Since my family got our first horses many moons ago, my mother has had an affectionate nickname that resulted from the fact that—regardless of what coat, sweatshirt, pants, etc., she's wearing—she can almost always reach in her pocket and pull out a horse treat. That's right—Mom is "The Cookie Monster." But in all fairness to my dear mother, my father and I are just as Cookie-Monster-like: Yes, we all love giving out horses treats.

Are a senior horse's treat-eating days over when his teeth start to go downhill? Not necessarily! Owners just need to select soft treats such horses can consume easily.

Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt

Fortunately, all our horses also love receiving treats (that said, I've known less than a handful of horses that didn't like treats!), and none of our seniors have become nippy or pushy in anticipation of consuming a delicious morsel. Yes, there are many occasions on which 20-year-old Dorado will turn on the charm and give the "look-how-cute-I-am face" when he thinks there might be a treat around, but that's the extent of his "pushy" behavior.

Something else we've been very fortunate with is that all our aging horses have had, and continue to have, a good set of teeth. Brandy, our Miniature Horse who died in 2013 at the age of 24, was the only one who's had any dental problems, and hers were mostly solved by pulling a couple teeth. She learned quickly how to chew with a gap in her mouth, and sure didn't lose any weight because of her teeth!

As I was feeding Dorado a carrot the other day, I started thinking about whether senior horses with poor dentation or no teeth at all would need different treats than the ones he favors, mainly carrots after his laminitic episode last year. So I reached out to equine nutritionist and The Horse and freelancer Kristen Janicki (MS, PAS), and she confirmed my suspicions: Owners must use caution when choosing a treat for seniors with dental issues.

Kristen says to avoid firm-textured treats that require substantial chewing, such as like carrots, apples, and peppermints. Not to worry, though: she says there are several treat options for such horses.

Soft fruits that don't require as much mastication—like bananas and grapes—are good options for horses with dental issues, she said.

Additionally, some companies manufacture treats that are extruded, or they go through process of cooking ground grains with pressure and moist heat, then exposing them to cooler air so they "pop" like a kernel of corn. Kristen says these treats don't require much chewing on the horse's part, so they're great for our seniors lacking dentation. A word of caution: Not all treat manufacturers list whether treats are extruded on the packaging. You might need to contact the company to ensure you're getting an extruded treat.

Finally, Kristen says, don't forget about simply offering a few pieces of grain designed for seniors as a treat for horses with limited dentation. These feeds are designed specifically for our aging horses, and are easy to chew and digest.

As always, if you've got questions about what treats are best for your toothless senior, contact your veterinarian or an equine nutritionist for advice.

What are your senior horse's favorite treats?