can do as owners:
- Specific diseases of older horses
- Immune system
EQUUS “Farm Calls,” a production of the Equine Network LLC, is brought to you in 2022 by Farnam—Your Partner in Horse Care.