Senior Horse Feed:
How Is It Different?

Senior horse feed is just what it sounds like...feed designed for senior horses.

Because today's horses are living much longer than in years past (past 35 years in some cases!) more research and work has gone into developing these feeds.

Senior horse feeds should not be confused with complete feeds. A complete feed is meant to be fed as the sole diet of a horse, without the addition of much, if any, hay or grass. Senior feeds are feeds formulated to meet the nutritional needs of the senior horse, which are different from the younger horse.

Though most senior feeds ARE complete feeds, not all are. Likewise, not all complete feeds are senior feeds. So make sure you know what you are buying when you go to the feed store.

So how exactly are senior horses, and therefore, senior horse feeds, different from other horses and horse feeds?

Different Energy Requirements

Older horses, much like older humans, have different energy requirements than their younger counterparts.

Maintenance energy requirements, which is the energy required to maintain life on a daily basis, decreases with age. It is not clear exactly why maintenance energy requirements decrease with age, though it is believed to be related to less fat-free mass in the body. Why is there less fat-free mass in the body? Primarily because of less physical activity.

Maintenance energy isn't the only change in the older horse though...digestibility can also be affected by age. Digestibility has a large effect on how much energy a horse can get out of the feed he is fed.

Fiber digestion tends to decrease in the older horse, which is one reason that you will see high quality, easily digestible fiber sources in senior horse feeds. Because fiber makes up a large part (if not all) of the horse's diet, just a small change in digestibility can have a huge impact on calories available to the horse. Providing high quality easily digestible fiber ensures that the energy in the fiber is available to the horse.

Different nutrient requirements

A few studies that have been done suggest that older horses might not be able to digest protein as effectively as younger horses.

When older horses are supplemented with lysine and threonine, two important amino acids, they do retain muscle mass better than their counterparts who are not supplemented.

Older horses also have an increased need for the B vitamins as well as vitamin C, so you will often see increased amounts of these in senior horse feed.

Diseases that are common in old age in horses, including Cushings and insulin resistance call for low sugar and starch diets. Research has indicated that most older horses, not just those suffering from these diseases, appear to benefit from low sugar and starch diets.

Fat sources provide concentrated sources of calories, so fat content is often higher in senior horse feeds. The extra calories help off-set the lower digestibility of most feeds the senior horse takes in. It also works to off-set calories that might be lost if the horse can no longer eat hay or grass.

Dental Issues

As a horses age increases, so do dental problems. Broken, missing, or simply worn-down teeth can cause problems properly chewing food. If the feed isn't properly chewed, it yields less energy and nutrients for the horse.

For horses with mild to severe dental problems or deterioration, a senior feed that is also a complete feed can be a good solution. This will provide the long stem fiber that the horse needs to maintain gut motility and help prevent impaction colic.

Another solution to help the dentally challenged senior horse is to soak his feed. Soaking as little as 5-10 minutes in warm water will create a mash-like feed that is easier to chew and swallow. This will also help prevent choke if the horse is prone to it.

It is also important to note that senior horses with dental problems are not able to eat as quickly as they used to. If possible, senior horses should be separated for feeding time so that they are able to eat all their feed without the dominant horse(s) stealing it.

When shopping for a senior horse feed, look for the following:

  • Low sugar and starch
  • High quality, easily digested fiber source
  • Increased B vitamins and vitamin C
  • Increased fat content
  • Forage/fiber based feed

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