VET’S DIARY: Reining in the problems facing senior horses

We are an ageing population, and so are our pets, including horses, writes Edward Chinn.

Horses are living longer, with Shayne, the world’s oldest horse, aged 51, being put to sleep earlier this year, which is the equivalent of well over 100 in human years.

The older horse was the topic for a two-day course I attended in Cumbria this week along with veterinary nurse Sarah and Lesley, who was one of the speakers. Experts from all over the UK came to give lectures and practical sessions covering a wide variety of aspects of caring for the older horse from health checks, cushings disease, dentals, feeding, cancer treatments and also caring for the older donkey.

The course was organised through XLVets, a group of independent veterinary practices coming together to share experience, knowledge and skills to allow us to deliver the highest quality of veterinary care to our patients.

There is currently a lot of research into different conditions affecting older horses including a comprehensive survey conducted at Liverpool University. The survey included a questionnaire filled out by owners followed by a veterinary examination.

The results will hopefully allow us to better care for our older horses.

A third of horses in the UK are over 15 years old, with two per cent of the population being over 30 years old.

Just because a horse is over 15 does not mean they are retired. In fact, a quarter of all horses over 15 years are in regular work with a quarter of all these horses competing regularly. As with us, it is often very beneficial to maintain regular exercise to keep healthy.

When these horses were examined by the vet, many conditions were found which the owners were not aware of.

Some 94 per cent of the horses examined had eye disease. This does not mean that they were all not safe to ride, but it is a concern if the rider is unaware there is any problem at all. A total of 95 per cent had dental disease, 50 per cent had some lameness, 45 per cent foot imbalances and 20 per cent heart murmurs.

Many conditions can be simply treated or advice given to reduce discomfort and improve the horse’s quality of life, hopefully keeping them in work for longer.

As with people, most conditions are more easily and successfully treated when found early, therefore regular check-ups and routine care (dental exam, worming) are important as the horse, pony or donkey gets older.

Sometimes more serious problems were brought to the owners’ attention which made the horses unsafe to ride.

Alnorthumbria Veterinary Practice is bringing you a winter campaign aimed at caring for the senior horse including discounted health checks and a client evening, Keeping the Older Horse on Track, on Thursday, November 28, at 6.30pm at Burgham Golf Club. For more information on all of these events, visit www.alnorthumbriavets.co.uk, find us on Facebook or call 01670 897 597.