With increasing age, your horse's nutritional requirements change: although the basal metabolic rate and thus the energy requirement usually decrease, the need for essential nutrients such as high-quality proteins, vitamins, minerals and trace elements increases at the same time. To keep your horse fit and full of vitality into old age, you should therefore not only ensure good husbandry and sufficient exercise, but also adjust the feed individually to the needs of your senior horse.
"The optimal composition of the feed depends on the state of health, the body weight and the metabolism of the respective horse," says Dr. Ingrid Vervuert, specialist veterinarian for animal nutrition and dietetics at the University of Leipzig. A senior feed should be adapted to the special problems of old horses. "For example, it should compensate for low feed intake due to dental problems, weight loss or age-related metabolic problems," the expert says. As a rule, a senior feed makes sense for horses from about 18 years of age. However, more important than age is the state of health.
When does a horse become "old"?
Even though the percentage of horses that live to be well over 20 years, or even over 30 years old, is clearly increasing due to optimised and needs-based feeding with roughage and concentrated feed, a horse can still be called "old" when it reaches the 20-year mark. Calculated in human years, it is then already 60 years old.
How can you tell that your horse is getting old?
Above all, your horse's appearance will tell you when it is getting on in years. The outer appearance is also a sign that your horse is ageing on the inside.
- Lowering of the back.
- Degradation of the muscles, also weight loss.
- Flabbier, often drier skin.
- The eyes begin to cloud over and deepening hollows form above the eyes.
- Your horse's coat turns grey especially around the face.
- Poor or prolonged change of coat.
- Development of typical "old age diseases" such as dental problems, worsening digestion, PPID or laminitis.
Why you should pay special attention to your senior?
With age, not only do the external characteristics become visible, but your horse can also become more susceptible to diseases due to an aged immune system. Once a senior horse is sick, he recovers from his illness much more slowly. Feeding your horse a diet that meets its needs can make a significant contribution to the regeneration and health of your old horse. Pay particular attention to a sufficient supply of high-quality proteins with essential amino acids.
What should you pay attention to when feeding older horses?
Old horses have a higher demand for nutrients. One of the reasons for this is that seniors have a harder time digesting their feed as well as any additional feed supplements they may need. Therefore, the type and amount of food must be adapted to these circumstances. Altered hormonal balance and a slower metabolism also contribute to the fact that the nutrients in the feed are more difficult to digest and to be absorbed by the body.
How do older horses' feed requirements change?
The feed should have good bioavailability and be easily digestible. It is therefore important that the nutrients are of high, natural quality so they can be easily absorbed and utilised by the body. At the same time, the feed should contain a sufficient amount of dietary fibre for healthy digestion.
In the summer months, regular grazing is an important part of the feed. Horses with dental problems can usually eat grass more easily than hay or haylage because it is softer. In addition, free movement in the pasture stimulates the horse's general well-being. "If there is enough grass and old horses can eat in peace, 24 hours of grazing from spring to autumn is ideal," says Dr. Ingrid Vervuert. The only exceptions are severely overweight horses and horses with metabolic diseases such as laminitis or Cushing's disease (PPID).
Roughage or roughage substitute
How much roughage, or roughage substitute, your horse needs depends on the grass supply, the health condition and the body weight of your horse. As a rule of thumb, old horses need at least 1.5% -2% of their body weight in roughage. A 600kg horse should therefore eat 9kg -12kg of hay, haylage or an equivalent amount of roughage substitute per day. Note that the energy content of roughage can vary considerably. "The earlier in the year the hay or haylage was harvested, the higher the energy content as a rule," says Dr. Ingrid Vervuert.
Even into old age, if the feed intake allows it, the main energy requirement should be covered by high-quality roughage.
Tip: If your horse does not get any, or only very little concentrated feed, in addition to roughage, the addition of vitamins, minerals and trace elements is very important. Irrespective of age, the horse's needs cannot usually be covered exclusively by grass, hay or haylage. Here we recommend Pavo DailyFit or Pavo Vital as a daily feed supplement. One briquette already covers the daily requirement of vitamins and minerals without energy surplus.
Old horses that are too thin or tend to lose body mass often need a special senior concentrate. Dr. Ingrid Vervuert recommends thermally broken down cereal flakes, high-quality vegetable oils, soya extraction meal, potato or pea flakes. "These feeds are particularly suitable for old horses because they are easily digestible and are high-quality sources of protein and energy," says the specialist veterinarian. These requirements are taken into account in Pavo18Plus, for example. Since old horses can often only utilise the nutrients in the diet to a reduced extent, due to dental problems or possibly due to a lower secretion of digestive enzymes, energy and protein must often be fed in excess of requirements. You can soak the concentrate in water, just like the roughage substitute. If your senior horse is reluctant to eat the mash, simply add some dried carrot or apple chips, soaked sugar beet pulp or similar. This will spice up the taste and provide extra vitamins and raw fibre.
Zinc, selenium and copper
Senior horses have a higher need for certain vitamins and minerals such as zinc, selenium and copper. Zinc plays a major role in hair and skin metabolism and is important for the immune system. Selenium protects the body's cells and is part of muscle metabolism and growth. Just as in foals that need to grow, it is important in older horses to form new cells, e.g. to prevent weight loss. Copper plays a role in the synthesis of proteins for tendons and cartilage and in the pigmentation of hair.
Vitamin C, B and K
Healthy horses can produce vitamin C themselves. With age, however, this functions decreases and then the administration of vitamin C is necessary. Due to the reduced intake of roughage and dietary fibre, the intestinal bacteria are not stimulated to produce vitamins B and K. The horse needs to be fed extra dietary fibre. With additional dietary fibre in the horse feed, e.g. by means of Pavo SpeediBeet, Pavo FibreBeet or Pavo WeightLift, one can stimulate the formation of these essential vitamins.
Calcium, sodium and phosphorus
The feed for older horses must not contain too much calcium, phosphorus and sodium. These nutrients must be excreted through the kidneys. Kidney function may become impaired with age and, as a result, waste products may not be excreted as well.
If your horse suddenly becomes more susceptible to infections, has severe problems with change of coat or seems very listless, it is best to have him examined by your vet - he may be lacking an important nutrient that you can supplement specifically through feeding.
8 Feeding tips for older horses
In order to increase the well-being of your older horse, feeding according to his needs is very important. What are the best things to look for in feeding your senior horse?
- A higher proportion of crude protein and additional amino acids (lysine) to maintain body weight.
- A low proportion of sugar and starch to prevent metabolic problems (Cushing's disease, PPID/ laminitis, etc.).
- A higher oil content (as an energy supplier).
- Vitamins C and E to strengthen the immune system.
- Organically bound trace elements (for optimal absorption).
- Additional omega 3 and 6 fatty acids.
- An adapted calcium-phosphorus ratio.
- High-quality raw fibres to support digestion.
In addition, the feed should also fulfil the following 3 conditions:
- It should be particularly tasty.
- It should be easy to chew and swallow.
- It should be dust-free.