Tiny, Wet Senior Diets

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Many senior horses have difficulty holding their weight even if they are not quidding hay, or dropping feed, and when no obvious problems with their teeth can be found. A study published in the December 2008 Journal of Biomechanics may have found out why.

These researchers developed a mathematical model of chewing forces inside the horse’s mouth and determined that age-related changes to the chewing surfaces of the teeth would result in a reduced chewing force in older horses.

Bottom Line

Horse rely on forceful chewing to efficiently grind their hard (grains) or highly fibrous (hay) diets. This grinding before swallowing mechanically breaks up the diet into smaller pieces with a greater surface area and exposes the nutrients on the interior. These changes are essential for normal digestion of the diet.

To compensate for the loss of efficient chewing, seniors losing weight will benefit from a wet diet of small particle size. You can continue to keep hay available to the horse for amusement, but don’t count on it to be able to meet your senior’s nutritional needs.

As you may imagine, a warm mash is a welcome treat for any horse, especially these senior horses. It’s an excellent way to give extra water and your horse’s salt requirement for any horse, but especially for these older horses that can’t chew well. Unfortunately, some barns don’t have hot water and keeping the meal warm can be a real challenge in frigid temperatures. For slow eaters, or those relying entirely on wet feeds, this results in the food freezing before they can finish it.

We suggest feeding the mash in an insulated bucket, such as the Thermo-Bucket from Horse Stalls (www.horsestalls.com, 800-335-1880) or the Behlen Insulated 5-Gallon Stall Waterer (www.behlencountry.com, 800-447-2751).