Ageing horse or sick horse?
I am pretty worried about my 16 year old 16 hh Holstiener gelding, George. This spring I moved him and his pasture mate from Michigan to Colorado. George lost a lot of weight the first few weeks (I think from being stressed out about the elk) and also had a cough and runny nose (I assumed a cold from the stress of the move). His energy level however was normal and he had fairly decent muscle tone (considering he'd been off work for two years). He got over his cold, became a happy member of the herd but didn't gain much weight. In a couple months I started to notice he looked haggard...his coat wasn't shiny, and he was losing muscle despite regular exercise. Then he started getting lazy on trail, I assumed his feet were sore and bought him special boots which seemed to help marginally. I began feeding him grain and oil for his coat and sold his old pasture mate which he didn't seem to upset about. His energy level began to become lower but he still seemed alert and curious. About a month ago I moved him to a different barn and he has just gotten worse. He has gained weight but his back is saggy, his withers indented and there is no muscle at all on his hindquarters (again he is recieving regular work, including dressage work, which should help with his back and butt, but hasn't). He is very food dominate and loves his grain and hay (no sign of not wanting to eat), but his energy level is that of a 25 year old horse (mind you, he has also been spirited and energetic). He breaths heavy just on the walk out of the pasture and has a hard time staying in a canter (even this spring I could hardly hold him back in the canter, he just wanted to go so this is a huge change). He ambles back to his friends when I turn him out rather than run back to them. He is up to date on worming, has all his vaccines and I had the vet to a blood test which came back normal. He did have a minor episode of choke the second week at the new barn but recovered with an hour and has been fine since.
Any ideas? The vet doesn't seem too worried but I am telling you, this is a 16 year old horse that looks/acts 25 and the transformation happened in less than a year. I don't think this is normal aging, I'm not sure if it could be depression? He has a herd to play with, plenty of room, good hay, human contact and a big appetite.
Any similar stories? I feel terrible for my poor guy. Any help greatly appreciated
Emma and George
Two things come to mind when I read this.. fiur actually....
1.) Heart problems (valve issue?)
2.) Lung problems (what do they sound like)
You are in CO? How close are you to the CO vet college? How much are you willing to spend to find out what is going on?
I would be looking at that "stuff."
Also, Lyme and and IR come to my mind. The lethargy, dull coat, and inability to gain weight could be from either one. At 16, he's at the perfect age to start showing signs of IR if he's prone to it..
Do horses have an issue with the elevation change like people do? That is if you moved into the higher parts of CO. Maybe it brought out an underlying condition like a heart murmur that wasn't bad at low elevation?
ulcers come to mind
worms...I would get a fecal done and blood work for encysted worms.
lack of amino acids. Amino acids build the top line.
does he get a supplement of vitamins and minerals.
My answer assumed regular parasite control BTW.
sounds to me like hes just not trying anymore and has given up. and if hes not eat like normal i would suspect ulcers from your description. i would get some ulcer medication and try that for a while then start increasing his food slowly. also if he starts eating alot and doesnt gain i would check with your vet about how much nutrition he is able to absorb. i would also get another vet for a second opinion.
Thanks for the advice.
I don't think I could afford taking him to the vet college, which isn't too far...in the past I have taken horses there for the company I worked for and it was always upwards of $1500 dollars. I am a student and still unemployed following my move to Denver, that being said I would be happy to spend as much as I can afford on him (a couple hundred dollars right now) since he is my baby (I've owned this horse for 12 years).
Doesn't IR usually lead to fat deposits, specifically on the rump and neck? he has niether...his neck muscles are much smaller than they once were. He also is on a low sugar, high fat diet with a glucosimine supplement...can anyone suggest an amino acid supp. that might help?
I would be surprised if it were Lyme disease because he has never had a tick on him or been in an area where ticks are common.
Yes, I moved him to a fairly high altitude but I read horses adjust quickly to altitude and I was careful to work him slowly at first.
He has been wormed regularly his whole life, but maybe my wormer is missing something?
What do cancers/ulcers look like in horses? what causes them? can they be tested for by a vet? and what sorts of treatments are my options?
Finally...if I can maybe get my parents to help me with his vet bills and take him to the vet school, can anything really be done for a heart murmur or heart valve problem?
Thanks again everyone!
All excellent suggestions and I agree.
I would get a full blood panel, including a vitamin/mineral panel (CSU should be able to do it, or you can look through the Michigan catalog Diagnostic Center for Population and Animal Health I find MSU has the most detailed website from an owner's prospective) Also have his teeth checked. The change in altitude might be part of the cause of some symptoms if he hasn't upped his RBC's to carry enough oxygen. A blood panel would help evaluate that. Low vitamin E & A levels can cause some of the muscle and coat issues you describe, but so can malnutrition. Vitamin A deficiency can also cause inappetence which can look like ulcers, or even be made worse in the presence of ulcers. There would be no harm in trying some ulcer treatment now.
Just getting the blood work done isn't too huge of an expense. Using MSU pricing you can get a Electrolyte & trace nutrient panel for $65 and a vitamin profile for $53 add $25 for overnight shipping of the samples and that would be $143 - maybe even cheaper if you get them from CSU. General blood work is usually $20-30. So for less than $200 you might get some real answers. If you have a good relationship with your vet, you can probably collect the blood yourself and have him submit the samples to whichever lab. This would save you most of an exam fee.
What brand of grain and type of oil are you feeding? What is the weight of each of those that you feed daily? Does he eat all of his grain? Have you had your hay tested? If not, you should then you would be able to know the amount he should be eating, and also be able to better balance his daily ration to the correct weight for his needs.
Just wanted to update this thread. The vet came out and says George has a lot of sand in his belly. Which explains why he has a pot belly but no muscle or fat anywhere else. Apparently horses can have over 100 lbs of sand in their intestines. Anyway he is now on red cell and a fiber psyllium supplement and is in a stall by hisself for feeding so he can get more hay and not have to fight for scraps. I guess weight loss and loss of energy are associated with this condition. So apparently sand can cause more problems than just sand colic. Hope that was some helpful info for you horsey people like me who want to learn as much as possible about our equine friends :)
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