Thursday, February 5, 2009

It might be minor, but assume its major.

There is a theory that horses are more prone to colic in winter. Another says that colic is more likely during dramatic changes in weather. Yet a third implies that elderly horses are more likely to colic than younger horses. Put all those theories together and we should have had a disastrous winter so far. Fortunately, that is not the case. {{tap, tap, tap on wood}}

Yesterday morning, however, we did have a minor episode with Fred Astaire, or Freddie to his friends (and sometimes “Fernando!” on the days he feels the need to display his tail-in-the-air floating gaits.)

Freddie seemed perfectly fine Tuesday night at the 10PM feeding. He finished his senior mash, made a snake-face at Britches, and went off to munch on the night’s hay ration. Normal bedtime routine. At 6AM Wednesday, nothing seemed amiss. The early morning hay snack was welcomed with nickers, though in hindsight perhaps Freddie didn’t eat with his usual enthusiasm.

At 8AM, Freddie was not at his assigned breakfast station. That was not terribly alarming since, every now and then, he makes an attempt to usurp Britches’ position in the breakfast line-up. What was alarming, however, was his reaction when he walked around to his regular position. Freddie looked in his dish and walked away! This is a horse that has never refused a morsel of food in the three and one half years we’ve known him.

After the rest of the herd was fed, another check on Freddie found him standing several yards away from his full breakfast dish, looking just a little “off.” He stood with his head low, eyes squinting. Then he made one small circle, acted as though he might lie down, but resumed his previous stance instead.

That was it. Time to call the vet clinic. Colic is one thing we do not fool around with when it comes to elders. While some colic episodes can resolve themselves, we’d rather have a vet evaluate early. The clinic’s office manager let us know a doctor would be out in about half an hour. We used that time to put Freddie in a small clean paddock so we would know at a glance if he passed any manure, and filled a bucket with warm water in case the vet needed to “tube” him. During this time, Freddie pawed the ground a few times, something he does not normally do and another possible expression of pain.

Upon arrival, Doc B performed a general exam, noting the Freddie’s color was good, his heart rate was normal, he had good gut sounds, and he had no fever. A rectal exam, though, revealed some “doughy” feces in one area of his colon, near the pelvic flexure (where the colon makes a 180-degree turn,) rather than well-formed fecal balls. This might be the problem.

After administering a little sedative and a dose of banamine, Doc inserted a NG tube, first to ensure Freddie had no reflux, though there did seem to be excess gas, then to direct some “maglox” (generic version of Maalox) directly into his stomach. Freddie immediately perked up. Then came the hard part. The waiting. Horses cannot vomit or belch so if things can’t move from front to back, they can’t move at all. Horse owners may be the only people on the planet that pray for poop. Meanwhile, Freddie could not have anything to eat. If there was an impaction, adding more food would make things worse.

Finally, at 5PM on the dot, a beautiful pile of meadow muffins appeared. One portion of the pile appeared softer than normal and was a large sticky ball compared to the normal size and texture. There it was - the “doughy” feces Doc B felt earlier in the day. Another pile at 11PM looked almost normal, but again with a few “doughy” looking, but smaller, balls.

As of this morning, all seems well. Freddie ate a small breakfast with gusto and munched some hay as dessert. Now dozing in the sun, he has no idea how badly he scared us yesterday.

The moral to Freddie’s story is: Know the signs of Colic (pawing the ground, laying down and getting up repeatedly, thrashing or rolling, biting or kicking at the flank, etc.) Perhaps more importantly, know what is normal for YOUR horse. Freddie did not exhibit what might be called “classic” signs of colic, yet he was brewing a potentially urgent condition. If you suspect colic, early veterinary evaluation may mean the difference between a simple resolution and a prolonged, complicated treatment. It may even mean the difference between life and death.

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