South Shore Equine Clinic & Diagnostic Center
Equine Veterinary Services South Shore Boston Massachusetts

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Bits & Pieces: December 2010
horse pulled carriage on snowy road

Heading South For The Winter?

If your horse is moving to a warmer climate for the winter be sure to be prepared for the trip. Each state requires different documentation for entry, if you need a Health Certificate, Vaccination Record or a copy of your horse's Coggins call SSEC and we will gladly get the paperwork to you in a timely manner.

Winter and the Older Horse
(Information adapted from American Association of Equine Practitioners, The Horse.)

man riding horse in snow

With the amazing advances in veterinary medicine over the last decade, horses are living a much longer life than ever before. This is very good news to all of us who love them and have them in our lives. However, with longer lives, horses are showing similar aging signs and symptoms as humans do. The range of related disorders in horses is staggering and are afflicting horses in greater frequency and severity. The good news is that more understanding, prevention and treatment are now available than ever before.

The winter season magnifies many of the issues senior horses have. Sub zero temperatures wreak havoc on old, thin skin; frozen water buckets can be a serious problem to an aged horse with decreased kidney capacity; competition for hay or food from younger, healthier horses may put the older horse at risk for malnutrition; and when to blanket and which blanket to use can be very confusing.

Our equine companions often have to tough it through harsh conditions in the winter months. No matter their age, most horses entering the winter season in good condition will do fine on the same routine with only minor changes. But what about the geriatric or senior horse? It is important to realize the difference between old and geriatric. If the aged horse is in good body condition, healthy, and active even at 20-plus years, he is simply just an older horse, and it might not be necessary to make any special preparations for winter. However, as horses enter their senior years, arthritis, dental abnormalities, weight loss, and endocrine dysfunction are a few conditions that might classify the aged horse as geriatric. Wintering the geriatric horse is somewhat is somewhat more challenging, but can be successfully accomplished.

Horse stabled indoors

As with human athletes, years of stress, injuries and general wear and tear can result in painful and crippling arthritic changes in older horses. Also as with humans, the cold, damp conditions of winter make arthritis pain even worse. Proper management can help your horse stay healthy despite winter adversities. 

Older horses are more sensitive to severe weather, be it heat or cold, and often suffer weight loss when temperature fluctuations are extreme. Higher energy needs in winter can be met by increasing feed in a more highly digestive form such as pelleted or extruded feeds designed specifically for older horses. Impaction problems can be reduced by ensuring free access to clean, fresh, unfrozen water in the winter. Just breaking the ice in the tank is not enough. There are several devices available to help keep water buckets and stock tanks from freezing and to keep the water at more optimal temperatures for drinking. If your horse does not drink well, feed water soaked feeds (one to two gallons of water per feeding) to help increase his fluid intake.

Geriatric horses can live for years comfortably, The winter season, however, provides an extra challenge. Adequate shelter, good footing with the ability to exercise freely, fresh access to fresh, unfrozen water, and good quality hay and feed are all necessary for geriatric horses to survive the stresses of winter weather.                                                                                 

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