Aging Horses: Vaccinations and Immune Response

Feb 13, 2020

The impacts of aging in horses aren’t always visible, but they can be significant.

To find ways of combating the effects of aging on horses, Purina and the University of Kentucky’s Gluck Equine Research Center studied the effects of Purina® ActivAge® prebiotic on immune and vaccination responses in senior horses. This is important because horses are staying active, competing and living longer than ever before.

Even in upper-level competitions, some top horses are staying in their prime and competing well into their 20s. It’s a testament to better management practices and advances in feed research, horse veterinary care and sports therapies.

While we don’t know for certain how old horses can live, and we can’t define when a horse is considered geriatric, research shows a horse’s immune response can decline as it ages.

Immune functions decline as a horse ages...

Horses, like humans, are affected by aging in different ways – our joints creak a bit more, it takes longer to warm up for a ride and we might become more susceptible to illness such as the flu or a cold.

Overall, a decline in immune function is known as immunosenescence. Immunosenescence can lead to increased risk of illness and may reduce response to vaccinations. This is why it’s commonly recommended for older horses (and humans) to receive the flu vaccination.

As the body ages, inflammation naturally increases. This is known as inflamm-aging. Inflamm-aging is caused by a gradual rise in certain inflammatory modulators secreted by the immune system. These modulators are called inflammatory cytokines, and they include the cytokines TNF-a and IFN-g.

Vaccines for senior horses

As horses age and their immune systems decline, it’s important to work with your veterinarian for an appropriate vaccination protocol for your senior horse. Inflamm-aging and the reduced vaccine response caused by immunosenescence can leave aging horses susceptible to infection and age-related health conditions such as arthritis, Cushing’s and laminitis.

Purina partnered with the University of Kentucky’s Gluck Equine Research Center to investigate the effects of Purina® ActivAge® prebiotic on aging horses. In a comprehensive, multi-year study, researchers looked at both how supplementation with Purina® ActivAge® prebiotic affected immune and vaccination responses in senior horses. In addition, they conducted studies to determine the most effective supplementation level.

These studies showed that feeding senior horses ActivAge® prebiotic helped support response to the flu vaccination and supported their aging immune function.1,2

What is ActivAge® Prebiotic?

ActivAge® prebiotic is a proprietary, yeast-derived prebiotic found exclusively in Equine Senior® and Equine Senior Active® horse feeds. In addition to supporting the immune system and supporting response to the flu vaccination in older horses, ActivAge® prebiotic supports a healthy hindgut microflora, helping aging horses look and feel their best.

Greatness never ages. Learn more about senior horse health and ways to help your senior horse thrive in his golden years.

----Kelly Vineyard, M.S., Ph.D.
Senior Nutritionist, Equine Technical Solutions

1Adams, AA, et al. 2015. The effect of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (DHA) and prebiotic supplementation on inflammatory cytokine production and immune responses to vaccination in old horses. JEVS35(5):407-408.
2Adams, A.A. 2016. Immunosenescence and How It Affects Care of the Older Horse. AAEP Proceedings, 62:481-490, 2016

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