5 Tips for Feeding An Older Horse With Dental Problems
As horses age, wear and tear starts to show in many areas of their bodies. A supplement for older horses is important to ensure that those areas are supported and maintained for as long as possible. One of the most concerning elements of the equine ageing process is the loss of teeth or a decline in ability to use the teeth sufficiently. It can be sad and disheartening to see your beloved horse or pony battling age related decline and many owners are faced with the heartbreaking decision of putting their horses to sleep because they are no longer able to eat adequately. That heartbreaking decision can be delayed or set aside completely with some simple adjustments to the diet and how you feed your horse.
Horses, having evolved to graze continuously throughout the day, will rapidly develop all kinds of problems particularly with their digestive tracts if they’re unable to eat for a large portion of the day and keep their stomachs full. Furthermore, the circular chewing action of the equine jaw commences the digestive process and encourages the production of saliva – when chewing becomes impossible, the gastrointestinal tract has more work to do in breaking down food.
If your older horse starts to drop weight or leave behind food you’ve offered, it’s important to have a vet or dentist come out to inspect the teeth and assess if they are still able to adequately chew. A dentally challenged horse can certainly present some complications for owners in terms of ensuring adequate energy can be supplied. Here are my top 5 tips for managing an elderly, dentally challenged horse’s diet and nutrition:
1. Soak the hay – it’s important that your horse continues to consume a diet high in fibre and as much forage as possible. Their teeth may be too far gone to eat even soaked hay, but soaking the hay will soften it significantly and make it easier to chew.
2. Consider Hay Cubes – Hay cubes can be a useful way to get forage into the horse without requiring much in the way of chewing. Ensure the cubes are thoroughly soaked and have expanded entirely before feeding to your horse.
3. Feed chaff as a significant portion of forage – The same principle applies here as above with the hay cubes. Chaff requires less chewing and is finer, so easier to swallow. If you can up the chaff content to replace some of what you would have previously fed as hay, that can be a good way to get lots of roughage into the horse. If your horse is stil struggling - try soaking it.
4. Feed speedi-beet** – Speedi beet is a great option for older horses. It is high in fibre and provides a good source of cool energy. It is suitable for horses and ponies prone to lamintis and is easy to consume for older horses. Again, ensure this is appropriately soaked and has expanded prior to feeding and to allow for ease of consumption. **Sugar beet of any brand is fine, just ensure it is unmolassed if you have a horse prone to laminitis or suffering with any other metabolic condition.
5. Add oil to the diet – Adding oil to the diet is an easy way to increase the calorie intake of your horse and can help to maintain their condition. Oil can make up 15% of the diet for a horse. If your horse is not already having oil added to its diet, start with a small amount (1/4 of a cup) and gradually build up to around 1 cup over a period of 3 weeks. Ensure you are feeding a nutritionally beneficial oil as well – preferably linseed/flax oil, chia seed oil or olive oil. Do not feed corn oil!
Bonus Tip – It is important to ensure your older horse is getting sufficient vitamins and minerals. It is advisable to offer a salt and mineral lick and if possible, an easily consumable balancer. A natural option for providing a high level of vitamins and minerals and a good balance of omega fatty acids is chia seeds.
Whilst older horses can be challenging to support nutritionally and keep in good condition there are many adjustments that can be made to their diet to keep them eating – even if their teeth are in poor condition. Most generally, this usually involves the addition of water to feed. The addition of supplements such as our Alpha GOLD can help to support their overall well-being and ensure they continue to enjoy their golden years.