Senior Horse Feed: Not Just For Seniors

Credit: Arnd Bronkhorst Photography Horses recovering from colic surgery require a careful reintroduction to feed.

Editor’s note: This was a paid advertorial that ran in EquiManagement magazine.

Senior horse feeds have been on the market for more than 20 years, and their use has contributed significantly to the extended lifespan horses enjoy today. But the usefulness of senior diets is not limited to horses in their 20s, 30s and 40s. Senior horse feeds can be a critical tool in providing nutritional support to horses of all ages that may be affected by a range of conditions. High-quality senior horse feeds such as Purina® Equine Senior® horse feed are highly digestible and provide complete and balanced nutrition to horses that may be experiencing health challenges.

Here are five situations for which veterinarians should consider recommending a senior horse feed:

1. Dental abnormalities

Chewing is the first stage of the digestive process. Effective chewing breaks down fibers and grinds grains into smaller particles, making them more susceptible to acidic and enzymatic digestive processes. Chewing also stimulates saliva production. Saliva contains digestive enzymes and acid-buffering agents; it also moistens and lubricates ingesta, aiding in bolus formation. Horses of any age may experience dental abnormalities that result in difficult or inadequate chewing. Malocclusions, missing incisors or molars, and tooth root abscesses are just a few dental conditions that may affect chewing. Senior feeds were designed to help overcome the dental issues frequently seen in older horses. They are generally nutritionally complete (including adequate fiber to eliminate the necessity of feeding hay or pasture), highly digestible and break down easily to form a mash when mixed with water. These attributes can benefit horses of any age with dental problems.

2. Poor digestive function

Horses may have poor digestive function for many reasons, including age-related dysfunction and medical issues, resulting in bowel inflammation and/or malabsorption/maldigestion. For horses with poor digestive function, it is critical that the diet provided be highly digestible and low in bulk. The goal is to maximize the limited absorptive functionality of the affected intestine, reduce the mechanical load on the tract and minimize mucosal irritation from stemmy fiber. Purina® Equine Senior® horse feed contains high-quality, easily digestible nutrients and provides 100% of required fiber when fed as the complete ration.

3. Recovering from choke

Horses suffering from esophageal obstruction, regardless of the cause, will experience some degree of mucosal irritation after the obstruction is relieved. A standard recommendation for feeding the post-choke patient is to provide small, frequent meals of wetted-down pelleted feed. The Easy Soak™ pellet technology in Purina® Equine Senior® horse feed, now with ActivAge ™ prebiotic, creates a mash in five minutes simply by adding warm water, and it can entirely replace concentrates and forage. Consistency and texture of the mash can be tailored to the patient’s need.

4. Recovering from colic surgery

Post-surgical horses require careful reintroduction to feeding, a critical step in the recovery process in order to stimulate motility. An appropriate post-surgical diet should be easily digested and low in bulk, thus reducing mechanical stress on the gut. It should also provide as much oral hydration as possible. Purina® Equine Senior® horse feed is often the first diet to which horses are introduced as they begin to recover, due to it being a highly digestible, complete ration that can easily be made into a mash.

5. Difficulty chewing and/or swallowing

Chewing difficulties aren’t always related to dental condition. Mandibular or maxillary fractures, dysphagia due to neurological deficits, tongue injuries, and abnormalities of the pharynx and larynx can impact a horse’s ability to chew and swallow. In these cases, the texture and consistency of a senior feed can be easily tailored to address various intake limitations.

Make Nutrition Part of Your Standard Protocol

Proper nutrition has a significant impact on health and can extend the life of the horse. Veterinarians are a key resource for nutritional information for horse owners. Making nutrition a routine part of your practice will provide you with the experience and confidence needed to guide horse owners in the proper feeding of their horses. Here are a few easy suggestions for integrating nutrition into equine practice:

Take a thorough dietary history. Record the specifics of what each horse is eating each day, including concentrates, forage, pasture and supplements. This information allows the practitioner to assess whether the diet is appropriate, also opening avenues to discuss the management of the patient’s nutrition and body condition. Making nutritional assessment a part of every patient interaction will allow the veterinarian to gain experience in making the appropriate dietary recommendations for patients.

Assess body condition at each visit. Maintaining ideal body condition is critical to joint and metabolic health. Body condition scoring should be included in the database for each patient. Assessing and recording body condition takes only minutes and is as important as taking temperature, pulse and respiration.

Observe the horse eating. When assessing a patient for weight loss, it’s essential to observe eating behavior as part of the work-up. Even a brief observation will allow the practitioner to determine if the horse is properly prehending, chewing and swallowing.

It has long been recognized that nutrition and health go hand-in-hand. Taking the time to do a nutritional assessment during visits provides important information about the patient’s management and health. Also, it allows veterinarians the opportunity to expand their services to provide nutritional counsel.

Katherine Williamson, DVM, is the Manager of Veterinary Services, Purina Animal Nutrition LLC.

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