Common Health Issues In Senior Horses

The senior horse is a special creature. They’ve seen it all, from the Great Depression to your last rodeo championship. But as their age increases, so does the chance that they’ll develop some sort of health issue. 

In order to keep your senior horse healthy and happy for as long as possible, it’s important to be aware of common disease processes in geriatric animals—and what you can do about them!

Common Diseases That Threaten Your Horse
Key Takeaways
– Senior horses are more susceptible to various health issues such as osteoarthritis, vision and eye problems, colic, and digestive problems.
– Regular veterinary check-ups are crucial to maintaining senior horse health, including routine dental care.
– Feeding and supplementing senior horses require special attention to meet their changing nutritional needs.
– Senior horses may have difficulty maintaining weight, so diet and exercise management are vital.
– Properly maintaining hoof health is essential to keep senior horses moving comfortably.

Hind End Weakness

Hind end weakness can be caused by the horse’s age, but it also has other causes. For instance, a horse that has been injured in the hindquarters might have difficulty getting up from a laying position or walking. 

If you notice your senior horse having trouble standing or walking, see a vet immediately!

Regular veterinary check-ups are crucial to maintain the health and well-being of senior horses. Our guide on the importance of regular vet check-ups provides essential information on what to expect during a check-up and how often you should schedule one.

Cushing’s Syndrome

Cushing’s syndrome is a hormone disorder in which the body produces too much cortisol, a hormone that helps regulate blood sugar and blood pressure. 

Cushing’s syndrome can cause many different signs, including weight gain, depression, muscle wasting (atrophy), skin problems and problems with the bones.

Cushing’s syndrome is most often seen in older horses that are overweight or obese. The condition occurs when there is an overproduction of cortisol by the adrenal glands near their kidneys; however it can also be caused by tumors on these organs or even some kinds of medication used on horses like prednisone (a corticosteroid).


Heaves is a chronic respiratory disease caused by the inhalation of large amounts of dust. It can be fatal, but most horses recover with treatment and rest.

Horses with heaves experience recurrent episodes of severe coughing, which may lead to airway obstruction or pneumonia. 

The cough reflex causes the horse to bend its head down and extend its neck, with each episode lasting several minutes. This creates an audible wheeze as air is expelled through narrowed nostrils when breathing out (expiration).

The signs associated with this disease include:

  • Coughing;
  • Nasal discharge;
  • Loss of appetite; 
  • Weight loss;
  • Exercise intolerance;  
  • Respiratory rate greater than 30 breaths per minute while at rest

Equine colic is a severe abdominal pain that can be life-threatening and requires immediate attention. Learn how to understand and prevent equine colic by reading our in-depth guide that covers the causes, symptoms, and treatment options.


Enteroliths are small stones that form in the digestive tract of horses. They can be composed of sand, clay or other minerals and are often found in the cecum, which is located at the end of your horse’s large intestine (colon).

Enteroliths form when a mineral-rich substance such as sand becomes trapped inside a horse’s digestive system. Over time, this mineral will harden into stone that can range from pea-sized to golf ball sized!

If you notice your horse has been straining during defecation or passing manure with an unusual appearance (smaller than usual), it might be time for him to see his vet! Other symptoms include: weight loss; decreased appetite; bloating under his ribs; colic pain (often accompanied by sweating).

Enteroliths are small stones that can form in the digestive tract of horses, composed of sand, clay, or other minerals. They are commonly found in the cecum, which is located at the end of a horse’s large intestine or colon, and can cause digestive blockages.

Equi-Aid®A preventive supplement that may assist in minimizing the formation of enteroliths.
Colic-Ease®A supplement designed to support healthy digestion and help minimize the risk of colic and enterolith formation.
Gastrotec®Designed to support a healthy and balanced stomach pH, inflammation and digestive process. It contains blended nutraceuticals to support a healthy gastric environment.

Preventing enteroliths is crucial, and feeding horses a diet with minimal levels of sand or other mineral-rich substances can help. Additionally, supplements like Equi-Aid® or Colic-Ease® can help support healthy digestion and minimize the risk of enterolith formation.

In case of an enterolith causing digestive blockage, surgical intervention may be necessary. Gastrotec®, a nutraceutical, can be used by horses with a history of colic to reduce enterolith recurrence, support digestion, and minimize inflammation.

Equine Metabolic Syndrome

Equine metabolic syndrome (EMS) is a common health issue in horses. It’s caused by obesity and results in changes to the way your horse’s body uses energy. The most common signs of EMS include:

  • Weight gain
  • Poor hoof quality, including cracked heels or hoof wall separation from the underlying structures (called “toe-walking”)
  • Increased energy costs due to increased body weight and heat production from being overweight

Proper hoof care is essential to prevent lameness and other health issues in horses. Our comprehensive guide on hoof care 101 provides valuable information on how to maintain healthy hooves and what to do if you notice any issues.

