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Common age-related horse disorders 

With advancing years comes an increased risk of arthritis. Most older horses will gradually develop joint stiffness in the form of arthritis, this is often accelerated in a joint which has been damaged in the past. Generally you will notice a shorter stride, slower movement and reduced flexibility. However, good management and appropriate exercise on veterinary advice, can reduce the degree to which it inhibits the horse. There are many feed supplements available which are widely used to aid joint repair and reduce stiffness.

Liver and kidneys
Possible signs that a horse may be suffering from potential liver and kidney problems are general poor body and coat condition and in some cases loss of appetite, which in turn leads to weight loss. Prolonged use of certain drugs to manage other health problems may have a lasting adverse affect on a horse’s liver and kidney function. Veterinary advice should be sought if the horse is showing signs of ill health, before embarking on sustained drug therapy for other conditions.

A cataract is a cloudy opacity which forms in the lens. It can occur progressively in some horses as a symptom of old age. Sight may be lost because of the cataract. The partially sighted horse requires careful management, being approached and handled with consideration.

Sarcoids and melanomas
Melanomas and sarcoids are the most common skin tumours of the horse. More commonly seen on the aged horse, they usually develop on the more sensitive areas of the body, such as the inner thigh, belly, eyelids, udder, sheath and dock. Sarcoids often grow rapidly, frequently ulcerating and becoming infected. Notorious for recurring, early diagnosis and treatment of sarcoids is essential. Most elderly grey horses have at least one melanoma, though often without any problem as this type of tumour is slow growing and generally less aggressive than sarcoids.

Older horses, especially greys, should be inspected regularly for signs of skin nodules or growths and their development monitored with your vet.

Degenerative joint disease
Degenerative joint disease causes lameness in horses affected by this condition. Cartilage that protects the bones of the joint is gradually worn away over time and can affect any joint. The areas most susceptible include the upper knee joint, fetlocks in the front legs, hocks, and coffin joints in the forefeet. As the horse ages, the cartilage may wear down considerably, resulting in bone grinding on bone, causing the horse a more increased level of lameness. Veterinary advice should be sought at early signs of lameness.

Loss of body condition
Loss of body condition is a common cause of complaint from owners of older horses, particularly of the less hardy breeds, such as thoroughbreds. Aged horses cannot readily replace weight losses and become more susceptible to physical stress and disease. In general preventing your old horse losing weight early in the winter is best; it is far harder to try to get weight back onto the horse after the new year. For a horse prone to losing too much weight in winter, begin rugging and extra feeding in autumn as soon as the nights begin to get cooler and the grass slows its growth.