Weight loss, loss of appetite in old horse
I have a 29 yr old arab mare with dramatic weight loss. here is a brief history:
* She is on very, very nice hay (nicest hay I have ever seen) diet with Healthy Glow (20+% fat) feed. She has never been a picky eater.
* She is old, but has been in good health until recently. Until ~1.5 months ago was still doing light ride once/week and seemed to enjoy it.
* She had colic surgery at 19, 28' small intestine lost. No major colic issues since, just a few minor impaction colics (but nothing in past 4 years).
* Her teeth are in good condition for her age. have been checked by vet 3 times in last 4 months. She has seen an equine dentist annually for many years. She is missing one tooth for ~5 years.
* she was sore/lame last fall, vet thinks due to farrier cutting off too much sole (she had almost non on x-ray). Farrier was very aggressive with hoof knife (horse was barefoot). Changed farrier, did easy boots/rest, and she has not shown any lameness since. No heat in feet during this or evidence of founder. But could have been sign of cushings (see below).
* No history of ulcers.
* Started losing a little bit of weight end of winter. Live in Wyoming, so not uncommon for horses to drop a little weight in winter, but still concerned. Horse was blanketed and has shelter. Started upping her fat supplement to compensate. Was eating hay well. Supplement did not seem to help much.
* Got vet out to look at her ~late March. Low body temp. Skinny. Teeth good. Was wormy (obvious worms on rectal), despite being on a worming schedule (sign of being immune-compromised?). Wormed her. Was chewing well, so recommended increasing hay and fat. Went to getting enough hay that was basically free choice. Blood work normal. Noticed lump in thyroid area, vet was not too concerned as blood work normal.
* Vet check in April. Still skinny, but about the same as before (although was hoping for weight gain with better weather). Good teeth, vaccinated, no worms/eggs on fecal. Low body temp. Horse bright and alert.
* Weight slowly coming off. Increased fat again. Did not shed out well. Seems to enjoy light riding. Good appetite and good attitude.
* Late June/early July - weight dropping extremely fast. Horse is now scary skinny. Get vet back out again and again. Low body temp, seems very thirsty. Vet suspects cushings. Checked lump/growth in thyroid area for cancer cells, nothing looks cancerous. Blood work normal.
* Last 2-3 weeks. Pull out from other horse. Notice that while she seems to be eating hay, is just spitting it out. Think it could just be simple lack of food (duh!) and feel horrible. Change to pellets (timothy, avoiding sugar due to cushings and alfalfa due to possible compromised kidney function). Keep doing fat as well. Start with soaked pellets and she eats them fine. She is excited about fat supplement. Still plays with hay and tries to eat. Dropping >> food, even pellets. Seems to not be able to hold food in mouth. Cushing meds are back ordered from multiple sources, vet scrambles to find some. Finally get in ~week ago and start on medication. Notice that one side of her face is swollen and wonder about infected tooth (only felt on petting her head and asymetrical, could have been that way for a while). Start on antibiotics.
* Last few days. Went from mash being O.K. to refusing mash. Would still eat dry pellets. Worried about feeding dry, but need her to eat so just did it. Weight dropping like mad (now probably body score of 2 - just scary thin). Got vet out again. Looked at teeth again, nothing appears infected. However, tongue is huge (barely any space around tongue). Cheek on swollen side is large, but tissue is healthy. No mouth ulcers or bit marks. Tried putting her on tri-hist/banamine to reduce swelling. Later in day only eating the fat pellets and few of the hay pellets. Now just picking at food and not eating much at all. Did eat soft, short grass and appear to get it down. Not interested in hay at all.
* Scoped today - looks normal (not able to get into stomach, scope not long enough), tongue still same. Belly tap normal. Body temp now normal, not low. "Burping" (yes, horses can burp, no she is not sucking air) and STINKS. Took off tri-hist as highly doubt any allergic reaction/bug bite is at play. No interest in food when put up, not even the fat suppliment (which she normally chows down and begs for). This mare is NEVER off her food (even after colic surgery). She has not gone off food on drugs before, so think this is disease progression and not related to medication. Side of face still swollen/same. Think may be lymph system drainage.
