One of my clients recently had a senior Clydesdale gelding die from a heart attack. She was outside...he came walking over to her, sweating profusely, troubled breathing, and collapsed. He died within a few minutes.
Horses don't get true heart attacks like people do as they don't get cardiovascular disease like high blood pressure and blocked arteries and such. I can't say positively that there are no symptoms prior to death but I would be surprised if there were.
My bf's 10 yo QH (HYPP N/N) died during the night. He's had him for about 2 years. We never had a health issue with him, nor did the previous owner who had him for 4 or 5 years. We did a pre-purchase on him that was clean.
We got a call from the BO yesterday around 7P that he thought the horse was colicking. Said the horse was lying down and looked dull. He got him up, gave him 10cc's of Banamine I.V., and started walking him. When he stopped him, the horse pawed the ground. 10 mins later the horse defecated. BO kept walking him about 20 -30 mins more, he urinated, and defecated again. BO put him back in stall, pulled grain out, threw him extra hay and horse drank some water and started eating hay.
There were no other signs of colic.
BO checked on him a couple hours later around 10PM, called us back and said the horse had 4 more piles in the stall, had peed again, drunk another half bucket of water, and his eyes were bright again. BO felt comfortable with what he was seeing.
0800 today, we get a call to get up to the barn, the horse is gone.
There was no sign in the stall that the horse colicked during the night. No indication he was rolling. According to BO he didn't have dried sweat on him. It looked like he just literally dropped dead. He knocked his water bucket off the wall too like he fell on it on the way down.
So, aneuryism? Heart attack?
Congenital defect somewhere?
Just coincidence that he was acting/feeling funny the evening before?
That's why I'm wondering if maybe horses sometimes exhibit some kindof symptom beforehand.
(We're not doing a necropsy so picking the brains of COTH is the best I can do.)
What Laurierace said re: heart attacks. Unless there's a necropsy, you are really forced to speculate, and with a preceding colic it's awfully hard to know precisely what went on "inside". It could be so many things.
Most sudden cardiac deaths in horses are from rupture of the aorta or one of the great vessels, and there is usually NO warning whatsoever. But this is an area where research and actually knowledge is pitifully sparse.
I had a magnificent TB that died in his pasture at 23 from what everyone believes to be some kind of heart failure. He started running, ran from the barn the length of his pasture, about 800 feet, started back toward the barn, reared up, fell and died instantly.
Thank you everyone for your responses. And for your condolences DW.
The other strange thing is I rode him yesterday. I went on a probably 2 hour trail ride with a friend. She rode him for about 10 mins and then we switched and she rode my horse the rest of the ride. It was pretty hot here yesterday, probably close to, if not, 90. However, if we got in 15 minutes of trotting we'd be lucky. I think we cantered maybe 20 strides at the most. My horse pulled a shoe and we walked back the last hour.
So the horses were sweaty when we got back to the trailer, but very cooled out. We hosed them off but they were acting fine and just grazed while we waited our turn for the hose. When she first got on him she commented he seemed crabby. I looked at him and he looked ok. As she rode around while I locked up the truck and bridled my horse he looked normal. She told me today he felt much happier once she started riding him around.
The first 15 minutes of the trail were hilly. We went up a hill and I could hear him breathing hard. She commented on it. Both horses have had the last 2.5 weeks off due to my bf and my vacation. My horse wasn't breathing hard. I said that his horse tends to not have as good natural stamina as mine. We then walked them for awhile and he recovered quickly.
When I rode him I noticed his trot was not as comfortable as it normally was. He was hanging on the bit, I couldn't ever get a really "connected" feel with him, he felt sortof disjointed, like I couldn't get his hindend attached to his front end, and like his legs were landing everywhere.
I don't even know if any of the above means anything in terms of was anything going wrong with him at the time. He did jump a couple logs. Also, my bf is a novice rider. So in addition to having the last couple weeks off he could definately be lazy and go like a "beginner's horse." The trail really wasn't one I could work him on and give him a "tune-up," and my friend and I were talking so I was content to let him laze along. I figured there'd be other days to work with him. Guess not.
One other weird thing was typically on a trail ride he goes along easily 4 or so lengths behind the horse ifo him. Yesterday he wanted to be right up on the tail of my horse. Again, I let him (only at the walk,) because 1. it made it easier to talk, 2. he's an easy horse and I knew it wasn't going to be a habit he'd get into, and 3. my horse doesn't kick.
Oh so sorry for you and your BF's loss. It's darned hard when we lose them out of the blue like that, and so young.
It could have been numerous different things. Always hard to tell afterwards, except maybe a guess based on symptoms.
FWIW, I lost my mare because of her heart. She had a really bad heart although 99% of the time you'd never know it. But her heart was enlarged, not a single valve worked right and she was a 5 out of 5 on the heart murmur scale...basically she had absolutely no rhythm to her heart beat at all.
