by Francesca Prescott
I’m battling a case of the midsummer blahs. On the horse front, things haven’t exactly been pink and peachy over the past week; Qrac has had a horrid case of conjunctivitis, and doesn’t seem to understand that I’m squirting oozy ointments in his eyes for his own good. It’s a struggle, I tell you. But four days into the treatment my horse is looking a lot better, as when I turned up on Sunday the poor guy was oozing thick yellow gloop on a fiery red backdrop (behind his eye was red), so I knew immediately that bathing his eyes in black tea wasn’t going to cut it. I called the vet; he came on Monday morning bearing antiobiotic and soothing moisturising drops. By Tuesday the yellow gloop was already gone, but since I need to treat him for seven days, it would be nice if he’d stop doing his giraffe impersonation the moment I bring out the tubes of ointment.
Also, Qrac didn’t choose a good week to get sore eyes, as I was supposed to be going down to Burgundy with Olivia to visit Kwintus, our old dressage horse, who is now twenty-years-old and retired there. I didn’t want to delegate Qrac’s ocular treatment to someone else at the stables as something told me nobody but me would have the patience to spend ten minutes twice a day struggling with eye creams. So I asked my husband, who is on holiday at the moment, to go down to Burgundy with Olivia this time, thinking it would be a nice for them to spend time together.
I’ve written before about what a lovely place we’ve found for Kwintus’ retirement, and although my husband doesn’t know the back end of a horse from its front end, he likes Kwintus and was more than happy to drive down there with Olivia for twenty-four hours. Olivia was looking forward to seeing her old horse, even hoping to tack him up and take him for a little plod around the countryside, as the last time we visited him (in April) Kwintus looked fit as a fiddle.
Yesterday afternoon, soon after they got there, Olivia called me, fighting back tears.
It seems that over the past two weeks Kwintus has suddenly lost a lot of weight. His ribs are showing, and Olivia said he seemed very tired, and not at all his usual perky, curious self. I already knew that he’d dropped a bit of condition about six weeks ago when we got our first heat-wave, as Natalie, the owner of the centre had called me to tell me she’d been a little concerned for a few days, but she’d kept an eye on him and he’d picked up again as soon as the weather cooled down. But in the past two weeks we’ve had some pretty intense heat, which has really affected him. Kwint normally spends the days outside, and is brought in at night, but during the hot weather he seemed to want to stay out all night with his friends. As Natalie always tries to take the horses’ wishes into consideration, she let him sleep outside. Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea, as even if Kwintus might have enjoyed the cool night air, he probably missed being able to lie down and sleep in his cosy bed, and became over-tired. Add the stress of battling flies all day in hot, muggy weather, and the result is that all of a sudden poor Mr. Kwint is looking pretty bony.
Olivia got Natalie to call the vet, who came this morning, checked Kwint over and did a blood test. I spoke to Natalie about two hours ago; apparently the blood was very pale, which might point to anaemia. At this point, I don’t know anything else as we won’t have the test results until next week. Meanwhile, Kwintus is going to be made to come in every night whether he wants to or not in order to ensure he gets a good night’s sleep. He’s also going to get more food, and will be turned out alone in a field with slightly richer grass for a while (he doesn’t mind being alone).
Of course, I feel terrible about not having gone down there with Olivia, as my poor husband felt totally at a loss. At the same time, I don’t see what more I could have done. It’s just that I know Olivia was really hoping to be able to get that short plod around the countryside on her horse, as she was away at university in England when I was forced to take the decision to retire him. A short ride, even a few minutes, would give her a sense of closure, but she’s always said that she’d let Kwintus decide on whether or not he wanted her to ride him.
Olivia and I will return to Burgundy to visit Kwintus sometime in September, before Olivia goes back to University. The weather should have cooled down a little by then, so I hope that with adequate treatment and extra food he’ll have picked up again, and be back to his normal, somewhat rotund, perky self.
Have you ever had problems with older horses suddenly dropping a considerable amount of weight? Have you had horses with anaemia? If so, what caused it? How did you treat it? How long did it take for them to bounce back?
I've been fighting the same issue with one of my retirees. I tried every weight supplement, oil, etc. Blood work was normal. I finally had the vet do a thyroid test, which showed his levels to be well below normal. Apparently, in some horses that can show up as a LOSS of weight rather than a gain.
He's now on a daily dose of Thyro-L and is regaining the weight. The sparkle's back in his eye, too. The vet said we may need to adjust the dosage as he ages (he's 28 now) so I plan on repeating the thyroid test each year.