At a loss. Vet is stumped. Thinking it may be time to let her go, but don't want to do that if there is something treatable (non-invasively) going on.
Anyone have any insight?
First I want to say, good for you for having your vet involved the whole time and doing everything you can to help her.
I really have no idea. I have a 19 year old Arab and she started loosing weight fast. Blood work showed she was severly anemic but all organs functioning fine. She was put on red cell and also went through the Panacur Powepac for worming. Vet doesn't believe in doing fecals because they only test for a very small portion of the worms out there. She finally just finished loosing her winter coat last week, most likely due to the definciencies she had.
But at her age it could be cushings or it could just be that time. Maybe someone else will have some better ideas for you.
Good luck with her, I wish you the best.
Big ^5 also from me for doing everything you're doing:thumbsup::thumbsup:
I have a 26 yo Arab that I rescued over 19 years ago. He's always been a hard keep but, in the last few years, it literally takes what I feed my three Walkers to keep him at a decent weight and he's only 13.3H. Even at that his ribs show:-(
I have read more-often-than-not about these senior Arabs suddenly becoming hard keepers and I have to wonder what's up with them in their gene pool?
So a few thoughts:
1. On quidding his hay. Has the vet looked REALLY REALLY close at his back teeth? When my 25 yo TWH started that, his teeth looked perfect --- until the vet got the little flashlight shining on his back teeth and found little hooks that were stopping the hay from being able to be swallowed.
Like your Arab, my TWH could eat anything from his feed pan perfectly but the hay was hanging up.
The vet cautiously filed those back teeth but couldn't take them way down because then there wouldn't be anything back there. Duke still quids his hay but I only find 1 - 3 "chews" every morning instead of a most of what he tried to eat.
2. The lump in the thyroid area. My first thought is also cushings. From all my readings on credible web sites and from reading what other folks post, with cushings horses, blood tests will not show cushings when it's in the early stages.
So yes, your Arab could be in the very early stages of cushings. I sure wouldn't put him on Prascend or Pergolide however. It seems like drugs have the opposite effect on a horse unless the blood results show the horse is in full blown cushings.
3. There's been colic surgery in the past and some colic issues. While my 25 yo TWH hasn't had colic surgery, he has had 4 "vet time" colics since this past March and two "twinges" that I got him out of with Banamine just this month. This horse never had a tummy twinge in the 22+ years we've been buds.
This horse has Equine Metabolic Syndrome, a/k/a Peripheral Cushings". He was diagnosed in 2007 and went from an air firm to having a hard time keeping weight on.
Point-being, my vet is suspicious he might have lipomas in his digestive tract.
At 29, your Arab might be fighting some sort of tumors in his tummy and/or digestive tract. Especially since Arabs seem really prone to tumors, regardless of color. My bay Arab has an external lump on his rump for years and when he stands a certain way, I can see a lump under the skin up in his groin area.
My first thought, however, is to have the vet check your Arab's back teeth with a microscope. My vet had checked my TWH only four months previous and gave his teeth a clean bill of health. Those hooks didn't grow on his back teeth in four short month; not when they were big enough that they couldn't be completely filed off:-(
I am sorry I haven't given you any definitive answers; it's really tough when they hit their 20's and we exhaust ourselves and our checkbook trying to figure out what's wrong and can't:-(
I hope this at least gives you some different ideas to talk to your vet about.
You got the Dollface to 29 and I think that's terrific - here's hoping for several more great years - even if you have to buy hay cubes and put them in a blender for him:D
Vet did put in speculum and check back teeth (and did use headlamp to see back there). No evidence of rub spots in mouth, sores, etc.
With severity of symptoms, would think this would not be precushings (if cushings at all). Unfortunately it is too late in year to test (false positives due to coming fall).
Going out to see if she will eat anything this morning. Really concerning that she is passing on feed, even the 'treat' of the fat supplement.
Easter, not to be a downer, but her system may simply just be shutting down. She's 29 y/o, which is a wonderful, long life for a horse. Not as long as some of course, but every horse ages differently.
