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Our neighbor’s horse recently foundered while on a senior feed diet, which I found surprising. I decided I needed to learn more about feeds designed for geriatric horses and founder, so I did some research on these topics.
Horses can founder even though they are on a senior feed diet. A simple grass hay diet is recommended for horses at risk of foundering. Senior feeds are made with ingredients that are typically high quality and easy to eat; however, horses susceptible to founder may continue to have problems.
Some horses need senior feed; however, there is a lot to choosing the best diet for horses, and age is just one factor. Fitness level, equine activity, and dental health are also important factors to consider when planning an animal’s diet.
Feeding a senior horse feed does not prevent founder.
The most common cause of acute founder in horses is the excessive consumption of grains such as sweet feeds. Horses with a history of founder are more susceptible to reoccurrence and can founder eating senior feed.
Diet for horses with laminitis is critical to the overall health of the damaged tissue of the hoof, but not the only factor, so rely on the instructions of your vet and farrier.
During the recovery phase of founder, keep your horses weight under control and give your horse ample opportunity to move around; this encourages blood flow to its feet.
Provide high-quality forage, but avoid free grazing on rich pasture grass. Vitamins and minerals are essential for the damaged tissues to repair. Most vets recommend a diet consisting mostly of forage, a ration balancer or supplements, and plenty of fresh, clean water.
Founder is common in geriatric horses.
Founder, also known as laminitis, is common in older horses; it is the inflammation of the laminae. The laminae are finger-like protrusions of tissue that bond the hoof wall to the horse’s coffin bone.
When these tissues are inflamed, the coffin bone is unstable, and the weight of the horse pushes the bone towards the ground. Founder is extremely painful, and in severe cases, the coffin bone protrudes through the hoof soul.
The reason horses develop founder isn’t apparent, but acute laminitis can be caused by overeating grain, intestinal lesions, and placental retention. Geriatric horses with Cushing’s disease (PPID) are susceptible to develop chronic laminitis as a secondary complication.
Signs your horse has laminitis include pulsations in the digital arteries, lameness, depression, and a horse’s reluctance to move. In severe cases, horses are euthanized.
Can a horse recover from founder?
Because our grandson is aware of laminitis’s severity, he was heartbroken to learn our neighbor’s horse was foundered. I wanted to comfort him and tell him the horse would recover, but I wasn’t confident that would be true.
Horses can recover from laminitis, but it’s rare, and it takes time. An owner must be patient, restrict the horse’s movement, get proper farrier care, make sure the horse eats appropriately, and follow the advice of his veterinarian. By following these steps, your horse has a chance to recover.
Many horse owners lose hope when their horse founders, but there is a chance your horse regains its health and returns to work. Follow the advice of your veterinarian and have patience with your animal.
At the first sign of founder put your horse in a stall.
If you come home to find your horse in the feed room standing over a half-eaten bag of feed, call your veterinarian to try and minimize the onset of founder.
Early signs of laminitis can be subtle, so if your horse is prone to founder, keep a close watch on it, so you can prevent the problem from escalating. Specifically watch for shifting weight from one foot to another, shortness of stride, and warmness in the hoof.
Don’t walk a horse with laminitis.
The first thing you should do is contact your veterinarian and farrier, next put the horse in a stall with deep bedding, and soak the horse’s feet in a bucket of cold water to alleviate some pain. Properly trained farriers shoe foundered horses to promote healing and reduce pain.
During recovery, walking is beneficial and promotes the healing of the damaged tissue. Follow your veterinarian’s advice at each recovery stage and be patient.
Don’t ride a horse that has foundered until cleared by a vet.
Your horse’s hoof may seem better to you, but the internal tissue needs time to strengthen before the animal carries a load. Be patient, and allow your horse to heal properly before riding.
Bute can help reduce inflammation.
In the early stages of acute founder, you may be inclined to give your horse bute to reduce tissue inflammation, which seems like a logical move. But before administering any drugs, talk to your vet; he may have reasons he wants to see the animal before it’s treated.
Horses that have foundered should eat hay.
Horses that have foundered are prone to founder again, so feed your animal basic grass hay and a little alfalfa. Do not feed oats, corn, or molasses.
Your horse needs to be on low sugar and low starch diet, and some senior feeds may fit the bill and be the right choice for horses prone to founder, but always read the label.
Geriatric horses need senior feed.
Horses are considered old after reaching their twentieth birthday. Still, in practical matters, such as feeding, geriatric consideration relates to health and associated illness more than numerical age.
Horses, similar to humans, don’t all decline at the same rate. For example, we owned a barrel horse that competed better at twenty-two years old than she did at eleven and ate a regular diet.
We’ve also owned horses that declined relatively quickly after they reached sixteen and required senior feed. My point is that you need to access your horse’s body condition in deciding if they are entering the geriatric stages of life.
Horses lose weight and fitness as they age. If you suspect this to be the case with your horse, then have the animal evaluated by a veterinarian because some signs associated with aging might be caused by other issues such as dental problems, digestive abnormalities, or parasites.
Senior horses often don’t eat enough forage.
Geriatric horses often develop arthritis and dental problems. Arthritis limits a horse’s ability to freely move around and graze in pastures, thereby limiting the necessary forage required for healthy digestion.
Horses with weak teeth or few teeth have a difficult time grazing and eating hay, and this is a significant problem for elderly horses because they don’t get the forage necessary for good health.
Next to water, forage is the essential substance in a horse’s diet. Forage assists in the digestion of food, prevent colic, and eliminates gas; plus, it’s the primary source of calories in most horses’ diet.
Most senior feeds contain forage.
Most senior feeds contain enough forage to replace hay; however, be sure to read the list of ingredients and feeding instructions because some require hay supplements. So know what you are feeding and what your horse needs when choosing senior feeds.
Senior feeds are also used for weight gain and not just in old horses.
Not all senior feeds are just for old horses; some are designed to put pounds on animals with difficulties maintaining weight. Some reasons a horse loses weight are illness, dental problems, social anxiety, and environmental conditions.
Purina, for example, makes Equine Senior Active, a high-calorie feed with high fat and fiber content, immune builder, and reduced starch and sugar than regular feeds. It also has 100 percent of the required vitamins and minerals a horse needs but doesn’t have forage content. So horses need hay fed with the feed.
Active horses with insulin resistance benefit from senior feeds with low sugar and starch. Horses prone to colic or developing ulcers may also get help from eating senior feeds, which typically have less dust and a beet pulp base.
Below is a YouTube video that discusses feeding senior horses.
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- Click here to read our article on stall flooring.
I love animals! Especially horses, I’ve been around them most of my life but I am always learning more and enjoy sharing with others. I have bought, sold, and broke racehorse yearlings. I have raised some winning horses and had some that didn’t make it as racehorses, so we trained them in other disciplines.