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Older horse not eating well

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  • Older horse not eating well

    Sorry for the book,

    I hate to be posting this, but I need help. Our 26yr old horse is not really eating anymore. He went from attacking grain like it was about to run away to just kinda looking at it and taking a few nibbles.

    We called the vet out and she checked his teeth and floated them, she found 2 tooth fragments pulled them and one had an abscess behind it. She gave him Excede injectable antibiotics that day and he seemed to do better the next day sore but better still not eating lots but we thought that it was due to his soreness.

    She also did a fecal and pulled blood to see what we could find out. The fecal was negative but the blood showed that he needed to be dewormed again (he was done last time in Feb. w/ ivermectrin) she recommended safe-guard for 5 days in a row and he got the first dose tonight.
    He also had some unique blood results and I will post them for those that can read blood panels so just ask.

    So we have an older boy that nickers for his grain but won’t eat more than 3 bites but he will eat some apples and carrots. Also he is drinking and using his salt lick (but that is another story…) and he is trying to eat his hay but since he is losing teeth he can’t really eat it, he chews and spits it out but he is sulky if no hay so we let him try.

    Before he stopped eating he was also getting soaked beet pulp w/ molasses and soaked alfalfa cubes but since he stopped eating we haven’t be giving it b/c it was just sitting there.

    Here is the kicker, the vet was out last Thurs. so 4 days ago and he stopped eating (mostly) on Wed. So how long can he go like this, I will put him down before I will let him starve and my vet thinks there is an underlying cause and it’s not just the abscess but she isn’t sure what.

    Tomorrow I will be getting him some more Excede.

    Help, Please

  • #2
    I would give the dewormer time to work. Something else to consider is swallowing problems as opposed to chewing problems.

    It might be time for some X-rays to see if there is another abscess or chipped/cracked tooth.
    HR/MPL Clique

    "I am villifying you - for God's sake, pay attention!" - Peter O'Toole as Henry II, The Lion in Winter


    • #3
      First thing I would do is get an equine dentist to look at him if available. They can often find things that vets don't... not because vets don't know what they're doing, but the dentist specializes. Also, it could be as simple as his teeth bothering him. Try remembering how uncomfortable you were at the age of 7, trying to eat with wiggly teeth. He may do much better pulling all loose teeth.

      I'd also consider having him scoped. He could have a small ulcer in his esophagus or stomach, and the constant discomfort that occurs when he eats has turned him off.

      Does he have any history of choke? As mentioned, it could be a swallowing issue, making him nervous to swallow. Why not try a soupy bran mash for a few days and see if he will slurp that up.

      If he checks out physically, it could be as simple as he doesn't like what you're giving him. I knew a mare that woke up one morning when she was 24 and decide what she had been eating for the last 16 years wasn't good anymore. Her owner changed her complete feed to senior with some added oats and she gained at least 50 pounds overnight.

      In the meantime, while checking things out, try adding some extra omega 3's to his diet to give him extra calories in the little bit of food he does get in.

      Good luck! You have a long way to go before he starves himself to death, and unless he has some underlying terminal illness, he won't let it get that far.
      Strong promoter of READING the entire post before responding.


      • #4
        Along with the soupy bran mash, a few other 'outside the box' things you could try are make a big pot of split pea soup (minus the ham of course<G>) as I have read that horses like split peas and they are high in protein. Depending on how enthusiastic he becomes about that soup, you may be able to reintroduce the beet pulp with soup on top or stirred in. Another thing I would be inclined to try is to make a very, very thin gruel like consistency of oatmeal; you would probably want to buy bulk rolled oats if an experiment with people oatmeal in your cupboard meets with his approval. I am going on the hunch that it still hurts him to chew as his reason for losing interest in food. You are right to be concerned, he needs some ongoing nourishment. Have you already tried alfalfa pellets turned into mush with warm water added?
        Last edited by sdlbredfan; Mar. 15, 2010, 09:35 PM. Reason: add sentence
        RIP Sasha, best dog ever, pictured shortly before she died, Death either by euthanasia or natural causes is only the end of the animal inhabiting its body; I believe the spirit lives on.