Equine Protozoal Myelitis (EPM)

Equine Protozoal Myelitis (EPM) is a disease caused by a protozoan parasite called Sarcocystis neurona. 

This parasite lives in the intestinal tract of horses and other mammals, where it reproduces and causes the symptoms of EPM. 

The main symptom is neurological damage which can lead to paralysis, seizures and death if left untreated for too long.

The most common cause of this disease is contact with contaminated soil or water sources like stagnant pools or puddles near wooded areas where these types of animals live. 

When infected feces from these animals get into your horse’s system through ingestion or inhalation (e.g., eating grass), they will start showing signs within three weeks from exposure depending on their age at time when infection occurred. 

If you notice any unusual behavior such as stumbling around aimlessly with no balance control whatsoever then it might be worth checking out whether there are any possible causes behind those symptoms before deciding whether treatment should be sought out immediately!


Laminitis is an inflammation of the laminae, which are the tissue sheets that support the hoof capsule. 

The condition can be caused by a number of factors, including diet and stress. It’s most common in horses with large hooves (such as draft horses and ponies), but it can also occur in smaller breeds–especially if they’ve been overweight for an extended period of time or have suffered from previous episodes of laminitis.

The symptoms include weight loss and lameness; if left untreated, these may progress to colic or founder (another type of hoof disease). 

If you notice any unusual behavior from your horse–including increased appetite and thirstiness–it’s important to get him checked out by a veterinarian right away so he doesn’t suffer any further damage from this painful and potentially life-threatening condition!

As horses age, their dietary needs change, and they often require a specialized feeding regimen. Our ultimate guide to feeding your senior horse covers everything you need to know about feeding your senior horse, including recommended diets, feeding frequency, and essential supplements.


Arthritis is a common health issue in senior horses. The condition, which affects the joints, can be caused by injury, infection or degeneration. 

Arthritis can cause pain and stiffness as well as changes in gait (the way a horse moves). There are several types of arthritis including:

Osteoarthritis – This type of arthritis develops when cartilage that covers the ends of bones wears away over time due to injuries or aging. 

Without this protective layer between bones there’s more friction between them which causes swelling and inflammation resulting in pain when you press down on your horse’s joint area as well as stiffness when he walks around normally;

Inflammatory Arthritis – Inflammatory arthritis occurs when there’s an immune system response against normal tissue within the joint cavity causing redness around it;

Traumatic Arthritis – Traumatic injuries such as fractures may lead to chronic inflammation around injured areas if left untreated for too long;

Arthritis is a common condition in senior horses that affects the joints and can be caused by injury, infection, or degeneration. It can cause pain, stiffness, and changes in gait. Below are different types of arthritis found in horses.

Type of ArthritisInformation
OsteoarthritisCommon type that occurs when cartilage that covers the ends of bones wears away due to aging or injury.
 Infectious ArthritisCaused by bacteria or viruses infiltrating the joint space and causing inflammation and infection.
 Rheumatoid ArthritisRare type that occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s tissues, including the synovial membrane, which lines the joint.
 Degenerative Joint DiseaseDevelops from the breakdown of cartilage in the joint, causing bone-on-bone contact, inflammation, and pain.

There are various treatments for arthritis in horses, including supplements such as Adequan® and Legend® that help restore joint health, and prescription medications such as Equioxx® for pain management. Consulting with a veterinarian is advised to determine the best treatment plan for the horse.

Heart Problems

Heart problems are a common concern for senior horses. These conditions can be caused by a number of issues, including heartworm or other parasitic infections, liver disease, and kidney failure. 

Heart problems can also result from toxic chemicals in the environment or poor nutrition (for example, if your horse eats moldy hay).

Heart disease is fatal if left untreated; however there are treatments available that may help prolong your horse’s life and improve its quality of life. 

Medication may be prescribed to lower blood pressure or reduce fluid buildup around the heart; surgery may be needed to repair damaged valves or remove clots from an artery near where blood leaves body tissue (this type of surgery is called angioplasty).

Supplements can play a vital role in maintaining a horse’s overall health and well-being. Check out our guide on the top 15 supplements every horse owner should know about to learn about the essential supplements that can help with digestion, joint health, and more.

