Older Creature Comforts

The behavior and "attitude" of healthy, physically and socially comfortable aged horses doesn't appear to differ much from that of younger horses.

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Q. My senior horse is 30 this year. Overall, he's a healthy horse with minor issues (I have him on a pellet diet because of dental issues). My biggest concern is his mental happiness. As his body deteriorates, how can I keep him comfortable and happy?

Ashley, via e-mail

A. What a great question. I don't know of any research on changes in horses' mental comfort or what we might interpret as loss of happiness in horses of advanced age like we think of in some people of advanced age, so I can only answer from experience.

It has been my impression that the behavior and "attitude" of healthy, physically and socially comfortable aged horses doesn't differ much from that of younger horses. Rather, their attitude generally reflects their physical health and comfort as well as their social and environmental comfort.

If your 30-year-old horse appears happy, I would not expect that to change until he develops a physical or social discomfort. If you think your horse is not as mentally comfortable at 30 as he was at 20 or 10, then I would recommend working with your veterinarian to try to figure out if anything physical or environmental is bothering him that could be alleviated. Unfortunately, many of aging's inevitable aches and pains are not easily relieved long-term without side effects that can also be bothersome. And as horses age, they tend to lose some of their trusted herdmates, and available new companions might not be equally compatible.

About the Author

Sue McDonnell, PhD, Certified AAB

Sue M. McDonnell, PhD, is a certified applied animal behaviorist and the founding head of the equine behavior program at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine. She is also the author of numerous books and articles about horse behavior and management.

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