        • #5
          1) probiotic--I like fast trak

          2) assume he cannot eat hay right now. Go for a senior feed (soaked) plus alfalfa cubes (soaked) plus a little oil for now.

          Offer food 3-4 times per day.

          If he really is not eating right now and nothing can convince him to, he should probably be hospitalized.

          BUT...with lots of GI stuff going on (deworming, drugs) a probiotic may turn him around.
          A good horseman doesn't have to tell anyone...the horse already knows.

          Might be a reason, never an excuse...


          • Original Poster

            For those interested here are the abnormal parts of his blood work.
            VetTest Results Normal
            ALB 3.6 g/dL 1.9-3.2
            AST 655 U/L 100-600
            GGT 90 U/L 0-87
            TBIL 9.9 mg/dL 0.0-3.5
            GLU 17 mg/dL 64-150

            VetLyte was all normal

            LaserCyte Results Normal
            HGB 2.9 g/dL 11.0-19.0
            MONO 1.66K uL 0.10-1.00
            EOS 1.03K/uL 0.10-1.00
            BASO 0.06K/uL 0.00-0.03

            in the state of NC equine dentists don't really exist
            he was hand floated which is how she found and pulled out the two broken teeth

            when he has been drinking there has not been any water out of the nose etc.

            forgot to mention that he was also put on steroids


            • Original Poster

              he has been offered the beet pulp and alfalfa mush (in nice warm water) and has been turning it down.
              He gets senior bartlett feed phase 5 and usually love it

              I hate to say it but going to a specialist or expensive diagnostics are not really an option. He has had a good 10yrs with us and we just don't have the availabe cash to thow at him, our insured 10yr old yes but not for a 26yr old.

              my vet is good but she is stumped which is why I am here.


              • #8
                Originally posted by Burbank View Post
                For those interested here are the abnormal parts of
                forgot to mention that he was also put on steroids
                HR/MPL Clique

                "I am villifying you - for God's sake, pay attention!" - Peter O'Toole as Henry II, The Lion in Winter


                • Original Poster

                  He got his 1st dose of 2mL last night.


                  • #10
                    Oh, I thought you meant it was concurrent with the the onset of symptoms.

                    Keep this updated please - I'm intrigued.
                    HR/MPL Clique

                    "I am villifying you - for God's sake, pay attention!" - Peter O'Toole as Henry II, The Lion in Winter


                    • #11
                      With the blood I would be considering ulcers either in the stomach or colon.



                      • #12
                        I'm not good at reading bloodwork numbers, but sudden refusal of grain/feed can be a sign of kidney failure, ask your vet about that also. Those should show in the BUN and Creatinine numbers.
                        There are friends and faces that may be forgotten, but there are horses that never will be. - Andy Adams


                        • #13
                          I would keep the food thing simple at this point--just the soaked alfalfa cubes and a probiotic, might want to include a ration balancer pellet in the mix to help him keep up his strength; if you stir it in the mix the horse probably won't even know it's there. Just give him a small amount, like a dozen soaked cubes or so, so he's more likely to finish it.

                          You should try to get him to eat something as soon as possible. If he eats apples and/or carrots I would put one or the other in each meal for variety. Not eating can lead to serious problems! Instead of long stemmed hay you might try getting a bag of Triple Crown Grass Forage instead; the hay is chopped and is the right length to provide the "scratch factor" horses need to keep their insides moving.

                          The steroids should jump start his appetite, right?

                          Not much else to offer, sorry.
                          "None of us can move forward if half of us are being held back." ~Anonymous~


                          • Original Poster

                            Last night he ate some carrots and apples, and had a bite or two of the grain (with some molassas on top...)
                            He ignored his beet pulp and alfalfa slush (very watery)

                            This morning he still had a good bit of gain in his bucket but did have an apple and a few carrots but not as many as last night.