And she acted and looked perfectly normal...until her last day she just fell. Standing in the paddock enjoying the run early spring...lifted her head, staggered backwards and hit the ground. No movement...then about 3-4 minutes she got up, shook and acted normal. 15 minutes later same thing, only she rolled over backwards. 5 minutes, back up. Vet was there by then, apparently her heart was no longer able to get enough blood to her head. She was fainting. She was PTS then.
But that's the only 100% positive death due to heart that I know of. I've known other horses to just drop and be deceased, without a necropsy it was often attributed to aneurysm.
So hard to tell, but as large as they are horse health can be a pretty fragile thing.
Again, sorry for your loss.
You jump in the saddle,
Hold onto the bridle!
Jump in the line!
Earlier in the spring, she'd had some odd swelling on her right side, like the whole shoulder and leg was swollen. She had a little hill she liked to stand on where it was dryer than the rest of the paddock (mud season), and I though maybe she'd slid off it sideways and pulled something. Recovery was quite rapid, and a week later seemed as good as new.
A few days before she died, she had an odd choking episode -- not choke like we usually think of in horses, but honest-to-god Could. Not. Breath. I'd called the herd up for morning feed, and she came trotting over the hill just fine, coughed a couple times, and 100' feet later was in real distress -- sweat POURING off her, nostrils as big as dinner plates, gasping for breath, and staggering around in a daze.
I got a hold of her, and got her to put her head down while I massaged her throatlatch area, thinking if something was lodged over her trachea, I could maybe shift it, if not she was going to be dead in five minutes. Almost as quickly as it came on, it seemed to resolve itself, and she ate breakfast grain like nothing had happened.
The night before she died, around midnight when I fed "supper", she ate just fine. When I came out around 8am the next morning, she was dead, already cold and stiff. No sign of a struggle, not sweated up that I could tell.
I had assumed the two earlier incidents were isolated and unrelated to her death -- until I talked with somebody who had a bit of medical background, and who thought it might very well have been a heart thing all along.
She had lost a bit of weight over winter -- like 40-50# under what I'd have preferred her to be, but since she'd always put weight on real fast when grass came in, I didn't want her coming out winter too fat, but this wasn't a worrisome thing since she was old enough to be dropping a bit of weight over winter. However, she didn't regain it again on grass, I'd started her on an extra feeding of wet senior feed just about a week before she died, as I hadn't wanted her going into winter on the thin side with nothing to spare.
Looking back, maybe the not re-gaining the weight was the beginning of the end...
However, sometimes a spontaneous tear or break occurs in the wall of the aorta, causing a condition known as an aortic rupture. "Aortic ruptures usually occur very close to the junction of the aorta with the heart," explains Janice Bright, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM (Specialty of Cardiology), associate professor of cardiology, Colorado State University. "This may result in acute hemorrhage into the pericardial sac. Because there is such a large volume of blood that flows under very high pressure within the aorta, aortic ruptures close to the heart often result in very serious clinical consequences, including sudden collapse and sudden death."
Adds Johnson, "What happens is blood fills the pericardial sac, compressing the heart to the point where it can’t release and fill to eject more blood. So essentially, the heart stops."
As blood fills the horse’s pericardial sac, death usually occurs within a few seconds to a few minutes.
Sometimes, though, the aorta can rupture inside the heart. Says Virginia Reef, DVM, Diplomate ACVIM, professor of medicine, Wagner Hospital, New Bolton Center, University of Pennsylvania, "An intracardiac rupture of the aorta usually ruptures either into the right atrium or into the right ventricle. Often when that happens, blood dissects down the intraventicular septum, and many of those horses will actually present with acute colic and sustained ventricular tachycardia (excessively rapid heartbeat)."
Horses suffering an intracardiac rupture don’t necessarily face immediate death. "If the aorta ruptures into another chamber of the heart, those horses can survive for a while, depending how large the shunt is," states Reef. "In this situation, the aorta is now communicating with either the right atrium or the right ventricle. If it’s a large communication, the horse is going to go into heart failure relatively quickly. If the rupture disrupts the tricuspid valve apparatus or ruptures in the left ventricle and disrupts the mitral valve apparatus, the horse will go into congestive heart failure more quickly."
In those few horses which have an intracardiac rupture and survive the initial event, owners might observe vague clinical signs that include shortness of breath, exercise intolerance, weakness, reluctance to move, looking at their flanks, anxiety, pawing, or even symptoms that present similarly to colic. Explains Bright, "Assuming the horse doesn’t hemorrhage and succumb to sudden death, acute signs may be subtle—just signs of distress or pain. If that rupture into the heart leads to congestive heart failure, which is a common sequela, the congestive heart failure might take a couple of days after that to develop. Signs of congestive heart failure include exercise intolerance, edema or swelling of dependent tissues like the front leg and pectoral regions, enlargement of the jugular veins, difficulty breathing, and rapid heart rate."
"Once you’ve corrected that, the horse’s acute distress seems to be relieved. If there is not a large intracardiac shunt, many horses appear fine, clinically, to the owners, looking indistinguishable from how the horse looked before the event occurred. Many of these horses can, if the shunt isn’t really big, live for weeks to months in relative comfort until they show signs of congestive heart failure.
