How to Stop Weight Loss & Diarrhea in Senior Horses

How to Stop Weight Loss & Diarrhea in Senior Horses

June 9, 2021

As our equine companions age, new needs and health concerns emerge. We understand how stressful it can be to see an older horse declining and not know how to help. But take heart! While you can’t reverse time, you can adjust care to better meet your horse’s changing needs.

Two common challenges in caring for older horses are weight loss and frequent loose stool or diarrhea. Get ideas below to nurture your aging horse’s digestive system and encourage a healthier, happier, and longer life for your friend.

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 What Causes Loss of Appetite & Weight in Old Horses?

Most owners have dealt with a horse going off feed for a short time. Maybe you have a picky eater, you're traveling, or your horse is working out a temporary intestinal bug. While the reasons for inappetence vary, most horses will get back to feed quickly.

However, as horses age, their appetite and weight often decrease and may become a chronic problem… and a constant source of worry for owners. Let’s look at common causes of appetite loss and losing weight in older horses:

  • Not deworming. Internal parasites are common and affect nearly all horses, but those aging have a higher risk. Keep seniors up to date on vaccines and deworming to prevent gut infections.
  • Chronic diseases. Kidney or liver dysfunction can also affect appetite. Schedule regular checkups with your vet or call immediately if you suspect any health challenges.
  • Poor dentition. Dental issues may arise as a horse wears out or loses teeth, affecting chewing and digestion. Schedule routine exams with your vet to detect problems early.
  • Temperature fluctuations. Older horses are more affected by extreme weather changes. Provide shade in summer and a run-in shelter or barn stall in winter to ease stress.
  • Changes in digestion. Alterations in the GI tract from colic, ulcers, or diarrhea can affect weight. Watch for even minor changes in body condition or behavior and address problems quickly.
  • Malabsorption of nutrients. Gut dysfunction decreases a horse's ability to absorb nutrients. A senior feed and quality digestive supplement may improve digestive function and efficiency.

What to Feed Older Horses to Help Them Gain Weight

Keeping weight on a senior horse can be a challenge. That’s why ensuring they receive a high-quality diet is paramount. That may include adding a complete “senior” feed to meet nutritional needs. Senior rations are often pelleted, easy to chew, and deliver more energy than typical concentrates.

Dr. Sarah Ralston with Rutgers University notes the best feed for older horses (typical 1,000-lb) might consist of:

  1. Free access to quality hay—preferably a grass or grass/alfalfa mix or pasture
  2. A balanced senior ration; look for the following ratios in the feed:
    • At least 12% protein
    • Less than 1.0% calcium and 0.3-0.5% phosphorous (calcium-to-phosphorus ratio should be greater than 1:1)
    • Crude fiber content above 7-10%—especially important if the ration is meant to be fed without hay

Senior horse - what to feed older horses

More Tips on How & What to Feed a Senior Horse

  • Feed meals two to three times daily to reduce strain on the GI system.
  • Including brewer’s yeast and/or probiotics in feed may help aid digestion and overall health.
  • Increase feed rations by 25% in winter to compensate for additional calories burned.
  • ¼ to 1 cup vegetable oil can increase calories and help senior horses gain weight.
  • 1 to 2 ounces of loose horse salt will encourage horses to drink and reduce the risk of constipation and colic.
  • A natural digestive and weight gain supplement like Redmond Daily Gold can elevate overall GI efficiency and help put weight on horses.

Make all dietary changes slowly. And as always, consult with your veterinarian to discuss your senior horse’s specific needs and achieve the best outcome. 

Addressing Diarrhea in Senior Horses

While loose stool in older horses is not an uncommon problem, it can become dangerous if not resolved quickly. When horse diarrhea becomes chronic, it can cause weight loss, dehydration, colic, and a poor appearance and affect overall.

