Health Matters

High on Health: Weight Loss

Written by Dr. Justin High on .

This time of year I seem to look at more older horses for losing weight, more specifically, losing muscle mass that shows up first over their top-line. These horses tend to be in their late teens all the way up into the late 20s and beyond. See if you recognize the history and if this has affected one of your horses or maybe a friend’s.

“Hey Doc, old sorrel here sure feels goods and is eating well; he just seems to be shriveling up.  His withers and backbone stick out more than normal, and his belly seems a lot bigger. I feed him Equine Senior™ and all the hay he wants. He got along OK this summer, but sure seems to be going downhill fast. What is wrong and what can you do about it? He’s 17 years old and the kids just love him and I need to keep him going as long as possible. Thanks Doc.”

So here’s what we are going to do…

As a horse owner, I would like you to think of all the possible ways you can help this horse at home before you were to call out your veterinarian. Most folks do a very good job of working through problems like these before I get called, but some don’t. I would like to use common examples like this one to do two things.

1.     Spread proven, reliable information about routine/minor health concerns that affect horses that horse owners can use for themselves to improve the quality of their horse’s life and their own.

2.     Speak from a veterinarian’s point of view about these various issues, so when or if they ever show up in your herd you will at least be better prepared with knowledge and experience to make the best decisions for you and your horse.

Think about this and I’ll get back in a few days to go over the horse owner and veterinarian perspective for weight loss in older horses.

Travel Tips - Keep Your Horses Healthy On The Road

Written by Dr. Justin High on .

The first step to keeping your horse healthy while traveling and staying at shows for any length of time is to understand how best to use your horse’s immune system to prevent infections. By combining this knowledge with some additional preventive measures, we can now best prepare him for the challenges to come.

Water in Winter

Written by Tanya Randall on .

Temperatures are dropping around the country, making for cooler days to enjoy riding and training without copious amount of sweat pouring from our horses – and ourselves, thankfully. While heat stroke may be off the table, dehydration in the equine athlete is most definitely not.

Maintaining proper hydration in cooler temperatures is often overlooked because horse owners don’t see the obvious loss of water through sweat. But the consequences – like colic – are hard to ignore.

Through the summer-to-fall transition, horses may drink less because temperatures are cooler only to be bombarded with an unexpected day of summer-like heat.

In winter, frigid water may make horses reluctant to drink. Studies have shown that horses seem prefer warm or tepid water to cold water. One study noted that the test horses seem to prefer water “near the temperature it comes out of the hose on a warm summer day.”

An added complication during winter is increased forage intake to provide metabolic warmth. Dormant grass in winter pastures also contains less moisture than spring and summer grasses. Without adequate water consumption, increased hay consumption and dry grasses can lead to impactions.

Winter show horses that may be blanketed or those with longer hair coats, like the less-dashing turnback horse, can sweat more than expected during travel or while stabling in super barns surrounded by many horses giving off an impressive amount body heat.

Electrolytes, a summer staple, shouldn’t be over looked in cooler temperatures. Not only do they help replenish key nutrients lost due to sweat throughout the summer, but they also aid in encouraging reluctant drinkers stay hydrated throughout the fall and winter.

Top dressing, as opposed to mixing in water, is often preferred by horses over water laced with electrolytes. Also, handy paste electrolytes can help in situations that may arise with horses in transit or stabled at shows.

Proper hydration is a year-round practice, so keep those electrolytes handy and remove the ice chucks from the water trough – it may save you an expensive vet bill in the long run.

Health Matters – Back Pain Treatment

Written by Heather Smith Thomas on .

The type of treatment used for a back problem depends on the nature of the injury. Muscle or ligament strain is treated differently than an arthritic condition with bony proliferative changes or erosive changes.

For a horse that’s functioning poorly because of back pain, the goal is to treat the horse so that he’s comfortable enough to work and get fit again.

“We try to relieve pain and increase motion and mobility,” said Richard D. Mitchell, D.V.M., Fairfield Equine Associates, Newtown, Conn. “If we can get these horses comfortable and working again, they may be able to function in such a way that they can maintain mobility of these joints. We may inject the neck or lumbar facet joints with corticosteroids, under ultrasonic guidance to put the medication directly into the joint. This will relieve the inflammation and then we try to get the horse on a program of exercise to encourage better carriage of the body.”