Gastric Ulcers/Colic

Gastric ulcers are a common health issue in horses. They can be caused by a variety of factors, including stress and malnutrition. Horses with gastric ulcers will exhibit symptoms such as:

  • Poor appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Abdominal pain or discomfort (colic)
Illness or InjuryConsider the suffering caused by incurable illness or injury.
Pain ManagementEvaluate the pain management options available and their effectiveness.
Quality of LifeConsider the impact of the horse’s condition on their quality of life.
Financial ConsiderationsEvaluate financial considerations and availability of treatment options such as reliable brands like Euthasol®.
Humane EuthanasiaConsider humane euthanasia options, such as the use of a sedative like Euthasol®.
Emotional ImpactEvaluate the emotional impact on the owner and those involved in the horse’s care.
Age and HealthConsider the horse’s age, overall health, and prognosis for recovery.

Making a decision about euthanasia for a horse is a difficult one, but evaluating these factors can help determine the best course of action for both the horse and the owner. Euthasol® is a reliable brand that offers a humane and safe option for ending a horse’s life when necessary. Consulting with a veterinarian is advised to make an informed decision.

Cataracts/Eye Problems

Cataracts are abnormal changes to the lens of your horse’s eye. It causes progressive loss of vision, and it is not uncommon for horses with cataracts to become blind.

The symptoms include:

  • Cloudiness or opacity in one or both eyes (may be white, grey or yellow)
  • A change in pupil size (usually smaller than normal)
  • A change in iris color (commonly blue-grey)

Euthanasia/Quality of Life Decisions

When a horse reaches the end of its life, it’s important to understand that euthanasia is not a choice made lightly. 

The decision to end a horse’s life should only be made if they are suffering from an incurable illness or injury. Even then, it should never be done without careful consideration and consultation with your veterinarian.

When deciding whether or not to euthanize your equine companion, consider these factors:

What does owner want? It may seem obvious that this would be at the top of your list–and for good reason! You want what’s best for your horse above all else and if your veterinarian believes it would be more humane for him/her than continuing on in their current state then so be it! However…

What does vet think? Your vet has been caring for this animal since birth (or even earlier) and knows them better than anyone else possibly could so listen closely when they give advice on what might happen next if nothing changes soon enough; especially when making decisions involving quality-of-life issues which may require immediate action but could have lasting effects months down line during recovery times between surgeries etcetera…

How does owner feel about everything involved here today? If possible try taking some time away from each other so that both parties can evaluate their own feelings independently before making any final decisions together later today after everyone has had chance enough time get things straightened up inside ourselves first.”

Factors to Consider
Suffering caused by an incurable illness or injury
Pain management options and their effectiveness
Impact of the horse’s condition on their quality of life
Financial considerations and availability of treatment options
Humane euthanasia options, such as the use of a sedative like Euthasol®
The emotional impact on the owner and those involved in the horse’s care
The horse’s age, overall health, and prognosis for recovery

Euthanasia is a difficult decision to make, and horse owners should consider a variety of factors before choosing this option. Careful consideration and consultation with a veterinarian is essential to determine the best course of action for both the horse and the owner. Reliable brands such as Euthasol® offer a humane and safe option for ending a horse’s life when necessary.


We hope this article helps you understand some of the common health problems senior horses face.

If you have a senior horse, it’s important to keep an eye out for any signs that something may be wrong, and seek medical attention if necessary. 

We also recommend making sure your horse has regular checkups with his/her veterinarian so they can catch any potential issues before they become serious problems.

Further Reading

Horse Illustrated: The Top Health Issues in Senior Horses – This article lists out various health issues that senior horses commonly face and discusses their causes and treatment options.

Formula 707: Health Problems in Horses – This comprehensive guide covers a wide range of health problems that horses may encounter, including those specific to older horses, and provides tips on how to prevent and treat them.

The Horse: Senior Horse Health Problems: What to Watch For – This article provides an overview of senior horse health issues and advises horse owners on warning signs to look out for, helping you to take better care of your aging equine.


What are some common health problems that senior horses face?

Some of the common health problems senior horses face include lameness, dental issues, weight management issues, arthritis, and colic.

What can I do to prevent colic in my senior horse?

To help prevent colic in senior horses, make sure they are getting enough fresh water, a high-quality diet that’s easy to chew and digest, and regular dental care. Limit sudden changes in feed and routine, and provide ample exercise and turnout time.

How do I know if my senior horse is in pain?

Horses are very good at hiding pain, but some signs to look out for include weight loss, lameness, lack of interest in food or treats, a dull coat, and lethargy. Regular vet check-ups can help identify any underlying issues or pain.

How can I help my senior horse maintain a healthy weight?

Senior horses are susceptible to weight gain or loss, so it’s essential to monitor their diet and exercise routine. Work with a veterinarian to develop a feeding and exercise regimen that meets your horse’s nutritional needs while keeping their weight in check.

How often should I schedule vet check-ups for my senior horse?

Senior horses need more frequent vet check-ups than younger horses. Experts recommend scheduling a vet check-up every six months to help identify any health issues early on and ensure your older horse stays healthy and happy.