Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Aging Changes, Generally

When I evaluate older horses, I often begin by asking: “Is there underlying disease or is this just aging?”

The problems seen in aging horses are similar to those seen in aging humans. Age-related degeneration ultimately affects all body systems. Oxidation ultimately damages proteins and the very molecules that make up the body structure.

With respect to the gastro-intestinal system, very old horses have often worn through their entire reserve crown. If the teeth are still present, their grinding function has diminished. Even if a horse can adequately grind feed, their intestines are less able to digest and assimilate nutrients.

Older horses also have a high incidence of hormonal conditions, notably PPID. Chronic arthritis is extremely common in aging horses. Different types of horses show degenerative changes in the areas that were overloaded during a life of work. Spinal compression from arthritic vertebral joints are also common. Eyesight also declines with age.

I Might ObserveRelated Observations

Swelling of Multiple Joints
Weight Loss, Thin, Losing Weight
Loss of Muscle Mass, Generalized, on Top-line or Back
Eating Slowly, Taking Long Time to Finish a Meal
Clicking or Snapping of Hind Limbs at Walk
Will Not Stand for Farrier, Will Not Hold Leg Up for Long
Dropping Chewed Feed or Hay Balls, Quidding
Limb or Joint Seems to have Reduced Range of Motion
Not Eating, Loss of Appetite, Not Hungry
Cannot Seem to Get Up, Lying Down, Seems Aware
Dropping Grain or Feed Abnormally when Eating
Lameness, Generally
Haircoat, Long & Curly or Wavy
Poor Appearing, Ill Thrift, Generally
Obvious Stumbling or Tripping, Even when Not Under Saddle
Lying Down More Than Normal, or Getting Up & Down
Dull or Poor Haircoat
White Hair appears on Body, Head, Face or Elsewhere
Swelling of Joint or Tendon Sheath in Lower Leg
Heart Murmur Heard with Stethoscope (in Adult)
Fetlock Sagging Low, Hyper-Extending (in Adult)
Reluctant to Move or Walk
Tooth, Lost & Found
Stumbling, Seems Uncoordinated Under Saddle
Dog-Sitting, Sitting on Hindquarters, Forequarters Raised
Crab Walking or Uneven Tracking
Hind-End Leans or Falls to One Side, One Hind Limb Seems Weak
Manure has Corn, Grain or Oats in It
Abdominal Pain, Colic Signs
Eye looks Sunken
Suddenly Stops or Resists Moving Forward Under Saddle
Eye, Sunken Area behind & above Eyes
Worsening Attitude or Performance Under Saddle
Down with Limbs Tipped Up, Cast
Catastrophic Injury, Suffering Horse, No Access to Vet
Cannot Hear, Seems Deaf
Overweight, Fat, or Obese
Hoof Wall Seems Dry & Brittle, Cracks Easily
Unconscious, Lying Down & Not Responsive
Abnormal Looking Object, Growth or Material Inside Eyeball


  • What can I do to support my horse's health as they grow older?
  • What feed/management changes can I make to increase my horse's quality of life?
  • Is my horse suffering from natural age-related changes or is there also an underlying disease process or illness?

    A good life: reasonable workload throughout life, consistent exercise throughout life, excellent nutrition throughout life, good dental and hoof care throughout life, quality companionship (owner/trainer/other horses) throughout life. Nutritional supplements may be of use in some cases.

    Helpful Terms & Topics in HSVGWritten, Reviewed or Shared by Experts in Equine Health

    Helpful Outside ResourcesCredible Equine Health Information on the Internet

    Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP


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