If there is a lot of inflammation and trauma, the horse may need time off in addition to injections to allow the structures to heal a little.

“We can inject locally between the affected vertebrae to relieve inflammation and sore- ness, to try to improve the horse’s mobility and get him to raise his back, if he can. Until you relieve the pain, it feels like he has a knife in his back all the time,” Mitchell said.

Many horses continue to compete in spite of sacroiliac problems. They periodically need treatment, but they might have a chance to heal more completely and get over the injuries – such as damage to the ligaments that support the joint – if they had some time off.

The use of NSAIDs such as Bute, Banamine and Ketoprofen can be helpful.

“Some of the newer ones like Equioxx are beneficial because they are kind to the gut, especially if the horse has had ulcers,’ Mitchell said. “We’ve found that some horses respond very well to certain types of regional injections. Horses with caudal sacral soreness may respond to caudal epidural injections of corticosteroids. Local injections are another technique that may be beneficial.”

Shock wave therapy and acupuncture can also be useful for lower degrees of discomfort and to support and improve what is being accomplished with direct medical therapy.

“Mesotherapy, used for pain, is also beneficial. This involves use of very small intradermal needles to inject local anesthetic and corticosteroids in small doses into dermal layers of the skin in multiple spots along the back. This affects the pain reflex and helps reduce pain locally and get the horse’s back to relax. The combination of corticosteroids and anesthetic rapidly reduces sensitivity of these areas and breaks the pain cycle, and the horse becomes very comfortable, very quickly,” he said.

The new drug Tildren can be effective in reducing the pain of degenerative arthritis, he said. The drug was developed for navicular disease but seems to help when there are bony changes in the back and neck, he said.

Many physical therapy tools can be used in combination with medicines to give the horse relief. Ice packs can help with immediate injuries, and later on, moist heat can reduce chronic pain; pulsating magnetic therapy devices, magnetic blankets and heat blankets may help with chronic muscle or ligament soreness and help get the horse loosened up and feeling better.

Health Matters – Aching Backs

Written by Heather Smith Thomas on .

If you’ve ever had back pain, you know what a horrible pain it is. It hurts to move. It hurts to get out of bed. It hurts to sneeze. It pretty much hurts every time you move. So, if your horse has back pain, how do you know?

“Many back problems show up first as a change in the horse’s performance. It may be subtle to start with, but the horse is not performing as well as it was,” said Richard D. Mitchell, D.V.M., Fairfield Equine Associates, Newtown, Conn. “The horse may be irritable about working, resenting the weight of a rider, or not traveling straight or just off in his performance. He might pin his ears or otherwise show he’s unhappy when being groomed or saddled.”

Mitchell went on to explain that some horses show soreness in the saddle area or behind the saddle area as far back as the croup, when experiencing primary back pain. Resistance to saddling or to tightening the girth may also be a sign of back pain.

The horse’s posture is also something to observe. The horse should work in a rounded shape, with his back curved up, his head down and his hind end coming well under him. That means the horse is flexing at the lumbosacral joint of the spine. If the horse is working with his head up and back low, especially if he’s usually well-collected, something is wrong somewhere.

Other times a leg problem can first show up as back soreness. Mitchell explained, “If a horse is lame in a hind limb, there may be altered function in leg swing and this may produce soreness in the lower back. Horses may show pain in that region even though it’s just secondary muscle soreness and not a primary back problem.”

Muscular pain in the lower back can be due to strain of the long gluteal muscle, which starts at the 18th thoracic vertebra – the last rib-bearing vertebra – and goes all the way back over the croup to the top of the femur (the entire span of the lower back).

“It’s common to see horses get sore gluteal muscles when they have a sore hock or chronic high suspensory problem or even a chronically sore stifle,” Mitchell said.

West Nile Virus On The Rise

Written by Tanya Randall on .

More than 1,330 humans and 115 horses have been diagnosed with West Nile virus as of Aug. 21, 2012, and those numbers continue to rise.

You Might Also Like...