Needing a Pick-Me-Up

Q. I have a 20-year-old Quarter Horse, and I have had trouble putting weight on her for the past few years. I have had her teeth done and a veterinarian has ruled out any major issues, such as cancer, system shutdown, etc. She has been vaccinated against the usual threats. Her eyes are still bright, but she has no energy. She also sleeps a lot. When I take her for a ride, she actually stops and goes to sleep. I have been supplementing her diet with a senior feed that helps maintain her weight, but it does not help her gain or give her any more energy. She also gets oats and good-quality hay, along with pasture in the summer.

Is her lack of energy due to the low weight? What are the other possible causes? Is there something else I can feed her?

Cindy, via e-mail

A. Cases of weight loss and lack of energy can be among the most frustrating to deal with because there can be so many causes. Since your veterinarian has ruled out major health issues and there aren't any other obvious problems, you're going to have to work with him or her to do some sleuthing, and perhaps proceed with a bit of trial and error.

It sounds like your mare is out with other horses a lot. That brings up the possibility that she's the low horse on the totem pole. If that is the case, she might not be getting enough time to eat, or even to rest, if the other horses are running her around.

You might try bringing her up at night, feeding her by herself, and keeping her in a stall so she's free of pushy pasturemates.

Given her age, you might also want to have her tested for equine Cushing's disease (also known as pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction--PPID). That disease can cause hormonal abnormalities that result in some of the signs that you've mentioned. However, the most common clinical sign of the disease would be a long, curly coat. the feed that she's getting; many times I see people who think that they're feeding their horse a lot, when, in fact, the

Unfortunately, research has indicated that the results of such testing might not be as accurate in the fall and winter as in the spring and summer, but it might be worth doing. If she's got a long coat you can be pretty sure that Cushing's is what she has.

You might want to try a larvicidal dose of a dewormer such as fenbendazole to see if you can eliminate any problems with immature parasites. Ask your veterinarian about the appropriate dose. And you might want to measure and weigh horse is just barely getting enough to survive!

About the Author

David Ramey, DVM

"David Ramey, DVM, is a 1983 graduate of Colorado State University. After completing an internship in equine medicine and surgery at Iowa State University, he entered private equine practice in southern California in 1984. Dr. Ramey is also a noted author and lecturer, having written for and spoken to professional and lay audiences around the world on many topics pertaining to horse health. See also"

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