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Aging Pony

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  • Aging Pony

    Hello All

    Let me first start off by saying that I am not new to senior horse care. I have been around this block many times. With this being said, the below incident is new issues for me.

    I have an aging crossbred Shetland pony. His age is unknown, although likely 30 or above. Up until 4-6 weeks ago he was eating normal, would finish his dinner in 2-3 hours. He is currently on a wet timothy pellet and a Senior feed that is wet. It takes him awhile to eat it but he does. He has always been VERY aggressive about food. He has not been able to chew hay, even a second cut for a few years now but has remained very healthy and happy and in good weight. We did offer him Dinge hay in the PM just in case he did have interest but typically he would just throw it around.

    About 6 weeks ago he started leaving part of his breakfast and dinner in his feeder. This has increased over the past 6 weeks to eating minimal amounts. He is still very excited to see his feed and attacks it like he normally would. About 5 minutes in; he stops eating and stands in his stall. If I go in and stir it around, he will go back to picking at it and eventually stop again

    If I lock him in for the night, he would typically clean the bowl by the AM. In the last week; he has started to leave most of his AM and PM meals in the feeder by the time he is turned back outside. HIs feeder basically looks like pulverized wet mash by the morning and its all mash into the bottom of the bucket like he took his incisors and compacted it all, all night.

    I had the vet out a week ago just to check him. Everything was normal. He has all of his incisors. On the top cheek teeth, he only has 3 teeth left, in total (both sides). Mandible (bottom) teeth; he has much more numerous teeth (I cant recall if we actually counted them all. He did have some odd points on some of his teeth that we took care of but nothing alarming. We could not find any alarming issues in his mouth (blisters, sores, etc). His mouth is very small so it's a bit hard to see everything but the vet did let me take a light and see it all myself. There were no holes where he would've recently lost anything within the last days or week, either so he has been dealing with his minimal teeth at least for awhile now.

    We put him on antacids for a few days and didn't see any noticeable signs of improvement. I also put him on a round of ulcergaurd. (He has a history of bad ulcers) No noticeable difference. The vet thought that maybe he was having issues and 5 minutes into eating; his stomach releases acid and suddenly he doesn't feel good. So we figured we'd try the antacids and ulcergaurd and see if there was a change... end result... not really.

    I have given him ricebran oil just to get some fat into him 2x a day. I tried mixing in some nice sweet feed into his mix of slop to add some flavor. Still the same consumption. I tried taking the hay pellet out and just give him his senior feed and no change. He has access to numerous kinds of salt licks and we have some green pasture now. He was out most of the day yesterday grazing on the new grass (although he cant eat it!). His pasture-mate gets a 2nd cut hay as he is approaching the same age. The old man loves to munch on the second cut, ball it up and spit it out.... but not interested in his own grain.

    Sadly; I think we are getting to the end. But I figured I would come here to see if anyone has any ideas. It just bugs me that he is so eager to eat and then not much or he's eager to go out and graze or chew the 2nd cut but not eat his own feed.

    Quality of life is where its at and spending 8 hours locked inside so he eats isn't really quality either. He has resulted to trying to break down his stall door in the morning if we lock him in to eat....because he wants to go chew on the 2nd cut.

    Thanks in advance.

  • #2
    Have you tried a different brand or type of feed?

    It may be a stupid suggestion but there is a 30 or 31 year old mare where I feed and she quit eating Triple Crown Senior and Pro Elite Senior. She is almost a toothless wonder, very few teeth left, and dribbles food everywhere in her stall (she has regular dentals, last was a month ago). She quids hay and I don't know how much grass she's able to eat but still enjoys grazing all day. She was eating senior soaked into a mash but all of sudden, nada. Wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole, dry or soaked.

    She started losing weight fast and her owner had the vet out but she wouldn't eat her food.

    Long story short, something changed and she will no longer eat textured food. We looked for the highest calorie, highest fat feed we could easily find and tried Purina Ultium. She eats every morsel now. We do wet her food, but it doesn't get mushy like the Senior.

    Just a thought.


    • Original Poster

      I have not tried totally switching his food for worry of setting off any possible stomach issue. I will try tonight, though. I have Tribute Kalm Ultra which is a very high fat sweet that everyone seems to love. Im just starting to worry he does not like the wet, slop anymore. Will give it a go and see what he does.

