Winter Care For Geriatric Horses
Cold, wind, rain, snow, ice, cold and frozen ground.
Winter is a challenge for all outdoor animals, but can be particularly difficult for older and geriatric horses.
Temperature extremes and harsh winter conditions can add significantly to the stress of our old companions.
Most horses that are in good body condition, have good dentition and are in general good health don’t need many adjustments for winter however, geriatric horses may need some special preparations to ensure they not only survive the winter but don’t suffer during it.
Any incidences of arthritis, dental disease, weight loss and endocrine problems are issues that would classify an older horse as geriatric.
Arthritis is a serious condition for older horses. Cold, wet, slippery weather makes arthritic pain worse. Free access to a turnout is better than strict stall confinement.
Room for moderate exercise can provide benefits. Make sure your horse has room to move as exercise can help minimize symptoms.
That being said it is also crucial that the animals have a place to get out of the wind, rain and snow.
Deep soft bedding will also help prevent pressure sores that can occur because of the hard frozen ground. Keeping your older horse warm, dry and comfortable will help minimize the pain and discomfort often associated with arthritis and the cold winter season.
Access to water that isn’t frozen is critical to ensuring your horse stays hydrated in the winter. Simply chopping away the ice at the top may not be enough as it will freeze again during cold winter nights. If keeping your horses water free from ice is an issue during the winter, horses that drink little will also benefit from soaking the hay or making thick “soups” in order to increase water intake. Be careful not to feed more than the animal can eat at one time because the soups will freeze.
A healthy mouth is a happy mouth. Dental care is also critical to ensure nutrition needs can be met. Geriatric horses should have their teeth checked every 6 – 12 months. Oftentimes, once they’ve reached a certain point, dental abnormalities in the geriatric horse cannot be corrected, leading to the need for mushes and soups. This can increase your expenses and the discomfort felt by your horse.
Geriatric horses have special dietary needs. During the winter, your geriatric horse will benefit from increased nutrition. Pelleted feeds, extruded feeds and oils are an easy way to add needed nutrition to the diet. Separating younger horses from older horses during feeding helps older horses get the nutrition they need as younger horses tend to eat more and may lead to your older horse not getting the necessary nutrition.
Parasites are dangerous for any horse, especially older, thin horses. A good parasite control program is also needed for every horse at every age of life, but recognize that older horses are even more vulnerable.
Individual horses have individual needs. There is no substitute for an annual exam and evaluation by your veterinarian to chart your horses individual health status and track issues as they arise.
If any horse owner has any concerns about their old horse going into winter ,a consult and exam from a veterinarian will assist them in making the necessary preparations for thriving in the winter months.
Call Dr. Seth Lundquist, Large Animal Veterinarian, at Alpine Animal Hospital anytime if you have questions or would like a consultation. 208 237-1111.