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Old horse can't put on weight. At a loss... Update - he died last night.

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  • Old horse can't put on weight. At a loss... Update - he died last night.


    My horse has been struggling to put on weight and we can't seem to figure out what is wrong with him and I was hoping to maybe get some suggestions here.

    Background: He is a 17 yr old morgan gelding. About a year ago he started to look a little ribby and he lost a lot of his topline. At the time we attributed it to the fact that we thought his pony companion was eating up his hay and stealing some of his grain. In May we moved to a new barn with 24/7 pasture turnout on about 30 acres. The transition to grass was slow and careful. His naughty pony friend now wears a grazing muzzle and has slimmed down and can't sneak his skinny friend's food, but the morgan still hasn't put on any weight, in fact he seems to have dropped more.

    Over the summer he seemed to really struggle with the heat. He was lethargic and had the slobbers very dramatically on a couple occasions.

    In August the weight loss was most dramatic - he literally went from a wide/xwide tree saddle to a medium tree - so we did a complete feed overhaul. He is now on 4lbs Omegatin (20% fat, 15% protein), 5lbs alfalfa pellets split into two feedings. Before the initial weight loss he was getting just alfalfa pellets. He also gets SmartGut, Quiessence, and now SmartProtect because he started to get rainrot and scratches for the first time ever. He also gets hay thrown in the morning and at night, in addition to the pasture which is available all the time.

    Since August we have PowerPac-ed, attempted to SandClear (he won't really eat it), tried probiotics. We also recently did his annual course of adequan injections as he was seeming a bit stiff.

    The vet has tested for Cushing's (single ACTH, normal range), Lyme (multiplex, negative all around). We are going to test for vit E and selenium deficiency next week.

    He has had ulcers in the past but we don't think that is what it is. He was scoped, treated with a full course of gastrogard, and rescoped a couple years ago and since then he has been very carefully monitored and preventative ulcergard is used liberally at the slightest chance of stress. He also has a voracious appetite and isn't cribbing as much (usually when his stomach is the problem he goes off feed and cribs constantly.)

    His coat is still shiny, but he didn't dapple this summer like he usually does.

    Attitude is better now that it is cooler, but he just doesn't seem to be gaining any weight.

    Any thoughts? I'm so worried about him. I'm starting to get scared it is cancer or something .
    Last edited by redsky; Nov. 6, 2012, 07:50 PM.

  • #2
    During the summer heat when he seemed to struggle did he sweat normally?


    • Original Poster

      He has always sweat a lot and this summer was no different. He does get a strange little rectangle of sweat on his shoulder at rest, but I always have just attributed that to nerve damage from when he was bitten across the neck by a particularly witchy mare.

      I should also add that his teeth get checked 2x a year and done at least once annually and his manure is totally normal.


      • #4
        Sounds like cushings. Search on this board there was a thread on another older horse not keeping weight on that I wrote about the symptoms of cushings. That orse did not have it but it will give you the details. Even if your horse tests negative it does not mean he does not have it. My horse tested negative and he has cushings. The change in top line, skin issues and hard to put weight on are all symptoms.


        • #5
          Buckeye makes a great fat supplement that I have had good luck with when trying to keep weight on my oldsters.
          Not sure about the drooling thing. Was there a lot of red clover in his pasture? Maybe there is another weed in there he is eating that is giving him problems.
          Only other thing I can suggest is EPM. Can show itself in weird ways as I found out the hard way. My old mare did not show any of the usual signs at first, that is she was never lame. We did treat it but she lost weight in the process.
          Good luck, hope you figure it out soon

          Hell hath no fury like the chestnut thoroughbred mare


          • Original Poster

            Originally posted by touchadream View Post
            Even if your horse tests negative it does not mean he does not have it. My horse tested negative and he has cushings.
            I was really thinking Cushing's too, but the vet seemed to think the test was a pretty definitive rule out. Did you diagnose it by starting pergolide despite the negative test results and seeing a result?


            • #7
              Have you had his thyroid checked?


              • #8
                Did you run any other blood work other then mentioned above?

                What region of the country do you live in? Wet or dry climate?

                What pasture plants present? High clover or weed population? Fescue or perennial ryegrass present? And was pasture mowed during summer?