                            Since he is still loving on his salt block I think we will take it away but give him some electolytes in his grain and try that.

                            Tonight he will get more dewormer (safe guard) and another 2mL of steroids.

                            Since he is trying so hard to eat his hay I think we will get him some chopped forage. I know he can't "eat" the hay which is why he gets the soaked cubes and pulp but man he sulks when he has no hay to nose.

                            He had licked down a plain salt block (4lb) in about a week but his Na levels were normal in the blood panel.


                            • Original Poster

                              Oh he is still drinking fine and does nicker when he sees you with food but then...


                              • #16
                                Where are you in NC? It really sounds to me like his teeth are a pretty likely culprit, or something internal. I have a vet who specializes in dentistry and is pretty amazing. I would definitely try a mush of alfalfa cubes or pellets. Actually, at this point, I would try anything--although his onset makes it seem more like a physical problem, I have seen older horses lose their appetite for some reason and then just have trouble getting it back even after the problem is resolved. You're at the point where you're going to need to intervene or euthanize pretty quickly, so I would offer him sweet feed, alfalfa cubes, whatever he might be interested in. I use the bagged chopped forage for my old guy as he also has trouble chewing hay these days, so maybe that would tempt him into eating?

                                And I just have to say - if you can't get him eating, sad as it is, it may just be his time. It really is very possible at his age that his systems are just failing. I have old horses, and I try to balance very carefully doing right by them without spending insane amounts of money just to give them more time (I don't do it well, they're 32 and 34, but I try ). My 34 year old is happy and healthy, and I have no regrets about anything I've done for him, but I do look back sometimes and question whether I should have just let him go years ago during one of his various maladies. If he has something major going on, it may be kinder to just let him go before he gets worse. Probably not what you want to hear, and I sincerely hope that you find an answer for him before it comes to that, but if it does, know that he clearly has had a good long life.


                                • #17
                                  Is he on pasture? If not, can you hand-graze him so he's got something in his belly?

                                  Best wishes for him- I hope things can be sorted out soon.
                                  Sarah K. Andrew | Twitter | Blog | Horses & Hope calendar | Flickr | Instagram


                                  • Original Poster

                                    He is on turnout during the day but no grass out there so will hand graze him tonight when I get home.

                                    Pookah, we are in Brevard NC which is a little south of Asheville.
                                    His teeth were terrible when floated and he seemed much better once the abcessed tooth fragment was pulled ( he had 2 fragments but only one abcess) but he has not come around like we had hoped.

                                    My husband and I have been discussing what to for the big "in case" since we have 2 horses at our house and we weren't planning on getting another once burbank is gone. My husband just doesn't have the time to ride so why have two horses when only one is ridden.

                                    Burbank has a few thigs stacked against him and we have talked about the end for a few years, like what to do etc. but with it looking like it is nearer it hurts.


                                    • #19
                                      You might consider opening a new bag of his regular grain to try. My older guy would turn up his nose at particular bags once in awhile. Just something to rule out that's quick and cheap.
                                      My herd: "That Black Mare" and the Faux Pony
                                      Proud Closet Canterer!


                                      • #20
                                        It sounds as if it could be teeth or ulcers

                                        Teeth; ask the vet to recheck his mouth, me might have another abcess or inflammation. try washing his mouth out with warm saline. and give him some painkiller.
                                        As others have suggested warm mashes might tempt him.

                                        Ulcers; get some UlcerGard the OTC version of Gastrogard, not U-Gard which is different.
                                        Give him 1/2 a tube a day for 10 days, see if that picks up his appetite. If it does it was an ulcer and you will need to treat him for it.

                                        Good Luck.
                                        Melyni (PhD) PAS, Dipl. ACAN.
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