You're obviously a caring, compassionate owner who has her best interests at heart, but even with the best of care they're eventually going to just get too old to go on.
If she's losing weight at the height of summer even with all that you're giving her, it would appear she's not processing her food any longer. This is summertime, when it's easiest for horses to maintain weight. If she can't keep her weight now, she's not going to make it through the next winter. Wyoming gets winter early, and it stays a long time.
It's up to you whatever you decide, but there are worse things than giving an old, beloved companion a quiet, dignified death in familiar surroundings, with people around who love her.
Abscessing tooth? That can cause the unwillingness to chew, weight loss, etc. A friend's 20 yr old went thro all of that and she finally hauled him to an equine dentist. An infected molar was extracted and within weeks horse rapidly picked up. It took an xray to reveal what was going on. Ask your vet about the possibility and sometimes a round of antibiotics will clear the infection up, temporarily as it will flare again but maybe not for months.I had a tooth abscess and the infection moved into my cheek making my face rather lop-sided for a few days. An abscessed tooth is quite painful because of the pressure of the infection beneath it.
It is so hard when a horse reaches these older ages. I remember my first horse (non-arab, just what my dad would call plain old farm plow horse)....she lived to be almost 40! We used her for cattle right up to the day we had to put her down. Of course, she would lay down for 3 days after we moved cattle and we had to carry food and water to her. We put her down the day she couldn't hold herself up at all. On the other hand, we recently put down a 15 yr old with such severe allergies that she couldn't even get enough breath to trot....sounds extreme, but Sierra was NOT Sierra any more and her quality of life was so detiorated letting it go on didn't seem right. Anyway, this might sound harsh, but do YOU think it's time? If your horse has lost that much weight, can't eat, etc I just have to ask, what is her quality of life right now? It sounds like you have definitely done everything and more to help her out. I understand this won't be the popular answer and I hope it doesn't offend you. There just comes a time when enough is enough and you have to do what's right for the horse....even if saying good-bye is the answer. Good luck
Lot of sad truth to what Speedracer says, I just didn't have the courage to end my post that way:-(
I had raised my Arab/Saddlebred from the moment his hooves hit the ground. He was the first horse I raised and trained that I was able to keep.
He was 29 and I was 42 when I laid him to rest with cancer. That was in 1989 and it still puts a lump in my throat but, as Speedracer said, there does reach a point where we have to do what's in the horse's best interest, no matter how gut-wrenching it is for us:-(
Your Arab will tell you when he's just "too tired to think" anymore--------
On a bit of a brighter note, while it is true horses gain weight in the summer, my "baby" is 17. The stress of this on-going obnoxious heat/humidity has made them all drop some weight. I have upped their hay and also the timothy pellets and tim/alfalfa cubes for whomever gets what.
Neither of my mid-20's Fellas finish their night time hay and sometimes the 17 & 18 yr olds will leave more than makes me comfortable.
I cold hose them down and have three big tub fans and two overhead fans on everyone until 1:30 AM every night (they're all on heavy-duty outdoor timers), to help de-stress them from this weather.
But even my "needs-his-jaw-wired-shut" fella has lost a bit of much-needed weight as he is insulin resistant.
A friend of mine belongs to the EC Cushings Group and tells me that many folks have noticed increased heat/humidity stress level in their metabolic horses.
Point-being the bulk of metabolic horses are older, so age combined with these diseases seems to cause frailty in dealing with this weather.
It's possible the heat you're experiencing (if you're in the U.S.) is adding to the pot and thus the acclerated weight loss.
Just another thought:?
Walk, I lost my heart horse at 25, and I currently have a 26 y/o who has arthritic hocks, breathing problems, and CHF. I don't think he's going to see 29, much less 30. :-(
I've managed to keep his weight at a decent level this year but you're right, the heat and humidity are taking its toll on him more than on my two younger ones.
He's not yet ready to go but I won't let him suffer, and I'll lay him to rest at the first sign he's too tired or in pain to go on.
They simply never live long enough, regardless to what age we get them.
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