                SBrentnall asks a good question I had a horse that was not Cush but did have a thyroid issues. His problems were complicated by other health issues assoc'ed with age and it did take us some time to pin it down.


                • #9
                  I had a normally plump aged Morgan lose weight dramatically with the onset of a heart condition.

                  I do hope you and your veterinarian are going to be able to figure out what is going on with your horse.


                  • #10
                    Does the horse have a healthy appetite?

                    Have you had his teeth attended to by someone who uses a speculum and can reach the back of the mouth? A friend has a horse who has dropped a lot of weight, they had the vet out and the vet asked when the horse's teeth were done. Friend said just recently by the farrier. Vet looked, and farrier did a terrible job, horse was unable to properly chew and digest his food. Here friend was thinking "it can't be the teeth I just had them done" but it turns out it was the reason. If the horse drops food or quids at all, I'd question the teeth even if recently done. The drooling is a red flag too.

                    Can you test your hay? I have discovered with my own geriatric that he maintains weight best on quality hay. A few years ago, my oldster was loosing topline and starting to look like a cow. I tried feeding him supplements, tri ammino, high protein feeds, to get some bloom back on him and nothing worked. The hay I was buying was GORGEOUS and I never would have guessed it was very low quality until I tested it. It looked for all the world like premium hay. Turned out it was really low protein, really low RFV. I found some high quality hay (which didn't look or smell nearly as nice as the crap hay) and my oldster bounced right back. Now he needs no supplements and I am struggling to keep him from getting too porky. Turns out, I can pump him full of all the grains and supplements I want but he does best by far when his protein source comes from hay, not a bag.

                    My morgan also will not touch Sandclear. The two times I made him eat it he acted colicy an hour later. To my recollection, flax seeds, ground or whole, congeal and act like Sandclear. They are packed with goodies too, and my horses dapple on them.
                    Being terrible at something is the first step to being truly great at it. Struggle is the evidence of progress.


                    • #11
                      I use 1 cup of pelleted rice bran twice per day along with Ultiuum for two of mine who tend towards the thinner side. Both of them seem to forget to eat when it's hot - this summer I had to bring them in from pasture for alfalfa in to make sure they were eating enough.


                      • Original Poster

                        Thank you, everyone, for your feedback.

                        The only blood work we've done so far is to test for Cushing's and Lyme. The vet is coming back out to draw to check vit E and selenium deficiency, as well as a CBC/Chem.

                        Those of you that had horses with thyroid issues, were they hypo or hyper thyroid? From what I can tell thyroid problems in horses are usually caused by insufficent thyroxin production (hypo) which causes weight gain, and hyperthyroid (which causes weight loss) is fairly rare in horses, but I am certainly going to talk to the vet about adding the test on anyway.

                        It definitely isn't his teeth. He is floated by the vet under sedation with a speculum so I trust that they are in good shape. I have also watched him eat and he is getting every last drop of the food put in front of him. In fact, his appetite is better than ever before.

                        Maunder, what diagnostics were done to figure out your horse had a heart condition?

                        DTaylor, we are in New England. We had a very wet summer and fall. I am not sure what the pasture consists of (I board and never thought to ask). It appears to have some areas of high clover. There is a stream that runs through the pasture and the areas surrounding that have somewhat marshy grasses. The bulk of it just looks like normal grass to me (I know, not helpful). The pasture was not mowed. They are out with a few cows and the pasture has maintained at a couple inches of growth. Also, just as a side note, the other horses at the farm look fine.

                        As for the hay, I can talk to the barn owners about having it tested. I wish we used Poulin grain since they will test it for you!


                        • #13
                          We put my horse on pergolide and the symptoms slowly went away. My vets has seen many horses that don't test positive for it and respond to the medicine. My horse is now on the FDA approved medicine Prascend and I think that works even better.


                          • #14
                            My horse was hypo thyroid. He lost some muscle 1st. He was flabby but not a pasture puff by any means. His blood work all came back normal. Most frustrating was he would pass wetter stool frequently. But never seemed to suffer colic nor GI issues. Other than that he seemed to be aging a bit early and the wettish stool at times really the only other thing I can say is he seemed not to take the cold well anymore.

                            Later due to other health issues he started to drop weight. It was frustrating. The horse was NQR and yet not in bad shape either. Have to say he had the best hair coat of anyone in the barn. Shinny and sleek for summer. He grew a fine winter coat and it shed well each spring.

