My Gas Tank is Empty

Today I finally had a full day of real appointments. (Keep in mind that I drive between 200 and 400 miles a day, so a full day may only be a few appointments.)

To spice things up a little bit, here is a photo of my fashionable attire for the day.

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First up this morning were a couple sets of annual vaccines and Coggins. Not very exciting but kind of the bread and butter of our practice.

On the way to my second appointment I stopped to restock the truck, picked up a snack and a new planner :)

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I love school supplies. It’s a disease.

My second appointment was a lameness exam in Parker, TX. I evaluated an 18 year old Morgan mare, who is a competitive endurance horse. Baseline she was sound, with only a slight asymmetry behind. When we flexed her joints she jogged off lame to the right front lower limb (fetlock, pastern and/or coffin joint and associated tissues) and was very nearly crippled by the right hind upper limb flexion (hock and/or stifle joint and associated tissues). Since she was baseline sound, I told my client what I tell all of my clients with sound horses that flex positive.

Flexion tests are the closest thing we have to a crystal ball.

Even though the mare is sound now, the locations where she flexes positive are very likely to be the places she has problems in the future.

I also told the client that I didn’t believe today was the day to start injecting joints on her mare. If she was going to the Olympics next week, of course we would be doing everything to make her feel as good as possible. Given this mare’s age, and the fact that she has had no veterinary work done until now, my recommendation was to start the mare on a systemic injectable joint supplement. She needs help all over her body, it has a lot of miles on it! The systemic effects of the joint supplement (an HA, glucosamine, chondroitin combination) will treat every achy joint in her body, rather than just spot-treating the worst ones. Of course, we may have to come back and help the worst joints later, if the supplement isn’t enough, but it’s a good place to start and she’ll get a lot of bang for her buck.

At the same appointment we also discussed the weight loss that her older, 25 year old Arab mare is experiencing.

In my opinion, most weight loss in horses can be attributed to 4 things:

– Nutrition
– Teeth
– Parasites
– Disease

In the vast majority of cases, the biggest problem is a simple lack of calories. I’m guilty of it too, for a very long time I was feeding my older horse an obscenely large quantity of Equine Senior feed in an attempt to put weight on him. I finally sat down and looked at the feed tag, and realized that Equine Senior is for the most part a forage-based complete feed, which is what makes it so safe for older horses. The problem is that it only contains 4.5% fat, which is pretty low when you’re trying to put weight on.

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Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Purina feeds, and if it were up to me that’s all I would feed, so I’m definitely not bashing Purina here. My recommendation, and what I did for my own horse, was go down to the feed store and read the feed tags. This is how I came across Omolene 500, another Purina feed formulated for competition horses. Here are the stats:

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8% fat, one of the higher ones on the market, and cheaper than Equine Senior at Tractor Supply.

So what is the point of this story? Most people don’t think about what they are feeding, they just feed what their friend, neighbor, vet, barn owner or the Internet tells them to feed. In most cases this is fine. But when horses start to have weight problems, owners need to consult their vets and do some serious research. (I’d also like to point out that this is just one example, I am not by any means saying that Omolene 500 is an appropriate feed for every horse.)

Teeth and parasites can be easily and simply dealt with, have the vet out to float the teeth and check a fecal sample to see if the horse has a high worn burden and needs to be dewormed.

If these three things don’t fix the weight problem, and in the vast majority of cases they do, then we need to go hunting for a disease, be it kidney or liver failure or endocrine disease of some kind.

After this long discussion with the client, she decided that she probably wasn’t feeding her horse enough for her current life stage (and she probably isn’t).

I quickly ran a couple of errands to drop medications off, and then headed to my next appointment.

This appointment was for a 26 year old horse who has become progressively more lame over the past few days to the point that he is no longer weight bearing on the left front. I hoof tested him, with no significant response over any part of the foot. Using my hoof knife I cleaned up the foot and tried to follow any suspicious holes in the bottom of his hoof, but none of them led anywhere. Using a local analgesic I blocked (numbed) his foot, which marginally improved him. He would now bear weight on the foot although he was still reluctant to move.

The owner was pretty distraught, she had already discussed with my boss that she thought he may be nearing the end. I told her that to me, everything pointed towards a hoof abscess, and that we should treat it as such until proven otherwise. She was very relieved and rushed out as I was leaving to pick up some Epsom salts and AnimalIntex poultice pads to use on his foot. We will recheck him in a few days to make sure he is improving, hopefully he won’t wind up with anything nearly as bad as this hood abscess and sole prolapse I saw several months ago.

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That’s about it for my day! I’m headed home and just have to stop at one barn near my house to fill out a health certificate. I am on call tonight though, so anything can happen! Hopefully my husband and I will at least get to enjoy a brief date night before the emergencies start calling.

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