Senior Horse Nutrition

Feeding a senior horse can be tricky and requires a more individualized approach to maintain an appropriate body condition score. Over time, a number of factors will change its nutritional management needs including age-related changes in dentition (teeth), gut absorption and potential degenerative disease.

Gut Absorption

A reduction in small intestine and large colon function in aged horses will reduce their ability to digest protein and ferment fiber, respectively. Horses with declining kidney and liver function will also struggle to digest and excrete waste created by a high-protein diet. Horses that struggle to ferment fiber will receive less nutrients from consumed forages. It is important that these horses receive high-quality protein that has a balanced amino acid profile (can be found in most commercial senior horse feed) and high-quality fiber (alfalfa). However, care should be taken to not overfeed a senior horse as overconditioning can lead to increased metabolic dysfunction and potential lameness.


As horses age, it is important that their teeth are examined regularly (every six months) by a veterinarian. Irregular wear of incisors and molars will make grazing and grinding forages difficult and affect your horse’s ability to extract valuable nutrients. When this occurs, offering long stem hay cubes or alternative complete senior feeds will increase digestibility. Soaking feed may also be required to increase the amount of feed consumed. However, keep in mind that soaking will increase the volume of the feed provided and therefore increase the amount of time required to consume the feed and potentially reduce the overall caloric intake for the day.

Healthy Senior Horse Diet

Cartoon horses showing the right side and back of a horse.

The specific nutritional needs of a healthy senior horse diet should include 12%-16% quality protein, 1% calcium, 0.45%-0.6% phosphorus, 10-25 grams of vitamin C and 4,000 IU/day of vitamin E. Senior horses with an appropriate body condition score of 5-7 should receive 1.5%-2% of their body weight in high-quality forage. Up to half of that can be replaced with cubes, pellets or alternative forage options. Aged horses with a body condition score under 5 should receive additional calories in the form of fat at 0.5%-1.0% of their body weight. Priority should be given to high-quality forages over hay with high percentage of mature stems that can be more difficult to digest. When in doubt, enlist the help of your veterinarian to create a customized plan that will address all of your aged horse’s needs.

Horse Body Condition (HBC) of 5 rated “Ideal” or “Moderate


6/19/2024 2:36:16 PM
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