Dr. Mora-Pereira with Auburn University notes common causes of senior horse diarrhea include:

  • Sand ingestion. Eating sand can cause recurrent colic, loose manure, and weight loss, particularly in mature horses. Reduce the risk by removing horses from very sandy areas and feeding from a large, shallow container rather than off the ground.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease. IBD is a condition caused by various cells infiltrating through the intestinal wall. IBD is usually managed through diet.  Consult with your veterinarian for recommendations.
  • Intestinal tumors. Horses over 15 are more susceptible to developing intestinal lipomas. Reduce risk by encouraging better horse gut health, improving hydration, and providing daily exercise.
  • Gastrointestinal parasites. Parasites can cause diarrhea in horses of all ages. However, senior horses are at even greater risk. Maintain a regular deworming schedule to reduce infection.
  • Bacterial infection. Common diarrhea-causing bacteria include salmonellosis, clostridiosis, coronavirus, and Potomac horse fever. Therapy from your vet may include IV fluids, electrolyte supplements, and antibiotics.

Try Daily Gold—a Natural Digestive Supplement for Senior Horses

Daily Gold is a natural supplement that can resolve diarrhea and help horses maintain a healthy weight at any age. It’s made with natural bentonite clay sourced from Redmond’s ancient mineral deposit in Utah, USA. Available in powder, pellets, and a syringe, Daily Gold provides powerful health benefits to horses:

  • Binds toxins that cause digestive dysfunction
  • Buffers acid, helping prevent gastric ulcers and inflammation
  • Helps stop diarrhea in older horses
  • Helps intestinal villi grow, improving nutrient absorption and feed efficiency
  • May help senior horses gain and maintain weight
  • Balanced trace minerals nurture total health and body condition

Star, Dalia Griffith's senior horse, struggled with chronic diarrhea and weight loss. Read on to learn how Daily Gold helped resolve Star's digestive issues and elevated her overall health and well-being.

caring for senior horses

Meet Dalia and Her Senior Mare Star

We rescued our wonderful mare, Star, nearly 13 years ago when she was 12. Star gave birth to her daughter, Nova, about three months after joining our family, and they both still live in our pasture, along with their sidekick, a miniature donkey named Bobby Sue.

Star has always been a sweet, loving girl. She calmly carries my husband, who has very little experience in the saddle, around the trails near our home and is gentle with our children and other pets.

That’s why my heart sank when I noticed last summer her ribs began to feel and look prominent. She had always been an easy keeper, and her weight remained steady no matter the season.

All my animals are on a regular worming program, and after the vet declared her healthy, we started upping Star's calorie intake. We started slowly with a senior feed and then added a weight-gain supplement. She did gain weight but also developed chronic diarrhea. It would come and go, but was a persistent problem that concerned me.

For a couple of years, I’d had a Redmond Rock in my pasture and had great success with it on my horses. So, when I heard about Redmond Daily Gold and its potential to help digestive issues, I jumped at the chance to incorporate it into Star’s diet.

After a couple of weeks of using Daily Gold, Star’s diarrhea began dissipating. Every day I’d walk around the pasture, dutifully checking for loose stools, and was relieved to see fewer and fewer every week. I’d been washing her hind end regularly to keep her clean, and that was no longer necessary.

But something else happened too: her top line, the one part of her body that wasn’t picking up weight like it should, began to fill in.

This surprised me. I was so focused on Star's diarrhea that I hadn’t considered how Daily Gold would impact her in other ways. However, it provided her aging digestive system the extra boost it needed to return to optimal health and take full advantage of the nutrients she was ingesting. She even sailed through our harsh Idaho winter without dropping an ounce and emerged looking as healthy as ever.

Redmond Daily Gold transformed Star. It gave her body the help it needed and ultimately brought my sweet senior girl back to full health. When I tell people she’s nearly 25, their jaws drop. She looks like a teenager again, and this mom is sleeping much better as a result.

—Dalia Griffith

Daily Gold - one of the best supplements for older horses

By understanding the causes of weight loss and diarrhea in older horses, implementing applicable tips above, and exploring a natural digestive supplement, you can help your partner enjoy a healthier and longer life. Click below to purchase a Daily Gold supplement today and make it a regular part of your senior horse care program!

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Learn More

  • Learn about Daily Gold pellets—our appetizing and easy-to-feed digestive supplement for horses.
  • Do you have a foal with diarrhea? Learn how to prevent or quickly treat it and get them back on track.

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