      If he stays on the hay pellet he kind of has to stay on the Standlee Timothy as ponies cant have high volumes of alfalfa etc. Ill see if they have an orchard grass to switch up the taste


      • #4
        I hope something works for your old guy. I wish our Tractor Supply carried the Orchard grass pellets but they only have alfalfa and timothy.

        Eta - I'm sure you know this, but in case someone is reading that doesn't, we didn't add a lot at once. She was getting 7.5 lbs (a day, split into 2 meals) of the senior and when she quit, she quit. She would eat two mouthfuls max a meal and that was it.

        We started with very small amounts of the new and gradually worked up to what she's now getting. It took about 10 days. Since she wouldn't eat the senior we weren't able to do the mixing of new and old.

        I'm sure you know, just cya.


        • #5
          Honestly, if I know a horse is toward the end and not eating, I'll feed them whatever they will eat. Maybe it is alfalfa, a pellet, an extruded feed, whatever it is when the end is near, I'm not so picky. Granted, I'm not trying to induce an episode of laminitis or anything.


          • #6
            Did you do the ulcergard at the full treatment dose for 30 days minimum?
            McDowell Racing Stables

            Home Away From Home


            • #7
              Been around seniors who were experiencing similar. Try molasses drizzled on the feed. But it's likely internal, tumor or something if they are showing an appetite and wanting to eat but either don't or can't. My own quit finishing up towards the end, pretty sure it was an internal melanoma , horse was just short of 30, robust and very into eating until a few months before the end. Once it started, the horse started to look frail and weight started to slide. We knew and didn't let it continue too long. Also made the choice not spend on clinic visits and advanced diagnostics.
              When opportunity knocks it's wearing overalls and looks like work.

              The horse world. Two people. Three opinions.


              • #8
                Poor fella. My guesses were going to be teeth and/or ulcers, but it sounds like you've tried to rule those out. Prayers.
                20% off code for Hay Chix hay nets--


                • #9
                  I wonder if there's a hormonal swing coming into spring that makes them less interested in their food. I deal with this every year with my older mare--but she's not as old as your guy, and I don't think she's quite as drastic. As soon as it starts warming up she gets very ho-hum about eating. It's like she knows the grass is coming up and holding out for it, never mind that there's not enough of it in yet to come anywhere close to sustaining her I up her fat (oil in her grain) and make sure she has hay she's as excited as possible about, but's just so frustrating.

                  I hope a grain change up makes a difference!


                  • #10
                    Can you get Blue Seal Hay Stretcher where you are? It kept my ancient pony going and interested in his food. It was his favorite thing. And it soaks into a nice mash. IIRC it is high in NSC but I'm with CanteringCarrot, at a certain point, give them what they want within reason.


                    • #11
                      Have you tried giving him smaller amounts more times per day? If he's still excited, and still eagerly eating for 5 minutes or so, he might eat about as much if you are able to feed him 4 or 5 times per day instead of twice.

                      I had an old pony on a similar diet and was able to feed him 4x/day, which I think really helped. However, at the end of his life, he did start to eat less no matter what I did, so that could be happening here, too. I would say that he ate less heartily maybe in the last two months of his life. He was also very picky about just how wet his feed was, despite not being able to chew well. He would take it soaked, but would not eat it if it was too wet.


                      • #12
                        Well, the post I just typed was unapproved for some reason, but the gist of it was:

                        Can you feed him smaller amounts more often? I had an old pony with similar needs who I was able to feed 4x/day, and I think that helped. He also stopped eating as much in the last couple of months of his life. You could also play around with how soaked his feed is. Mine would not eat it if it was too wet.


                        • Original Poster

                          Originally posted by cayuse View Post
                          Can you get Blue Seal Hay Stretcher where you are? It kept my ancient pony going and interested in his food. It was his favorite thing. And it soaks into a nice mash. IIRC it is high in NSC but I'm with CanteringCarrot, at a certain point, give them what they want within reason.
                          I really dislike the blue seal hay stretcher. We fed it to one of our oldies a few years back for many years and she just wasn't getting enough from it and eventually found it to be the most disgusting hay pellet money could buy . I find the standlee products to be much more quality for what you get and more nutrient packed. Its wonderful hay pellet that the horses really seem to love.


                          • Original Poster

                            Originally posted by Mango20 View Post
                            Have you tried giving him smaller amounts more times per day? If he's still excited, and still eagerly eating for 5 minutes or so, he might eat about as much if you are able to feed him 4 or 5 times per day instead of twice.

