When Your Old Horse is Struggling with Weight: What to Do

Aged horses (and this can mean 19 in some, 30 in others) begin to wear their teeth down, even if maintained and floated well their whole lives.

This means

  1. Round bales hay often isn’t a good choice because of the type of hay usually baled for rounds and the length of the cut when baled. Aged horses may not be able to pull, chew and make as much use of the round bales.
  2. Square bales of hay are a better choice for a while, especially if soft and exceptionally high in quality, over round bales, but many senior horses eventually cannot chew the hay well enough to get sufficient nutrition. They need bagged/chopped hay, soaked pellets or soaked cubes.
  3. Grass, when high, often allows seniors the ability to easily pick and chew, if they have some useable jaw teeth, but as pastures are eaten down or grasses begin to die off, your old horse is going to often not keep up with the younger equines, weight wise
  4. Horses need 2-3% of their IDEAL body weight a day in food. And the truth is, just because it seems they are cleaning up the hay and grain, it doesn’t mean if they aren’t chewing it well, they are getting enough nutrition out of it.
  5. Transition to a senior feed. Make sure it is a good quality feed. Often, low end brands are not sufficient, especially if your horse is struggling with weight.
  6. Feeding an aged horse can be VERY, VERY Expensive. You are talking 30lbs of BOTH soaked feed and chopped hay a day in seniors with few or no useable teeth, and at $30, on average, per 40-50lbs of either of these, you may be paying upwards of $900-1,500 a month (depending on size of horse) in feed alone. 30lbs of sloshy gruel a day will usually get your senior, if otherwise healthy, where he needs to be/
  7. Horses do not always like wet or soupy food. It may take creativity to get your horse eating well. We like to break the feeding down into at least 3 offerings day.
  8. Ulcers may develop in horses not getting enough forage or who have gotten underweight, so if your senior is already too thin, treating for 28 days with actual ulcer medication is of very needed to get the horse back on the right track. This can be purchased in a few ways, from the paste given at a whole tube a day, to a compounded powder to Abler.com granules, but treatment the full course of 28 days is important at the right dose.
  9. Ask your vet to check your horse for Cushings. Many times, weight loss in the aged horse, or odd weight distribution, is Cushings. We’ve heard some experts suggest than all senior horses, at one point, will experience some level of this disease. Your horse may need medication, or at least, diet changes, to cope. DO NOT ASSUME Your horse does not have it. Ask your vet to test your aged horse if you have any symptoms at all.
  10. Seniors can get picked on when they aren’t thriving. Make sure you’re allowing your old horse access to the amount and right type of feed/hay for enough time without competition to eat all he needs – which is, again, 2-3% of his ideal body weight a day in feeds he can actually chew and digest.
  11. Organ failure: eventually, many ages horses will go into organ failure. Some organs show on blood testing, where heart failure can need more invasive testing, and if your horse is failing, despite all feeding and management efforts, you may have a horse with a failing body. Please do not let your old horse waste away. Contact your vet and make a kind choice for him before he wastes away.

Years ago, our ancestors had no resources or way to cater to the needs of their old horses. We do, so age isn’t an excuse for emaciation in the senior equine anymore.