Horse

Caring for Senior Horse’s Dental Health

Kelly Vineyard, M.S., Ph.D.

Senior Nutritionist, Equine Technical Solutions

Aging horses hold a special place in our hearts, but as the years progress their needs change. In particular, dental health can be a challenge for older horses but providing the proper nutrition can help keep your senior horse healthy.

Senior horses have been there and done it all. Maybe they were national champions, or perhaps they were the best weekend warrior trailblazers. Now, they might be teaching your children to ride or standing patiently in the crossties while you tell them about your day. As your beloved partner gets older, start watching for signs of dental issues.

Signs of dental problems in horses

Horses’ teeth continuously erupt or grow. As they chew, the grinding motion wears the tooth surface down. This continuous growth and wear make it possible to determine a horse’s age by its teeth.

However, as a horse gets older tooth growth slows or stops but the chewing action continues to wear down the tooth surface. This results in decreased grinding surface area and can lead to difficulty chewing, weight loss, and choke.

Uneven tooth wear in domestic horses is common, which is why horses require regular floating, or dental care. Even with routine care, senior horses may still have difficulty chewing or may develop sharp edges, points or tooth loss.

As your horse ages, watch for the following signs of potential dental problems in senior horses:

  • Slower eating
  • Quidding, or storing food in cheeks and/or dropping feed or hay “quids”
  • Behavior changes such as head shaking, twisting or lifting while eating
  • Weight loss
  • Dull coat
  • Muscle loss
  • Choke

What to feed an older horse with bad teeth

It’s important to provide senior horses with bad teeth feed that meets their nutritional requirements, tastes good and is easy to chew and digest. Feeds such as Equine Senior® and Equine Senior®  Active horse feeds are specifically formulated for senior horses and their unique needs, including poor dental health. When looking for a feed for older horses with bad teeth, consider the following:

Built-in forage

As horses lose the ability to effectively chew and salivate, chewing and digesting long-stemmed forage becomes more difficult. A complete feed such as Equine Senior® horse feed is formulated with built-in forage and fiber sources. Complete feeds are designed to supply the hay and forage a horse needs in an easy-to-chew and digest formula.

Easy Soak pellet technology

For horses with severe dental issues or missing teeth, Easy Soak pellets such as Equine Senior® horse feed can make it easy to create a mash with warm water. Simply add warm water to your horse’s regular ration of Equine Senior® horse feed, wait five minutes and stir. 

Mashes from senior feeds help horses chew and swallow easily while still providing all the necessary fiber, nutrients and calories needed to maintain weight and stay healthy. Horses prone to choke can also benefit from mashes.

Palatability 

Senior horses can become finicky eaters, making it difficult to maintain weight. When choosing a senior feed, look for a highly-palatable feed, but watch out for feeds with high sugar content. Equine Senior® and Equine Senior® Active horse feeds are highly palatable and backed by years of palatability research at the Purina Animal Nutrition Center.

Equine Senior® and Equine Senior® Active  horse feeds contain a unique blend of molasses and soy oil for a higher-fat molasses compared to straight cane molasses, which is higher in sugar. This results in a formula with lower sugar and starch content that is appropriate for most horses with carbohydrate sensitivities.

Easily-digestible

Saliva production can start to decease in aging horses. Saliva helps horses swallow and digest hay and feed. A highly-digestible and easy-to-chew senior horse feed can help counteract the effects of reduced saliva production.

Look for a feed with high-quality fiber sources such as beet pulp and premium hay to help senior horses maintain body condition and normal digestive function. Feeds such as Equine Senior® and Equine Senior® Active also contain ActivAge® prebiotic, which supports proper immune function and digestive health in senior horses.

Senior horses have a lot to offer. Stay aware of your horse’s habits and body condition to make timely adjustments and help him age gracefully and comfortably. Learn more about senior horse health at SeniorHorse.com.