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Feeding Geriatric Horses

For a number of reasons, there is not one simple solution to feeding the geriatric horse. On this page you will find several options for feeding your older horse and information on general feeding.

To decide what to feed, it is helpful to have an understanding of what a horse needs in their diet. To learn more, about basic nutrition, click here.

One issue with our older horse population is that they are beginning to, or already have, end stage or expired teeth. This means that they have used up the functional tooth and cannot grind their feed as they used to. A big disadvantage to the loss of occlusial surface is that this act normally triggers salivation. Without the ability to grind the teeth, horses then decrease saliva production. This increases the risk of ulcers, decreases digestion and increases the risk of choke. So, the forage alternative you choose should ideally be soaked in water. Another factor facing older horses is that many have acquired metabolic diseases. Each horse should have a thorough physical examination by your veterinarian and, ideally, blood tests to determine if there are any pre-existing conditions that can be medically treated. 


Forage supplements and/or replacements:

  • Senior Feed

    • Useful in horses that can no longer eat hay/pasture

    • Most feed companies carry a version of this – be sure it is a complete feed if you are replacing all of the horses diet

      • Complete diets are formulated to contain all of the nutrients a horse needs including forage

    • Good levels of energy, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals.

    • Since each formulation is different, feed according to the manufacturers instructions


  • Alfalfa pellets

    • Most useful for horses that still retain some ability to eat hay/pasture

    • Good levels of protein and fiber

    • Can be made into a mash using 3 parts water to 1 part pellet

    • Found at your local feed mill or farm supply

    • Very palatable


  • Beet pulp

    • An alternative source of forage similar to alfalfa pellets, but containing less protein

    • A disadvantage is that un-soaked beet pulp can expand in the gastrointestinal tract causing an impaction or choke

    • Should be made into a mash using 4 parts water and 1 part beet pulp to minimize expansion in the GI tract

      • Purchase the processed form (shredded, pelleted or crumbled)

      • Soak in water for ½ hour before feeding

    • Found at your local feed mill or farm supply

    • This is not a complete feed and your horse will need another source of vitamin, mineral, protein and possibly fat

    • Will need additional phosphorous  source to balance the diet


  • Hay cubes

    • Soak in water to make it easier for horses with little/no teeth to eat

    • 1-2 inch length - may be too long for horses with no functional teeth

      • 4-5 mm long (3/20 of an inch) is long enough to get the long stem benefits of forage in the GI tract


  • Rice Bran

    • High in fiber/bulk

    • Can be used as a partial replacement

    • Needs to be stabilized rice bran to prevent rancidity

    • Many feed companies carry a stabilized rice bran product

    • Good levels of fat and fiber

    • May need calcium supplement to balance the phosphorous


For weight gain:

  • Add fat

    • First be sure your horse is getting enough water, forage and protein

    • Extruded pellets are usually more palatable and can be soaked into a mash

    • Fat is 2.5 times as calorie dense as carbohydrates or protein

    • Fat is easily digested (but high levels will cause a decrease in intake as it is not very palatable)

    • Each company has their own pelleted product, usually requiring 1-3 pounds per day

    • Oil (vegetable) 1-2 cups per day. It needs to take 3 weeks to get to this level of feeding, as oil is not very palatable.

For horses that have expired teeth or can no longer chew their food properly:

  • Choose a pelleted feed that can be soaked in water to make a mash

    • 1 part pellet to 3 parts water for ½ hour before feeding

  • Feed multiple times a day. Horses would like to spend 60% of their time every day foraging. When we limit the time eating, horses will develop behavior issues and digestive problems.

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