Oh dear, I'm so sorry to hear about Kwint. I hope he's back to normal in no time.
I have a 24-year-old retiree, and his weight can fluctuate quickly so I keep a close eye on it. Make sure Kwint has been wormed for tapeworms recently - apparently that can be a problem in older horses. My guy gets really worried if anything in his routine changes - perhaps Kwint just hasn't been getting enough sleep at night, and might be happy to come in and nap during the day instead? And finally, has there been any change in his manure? We had a bout with runny manure and weight loss that is being well-managed by tiny doses of dexamethazone, a steroid.
It sounds like you did the right thing to have the vet out immediately, and that the barn owner is keeping a close eye on things. I'm sure you'll be able to get to the bottom of this quickly and Kwint will be his usual fat, happy self soon!
Cesca--I have had old horses lose weight and seem like they were going downhill before. I don't know about the anemia, because I didn't test them. What has worked for me, virtually every time, is to reduce stress as much as possible (as you are doing), increase the amount of equine senior feed (that I feed all my old horses), and worm every two weeks for a couple of wormings with ivermectin. I have brought several old horses back from a downhill slide with this approach.
Oops, sorry Cesca--I got called away to rescue a chick. The chick is now back with its mom. But I also wanted to say that I'm sorry you're having a bad week, and I hope both Kwint and Qrac are 100% very soon. As for how long it took for me to bring back various old horses that had started going downhill, I'd allow a month for the horse to look significantly better, and two months to look a lot better. This is assuming the horse is just a little thin, not starving. And if you find that there is something wrong with Kwint (like the thyroid problem Savannah mentioned) that you can treat, he may recover much faster. A good equine senior feed (and plenty of it) has made a HUGE difference to all my old horses that started loosing weight.
Savannah: thank you for your input. I'll definitely keep the thyroid test in mind if the blood test doesn't reveal anything.
Jenj: Natalie told me she wormed Kwint this week, so maybe he was overdue. It would surprise me as she's really good with keeping up, but I guess it can happen. I also think that he's not been getting enough sleep at night. Maybe he could come in for a nap during the day; he was always a good napper even when he was working regularly, we often found him lying down! Olivia told me his manure was normal. I guess it's just a matter of waiting for the blood test now. I wish I didn't worry so much, and that he wasn't so far away...
Laura: I'm not sure what sort of feed the horses get there, but I'm guessing it's a good quality senior feed. I'll ask. Thanks for mentioning it. You worm every two weeks for a couple of wormings?! I don't know what type of worming product she uses; I feel so useless with things like this because I've never actually had to look after a horse on a daily basis as I've never had the chance to have a horse at home, so I don't know about these kinds of things.
Glad the chick found his mama!
I remember last year, when Qrac lost loads of weight at the place where he was stabled before, because he wasn't getting enough food (he'd been put on a diet for a horse at rest, and there I was, working his tail off every day), he was scary thin for a while, and I worried he'd never put weight back on again...but he did of course, within a couple of months. Kwintus is definitely not starving, but he looks very thin (I saw a photo...) but he was eating happily according to Olivia, so there must be some outside factor affecting him. I hope it's something simple and straightforward to fix...
Thank you so much for your help.
Cesca--Do ask if Kwint is getting senior feed. Not all senior feed is created equal either. Here in America, I find the Purina senior feed is not very palatable to many horses. And if its not palatable they won't eat it well enough. I feed something called "equine senior delight", made by a local feed mill. Its VERY palatable and the horses love it (cause its made with molasses--and some folks will tell you that stuff is evil). The next three ingredients are alfalfa meal, rice bran and beet pulp. The thing is, I have used this feed to successfully keep LOTS of different old horses who started going downhill in great shape. It really works. Ask around among knowledgable friends for what equine senior feed available in your area works well. And then make sure Kwint gets fed plenty of it (starting off with smaller amounts, of course). The worming once, and again in two weeks has worked wonders for me, too. As I said, this approach has worked well with every old horse I tried it on, though one very hard keeper required five pounds a day of equine senior feed along with free choice hay and pasture to stay looking good. Keep working on it. Usually, unless there is an underlying problem, these old horses WILL bounce back, given the right feed and care.
Cesca, taking care of senior animals is also stressful! You are doing everything possible, but at some point Kwintus will tell you that life is just no fun.
In VA the heat and flies are bad all summer and my horses get in the routine of being inside during the hottest hours where they nap bug-free because of that big fan I told you about.
Good luck treating those goopy eyes! (You wish they would appreciate your nursing!)
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