As people age, bone density decreases and the risk of fractures from falls increases. However, one veterinarian notes little research has been done on if the same conditions affect older horses. Equine nutritional consultant Dr. Elanor Kellon recently studied the question on her blog, Dr. K's Horse Sense. Kellon points to a 1979 study found that mineral content and bone strength in horses peaked between 4 and 7 years old, then progressively declined.
A 2008 study found age-related osteopenia, which is reduced bone mass, in horses. Though not as serious as osteoporosis, it is still a concern. The higher cortisol levels older horses experience, whether through age or through endocrine disorders, disrupts the balance between bone formation and breakdown, resulting in bone loss.
Though horse owners and managers cannot completely prevent osteopenia, it is important that horses be checked for endocrine disorders and that the horse is treated if one is found. Additionally, keeping horses moving, either with controlled exercise or with as much turnout as possible, is beneficial to bone density as well as to joint health and mobility. Kellon also suggests owners examine their older horse's nutritional program to make sure they have adequate levels of amino acids and minerals like boron, calcium, phosphorous, and magnesium among others.
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