                            I had an old pony on a similar diet and was able to feed him 4x/day, which I think really helped. However, at the end of his life, he did start to eat less no matter what I did, so that could be happening here, too. I would say that he ate less heartily maybe in the last two months of his life. He was also very picky about just how wet his feed was, despite not being able to chew well. He would take it soaked, but would not eat it if it was too wet.
                            Unfortunately, I can't. I work full time. In addition to that; he has an annoying pasture buddy who is very attached to him and vis versa. If he is not locked into his run in shed to eat; his little pest of a friend will run in there and consume all of his feed. The old man has become irate about being locked in to eat in the morning to the effect of a full blown temper tantrum.

                            I did give him some of the Tribute Kalm Ultra Sweet feed last (which he loves, has probiotics in it, and very soft & palatable) night and lightly soaked it. As per usual; he attacked it like he was starving and ate most of it before he stopped and stood in his stall. I watched him eat for about the first 5 minutes and he basically shovels as much food as he can into his mouth until he is to the point where he can barely chew. I actually had to pry his head out of the bowl a few times and make him take a breather. I think what may be happening is he is pulling so much of the slop into his mouth, he cant chew or do much at all, it all gets impacted between his cheeks and teeth and then he gets uncomfortable... so he stops eating. If I add more water to it; it becomes a sloppy inconsistent mess and he has no interest in cleaning that up... I don't blame him. I skipped the hay pellet last night. This morning his feeder was mostly cleaned up with the exception of that nasty slop that was left from too much water.

                            As for the ulcergaurd; no he has not been given 30 days of ulcergaurd; it hasn't been that long since we started trying to rule things out. he is on Neighlox 2x a day and has been for most of his life. In addition to that we put him on antacids for 5 days to see if it changed anything. It did not and there was no improvement to his feed intake during that time. So we are left to believe that its probably not a stomach issue.

                            So we will give him another week to see if we can spark his appetite with different foods but I wont let him suffer and I know he must be hungry. He has lost quite a bit of body condition but he is not a rack of bones. It's just sad because he is still very much a Shetland; full of spice and he's alert and perky and has all of his attitude.


                            • #15
                              I wish I had the perfect answer that would fix everything for your boy, but I don't.

                              Best wishes for you and him. It is sad when they want to eat and can't/won't, especially full of life, but maybe better than finding them down one day and suffering.


                              I hope this week goes well for you both.


                              • #16
                                Is he at home? If so, you can probably work in some extra feedings even while working full time. When I did it, I fed at 4am, 3pm, 6pm and 10pm. Not ideally spaced, but it seemed to help. If you have to drive somewhere to feed him, then it's probably not going to work.


                                • #17
                                  Is pasture buddy also small like he is? If pasture buddy is bigger, you could try a foal feeder/creep feeder type setup. We have an aged American Shetland cross too who may be nearing EoL as well, so I feel ya on this one. We just give him whatever he'll eat and hope for the best.


                                  • #18
                                    My first thought was pain in his mouth- you say he has all of his incisors, have they been checked for EOTRH? If they aren't showing outward signs yet, then x-ray is the only way to diagnose this. Unfortunately the only treatment is removal, but it might be something to rule out, especially if it doesn't seem to be appetite-related.

                                    Best of luck!


                                    • Original Poster

                                      Originally posted by Mango20 View Post
                                      Is he at home? If so, you can probably work in some extra feedings even while working full time. When I did it, I fed at 4am, 3pm, 6pm and 10pm. Not ideally spaced, but it seemed to help. If you have to drive somewhere to feed him, then it's probably not going to work.
                                      He is in my backyard but I leave at 630 in the morning and do not return until 530 at night. I work a very long day-full time job. His pasture friend is of similar size so a creep feeder wouldn't help this situation .

                                      The vet checked all of his teeth thoroughly including checking to see if anything is lose or about to fall out. What he has left for teeth is healthy and in good shape.

                                      I did pick up some Purina senior to see if he likes that and I did find some orchard grass hay pellet. Maybe a change of taste and texture will encourage him to eat more? That is a safer feed for him than just sweet feed but similar texture. Going to continue on with the ulcer guard and see if we can get anything to kick in. We shall see

                                      thanks for the tips and advice.


                                      • #20
                                        I would treat him for ulcers and go from there. It always got my old guy eating well again within a few days so I knew that meant I needed to do a full course then taper.
                                        McDowell Racing Stables

                                        Home Away From Home