Unfortunately, congestive heart failure is a progressive condition for which drugs and rest can only provide temporary symptomatic relief.
"It is not the tear that worsens," Bright explains, "but the congestive heart failure that results from the increased workload on the heart as a result of the extra volume of blood that it is forced to pump."
Prognosis depends on the size and site of the rupture, but in most cases is very grave or poor, Bright says. "Once a horse goes into heart failure, it’s a very poor prognosis. Even with supportive treatment, these animals usually don’t do well. Most horses with an aortic rupture that produces secondary heart failure as opposed to sudden death have only a few weeks to maybe a month or two."
Nor has Johnson found any significant predisposition among gender, age, breed, or work. "In our database, we showed these occurred in horses between four and 20 years of age, most of them typically about eight years of age," says Johnson.
Even though the horse was pooping from my understanding there is still a possibility that he had a twist somewhere and ruptured and died from that.
Most horses I have heard of dying from heart related incidents happens while they are excersising or shortly after they were. Aortic Rupture is the most common way as others have said horses do not have real heart attacks.
Unless you get a necropsy unfortunatly you will never know what killed your horse. I am sorry for you loss.
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So anyway I am a cat lover And I love to run.
I am sorry to say that I have known directly or indirectly and seen in person several horses die of heart attacks or aneurysms. Anytime you are around horses that are physically exerting themselves to the extreme, you are going to find ones that have weaknesses in the heart eventually I think.
Here are a couple examples:
1-My husband was galloping flat out during a polo match and his horse suddenly whinnied and literally disappeared out from underneath him, dead immediately. Obviously a very scary incident of course, but thank God my husband was ok.
2-A friend of mine was riding a set, came back, tied her set to the tie line and went in the barn to strip her horse. She heard a commotion at the tie line, ran out of the barn, and saw a horse dead on the tie line. They had a necropsy done and the horse had half of a heart and had died of heart failure.
I am always very leary if I hear a horse whinny during or after extreme physical exertion. It seems most that I have heard of just drop dead, or rear up and then drop, with or without whinnying but very often with. Almost like it is a call of distress or something. It is so sad, and such a shock. No one ever wants to see something like that happen, and there are always tears shed over the ones that it happens to. We all love our horses, no matter what the sport, and I am so sorry for your friend's loss.
First, I want to offer you and your boyfriend my deepest condolences. It is so hard when they go, even harder when we aren't entirely sure why.
My dream horse died suddenly last September. It was a Sunday and I'd groomed him and turned him back out, watched him gallop off to his buddies, totally happy. He went from completely fine to shocky, blue, fluid in the lungs, and eventually bleeding out in the span of a few hours. He died as the vet was getting the euth meds from his truck.
The vet was not entirely sure what happened. His digestive tract was shut down but the colic was secondary to something else. It was like everything inside him short-circuited all at once.
I didn't do a necropsy because I was so traumatized by the whole thing I couldn't bear to put his body through anything else. I was also told that given the multi-system failure he suffered it was possible the necropsy would not pinpoint the exact cause.
It is hard for us as humans to not know what happened. I personally am not sure I've made peace with it quite yet.
So yes, sudden deaths can occur. Also, who knows sometimes what is going on deep inside them. We don't have all the same diagnostic tools for large animals that we do for humans, or even small animals.
Hugs to you, and your boyfriend.
We couldn't all be cowboys, so some of us are clowns.
I too have been through this, and I am so sorry for your's and your bf's loss.
My horse was happily grazing in his paddock 1.5 years ago, next thing you know he was lying there motionless. There was no sign of struggle, so I immediately assumed heart attack. I never had a necropsy.
I didn't realize how rate heart attacks are on horses. So now, almost 2 years later, I still think and wonder what killed him. I wonder if it was a pasture accident. I often wish it was because it really bums me out to think I was riding him with some sort of heart defect.
The only thing peculiar about how he was before he died was that he was stocking up behind a little more than normal. And right before I rode him the night before, I massaged his left hind quarter (back by the tail), and I thought he would turn into a pretzel the way he was contorting himself (he really liked it). He was also sweating more than normal, but I have always explained that away as his winter coat had come in earlier every year (he was 21), and it was unseasonably warm.
This topic makes my ribs hurt. When a horse has cardiac failure, if you are on it, the hind end goes funky. Then they become unresponsive, can't stear or stop. You know you are screwed. Then there is the leap into the air as the heart stops , which can be a saving grace as you might get flung in the opposite direction of the horse as it goes down as opposed to going down with the horse. It is usually a grand display. I guess if you want to see one in a race, look up youtube on Mr Nickerson in the breeders cup.
Me too - aortic rupture of a 16-year-old TB gelding in Aug. 2000. The horse raced until age NINE. Absolutely no symptoms and he died instantly, dropping over without a struggle in his pasture. He appeared to be dead almost as he hit the ground. If a horse has to go, I now appreciate that this is the way I prefer that it would happen. But nearly never does.