Spring Checkups for Seniors

Believe it or not, spring really is approaching. It’s admittedly hard to believe in many parts of the country right now—including here in Lexington, where we’ve just had several more inches of sleet and snow dumped on us—but that means it’s time to start planning for our senior horses’ spring shots. And what goes better with spring shots than a spring checkup.

Since it’s advisable for horses to get their spring vaccines in advance of warmer weather and mosquito season, Dorado got his spring shots and checkup just a few days ago. My veterinarian and I aim for around March 1 for his vaccines and checkup each year, since it’s entirely possible for mosquitoes to show up in our area by mid- to late March.

So when the vet arrived last week, he first took a good look at Dorado’s eyes. Since senior horses can develop a number of ocular issues, such as senile retinopathy (age-related non-inflammatory damage to the retina) or cataracts, it’s good practice to carefully examine aging horses eyes for changes. Fortunately, Dorado’s eyes still looked great on this year’s exam.

Our vet also took a quick look at Dorado’s teeth to ensure they still looked in good shape. Since we just floated them in the fall, all still looked good there.

Next, the vet pulled his stethoscope out and listened to Dorado’s heart and gastrointestinal tract to make sure everything sounded good, and he checked Dorado’s remaining vital signs—including his heart rate, temperature, and mucous membrane color. Again, all was well!

Then we brought Dorado outside for the rest of the exam. Our vet took a look at Dorado’s body condition out in the open and was very pleased with how he’s weathered this winter. And then, because he had a fairly substantial injury a few years ago, we always do a quick lameness exam to ensure we’re still on the right track with keeping him sound. First our vet watched Dorado jog without flexing him, and then did some flexion tests. I was thrilled to see him jog sound after each test.

Finally, it was time for the real reason for the vet visit: vaccines. Each year, our vet reviewed what to watch for after vaccination and where he placed each shot. Then, he pulled some blood for a Coggins test and headed on his way. Another successful checkup for Dorado was in the books.

Keep in mind—many veterinarians suggest that senior horses should have checkups at least twice per year. In an article on wellness exams on TheHorse.com, Dr. Harry Werner (DVM) explained that “this schedule allows for early detection and monitoring of Cushing’s disease, renal or liver dysfunction, chronic lameness, and nutrition concerns, as well as ensuring proper attention to the dental needs of the older horse.”

Do your senior horses have regular checkups? What does your veterinarian look for?

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