                            It was my cow vet that suggested I just try him on Thyro-L and see. He said sometimes blood levels earlier in the disease were not that reliable and they could swing back and forth....suggested with his previous blood work ( I think I had had it done 2x before)that we may just not catching it at the right time. That was a number of years ago but as I recall he did pull blood that day when he was here and ordered some Thyro-L in.

                            I had already started the horse on Thyro-L by the time blood work was back. Interesting within 3 days of starting it the wettish stool greatly improved. He seemed a bit more himself and did not seem to take cold weather so harshly. My horse vet told me that the wettish stools improving that quickly had nothing to do with Thyro-L. But if I took the horse off Thyro-L wet stools returned within a week.

                            He had some other health issues going on assoc'ed with just plain getting older so it was not easy to unravel the mystery. But he lived to his 30th yr so we must have done something right.

                            Some say thyroid issues in horses occur only in tandem with other metabolic issues such as Cush or IR. My horse was neither of these so I kinda think the statement should be ammended to uncommon cuz I do believe my horse had late onset hypothryroidism.


                            • #15
                              also test stomache enzyme levels, which impact absorption levels of food and digestion efficiency
                              Appy Trails,
                              Kathy, Cadet & CCS Silinde
                              member VADANoVA www.vadanova.org


                              • #16
                                I had an aged TB mare who was very difficult to keep condition on, and she had an inflammatory problem with her gut, and was losing protein through the gut wall. Her serum albumin was quite low. We started her on oral MSM, and her protein levels improved. We removed the MSM and the protein level fell again, back on MSM back up. It worked great for her!


                                • Original Poster

                                  Update...he passed away last night

                                  The vet was supposed to come out today to run the additional diagnostics.

                                  Last night I got a call from the barn that he had not eaten his dinner so I quickly came out to the barn. He seemed sleepy and uninterested in hay. I temped him (in the normal range, but a little high for him) and called the vet. Gave banamine and walked him for a bit. After a few hours he passed some manure and by 9pm he was munching on some hay and looked better. I left him in a stall for the night so we could monitor his manure production overnight and then at 7am this morning I got a call from the barn that he had died in the night.

                                  He was sweaty when I went to say goodbye so I think he must have struggled. We were going to send him to the vet school for a necropsy but they said there would be nothing left of him to bury and I just couldn't bear it. After talking to the vet I think that maybe it was some sort of intestinal cancer causing his weight loss after all, and it probably contributed to the colic that killed him.

                                  I am beyond devastated. I have had him for over ten years and this pony was my heart and soul. He was kind and gentle and could be trusted even with the smallest child. Everyone who ever met him fell in love with him. He was stunningly beautiful and all charm, a total flirt.

                                  All animals loved him, my chickens and the feral cat at the barn both used to hang out on his back. Over the years he helped me through my mother's cancer and several deaths in my family, as well as the challenges of high school.

                                  He was with me through high school, college, work, graduate school, and now professional school. He was my best friend and my soul mate. We were partners and I trusted him with my life and he trusted me with his. Out on the trails he was fearless and he got me out of many tricky situations. The other day in the pasture the bull (who is generally very docile) got frustrated and came at me - my pony charged in front of me and drove him away. He was my horse of a lifetime. I often joked that I don't really like horses, I like my horse; but it is the truth and my last ride on him will likely be my last ride.

                                  I miss him so much already. This doesn't feel real. I called him "old" but he was only 17. He was a morgan, I thought I'd have another 20 years with him. My (future) children were supposed to learn to ride on him. I feel like I am not whole anymore.

                                  Thank you everyone who provided advice and support.


                                  • #18
                                    What a sad update. It does sound like there was something serious going on that led to his demise. Godspeed.
                                    McDowell Racing Stables

                                    Home Away From Home


                                    • #19
                                      Great big hugs!! I am so sorry.
                                      RIP Mydan Mydandy+
                                      RIP Barichello


                                      • #20
                                        This is so sad. You are right; something must have gone terribly wrong for him to fail and die at 17 -- young for a Morgan, I think.

                                        Remember the good times you had with him, and how lucky you were to have each other. My second Heart horse died when he was 11. I had him for only 5 years, but I treasure the memories.

                                        You did all you could for him. You could not have known he was on his way out when you left him.