Care of older equines

A brief guide to considerations in older equines

Performing annual health checks can help to keep your horse in tip top condition and identify problems before they become serious, particularly in geriatric (older) horses.

What is a geriatric horse?

Horses aged over 18 are considered to be geriatric. Looking after an older horse can be quite challenging and often small changes to the way you manage your older horse can have big differences in their quality of life.


As your horse ages, the teeth are gradually worn down and begin to loosen which commonly leads to problems with chewing as well as numerous other serious issues.

An annual dental exam (minimum) is a very important part of caring for your geriatric horse; allowing the vet to address any dental problems they find and to discuss the most appropriate dietary management for your horse with you.

Please see our dentistry page for further information.


As dental function declines your horse may need to switch to a complete pelleted feed to help meet its nutritional requirements.

There are many senior pelleted rations on the market now and advice should be sought as to which is most appropriate for your horse’s individual needs.

Also, some conditions in older horses may limit the types of feed your horse can have. The addition of things like brewers yeast can increase the B vitamin content of feeds and adding vegetable oils can increase the energy of the feed and neither requires chewing to be of benefit.

Weight loss

If you notice a change in your horse’s weight you should have a full clinical and dental check-up and consider a screening blood test. Once an older horse begins to lose weight it can be extremely challenging to get the weight back on and weight loss is often the first sign of a potentially serious systemic illness.

Vaccinations and worming

Geriatric horses often don't have excellent immune systems and are more likely to pick up any disease which they come in contact with, particularly if they suffer from PPID (cushing's disease).

Their natural immunity to parasites also may not be what it once was and they will pick up worm infections easily.

We advise a regular faecal egg count to identify and target-treat worm burdens before they cause problems, both in your older horse and others in the same field. field management us also an important factor in reducing work burdens, including avoiding over-stocking, regular 'poo-picking' and rotational grazing.  We recommend that you maintain up-to-date influenza vaccinations and tetanus vaccinations.

Please call us to discuss how best to worm your older horse. 

‘Cushing's Disease’ (PPID- pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction)

The most common signs of cushing's disease that we see are a long, sometimes curly hair coat that doesn't shed readily, increased drinking/urination, pot-bellied appearance and muscle wastage, laminitis, skin infections and frequent respiratory infections.

There are a variety of tests available to diagnose cushing's disease and the most appropriate test will be selected by your vet but all involve taking blood samples.

There is no cure for cushing's but there are treatments which control the side effects of hormone overproduction, and reduce the risk of laminitis.

If you suspect your horse has cushing's disease get in touch with us straight away.


Most older horses suffer from wear and tear to their joints. For this reason it's a good idea to allow your older horse regular low-level exercise. If this is ridden exercise bear in mind that older horse's bodies change shape quite rapidly and the saddle may need to be adjusted regularly to maintain a good fit.

Supplementation with products that contain glucosamine/chondroitin or hyaluronic acid may also assist horses with arthritis.

Some horses have lameness problems which can't be cured and as such require daily non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) therapy. Any changes in your horse’s lameness should be discussed with your vet and if maintained on NSAIDs monitoring will be required.


These are opacities of the lens which can interfere with the horse’s vision and in some cases can progress to include the whole lens and thus cause blindness.

There are many different types of cataracts but this information will focus on senile cataracts.

Senile cataracts are very common in geriatric horses, the exact cause of these cataracts is unknown.

  • They are usually bilateral (in both eyes) but not necessarily symmetrical.
  • They usually progress slowly but over time can sometimes result in blindness.
  • Cataracts can be surgically removed, however this is a very specialised procedure not suitable in every case.


Feel free to get in touch if you have any questions about our services

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