Veterinary Teaching Hospital

Geriatric Horse Care

The Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine provides geriatric care for equine patients in our hospital and on the farm through our equine field service. If you have questions about our services, please contact us.

  • For in-hospital treatment, please call 540-231-4621 and select option 5.
  • For on-farm treatment, please call 540-231-9042.

What is a geriatric horse?

Horses that need special attention, beginning at the age of 18-20 and older.

What kind of special care does my geriatric horse need?


As horses age, their teeth begin to wear down and they may not be able to chew or digest their food properly. See the equine dentistry page for more information.


Older horses may need to be fed a senior (or complete) feed to compensate for any decline in dental health. See the equine nutrition page for more information.

Weight maintenance

If you notice your horse is losing weight, they should be evaluated for common causes of weight loss. These include inadequate dietary intake, dental abnormalities, and systemic illness.

Diseases that affect older horses

Cushing’s disease

Signs of Cushing’s disease include a failure to shed out in the spring, a pendulous appearance to the abdomen, abnormal fat deposits, and excessive drinking and urination, among others. If you notice these signs, it may be a reason to test for the disease as Cushing’s disease can predispose horses to laminitis. Testing involves drawing a blood sample to measure levels of ACTH and insulin. Testing is usually avoided in the fall as ACTH levels are usually higher this time of year.

Metabolic syndrome/insulin resistance

Similar in appearance to Cushing’s disease, this syndrome is similar in etiology to a pre-diabetic or Type II diabetes condition in people. Diagnosis involves testing a resting insulin and ACTH level. Treatment options include dietary management, medications, and exercise to help improve utilization of glucose intake.


As horses age, they are more likely to develop arthritis, especially if they have previously been used as a performance horse. There are many therapies for management of arthritis; Please visit the lameness/performance horse page for more information.