Thursday, June 26, 2008

"A horse is worth more than riches."

A horse is worth more than riches.

--Spanish proverb

I awoke with another headache this morning. Third day in a row. Another night full of uneasy dreams.

The vet saw Limerick yesterday morning; the appointment was at 7:30am but she arrived at 7:50. By then, I was tense with anxiety; I had to go home at 9 to prepare for a second job interview at 9:30. Yes, another one--this one holds the most promise. (after note: It went well!)

It was raining hard; I sat at the end of the upper barn, facing the driveway, and waited for her headlights.

When she arrived, I knew what I wanted to say. We stood in the doorway of the middle barn, where Limerick is, just barely out of the rain. A black barn cat walked around us, looking up, waiting to be pet.

"I want to talk about Limerick colicking first," I said. "I think that this, and the fact that she is thin and won't gain weight past a certain point, is cause for concern."

The vet nodded her agreement. I went over the details of the colic episode on Monday, being sure to state key details such as the relative quietness of her right dorsal quadrant, the heightened breathing and flared nostrils, and her disinterest in food. I also noted that all other vital signs were normal.

"It really scares me that she's colicking, and I want to find out what's going on," I said. The vet nodded.

"I know it's scary, and I agree with you," she said.

"Do you think it's possible she has an enterolith?" I asked.

I have been researching enteroliths over the past couple days. Enteroliths are stones composed of minerals in the horse's abdomen. They form around inorganic material, or material that will not dissolve within the acid of the gut. Examples include sand, a pebble and a piece of nylon baling twine. Enteroliths can be small and easily passed by the horse, or they can be as big as grapefruit. They are much more common in the western United States but they are not unheard of here; I recall a school horse named Bentley that had a large enterolith, and a friend believes one of her horses may have passed due to complications from enteroliths. Enteroliths can shift around and cause partial blockages, and therefore colic, then shift back into place and the horse is better.

Symptoms of enteroliths include mild recurring colic, weight loss/thinness, lethargy, and crankiness or reluctance to work. Symptoms of enteroliths may become worse if the horse is not exercised.

The idea came into my head when I texted my friend that Limerick was colicking on Monday.

"You may want to have a trailer ready for her, in case it is a stone," she said. A stone? As soon as I got home that night, I Googled "stone in horse gut".

The symptoms "recurring colic" and "thinness" jumped out at me. For months, I have been struggling to put weight on Limerick. But no matter how much she consumes, at her plumpest her ribs still show, and any slight deviation from her normal routine and well-being means a dramatic weight loss.

I also noted lethargy and reluctance to work. Even after her arthritis was treated and she was sound, Limerick would have many days where she did not want to work under saddle. On those days, I would have easy rides, or simply get off. Granted, she also had many days where she was full of energy and ready to go; she would trot around the arena like a Standardbred once she had warmed up.

She can also be quiet to the point of dozing off on the cross ties. I attribute this in part to her mental happiness at the new barn; she loves the environment and for the first time in her horsey life, she has plenty of equine friends. I have also developed a strong bond with her, and every touch I make is gentle and sensitive to her feminine self. As a result, I can make her fall asleep with a hand on her neck, and if she is agitated or worried, I can quiet her by holding her head and sending calm vibes to her.

But still, it's something to consider.

Alfalfa hay can cause enteroliths to form and grow. At our previous barn, Limerick only consumed grass hay. I have yet to see hay composed only of grass at the new barn; in fact, the current hay is a 50/50 mix of alfalfa and grass.

And last but not least, I abruptly stop riding her a little over a month ago because she goes lame, and she colics twice?

"Yes, that is a possibility," the vet said. "There are a number of things that could be going on here. An enterolith, as you said, or perhaps an intestinal tear or loop, or even something pressing against her digestive system from within. It could be gas but that won't necessarily cause weight loss."

She paused.

"Hmm, it could be a bladder stone, as well, sometimes they cause colic-like symptoms, or a cyst on her ovary."

I noted how I had seen Limerick squat to pee, then remain in the squat long after she was done urinating, then promptly laying down on Monday. I thought at the time that it was unusual, but since I have seen her urinate a few hundred times and she had never done that before, I didn't put too much thought into it.

"Well, it wouldn't hurt to get her bladder checked, then," my vet said. "How are her heat cycles?"

"She goes into heat but she is not cranky or aggressive. When she was young, she was miserable to be around when she was in heat but that is no longer the case. These days, she will flirt with the geldings and be a little distracted while riding but nothing more," I said.

The vet said that ovarian cysts can cause dramatic personality changes in mares, which I already knew. But just the same, it wouldn't hurt to check.

In short, we decided that Limerick should be taken to Morrie Waud Equine Center for a thorough checkup. I went to Morrie Waud in February for Limerick's endoscopy. Three different vets took a look at her, and all were extremely nice and helpful. I know she will be in good hands there. Limerick will have the following done: abdominal radiograph, abdominal ultrasound, bladder ultrasound, rectal exam for enteroliths, ovarian cysts, and other foreign masses, a belly tap, another endoscopy, a complete CBC/chem panel on her blood, and all of her teeth thoroughly inspected.

Our attention was then turned to her lameness.

The vet applied the hoof tester to all four feet; she was sore in the toe on all four. I lunged Limerick for the vet and she watched carefully as Lim trotted in slow circles, reluctant to move. The vet then did a variety of flexion tests. Limerick was lame on her lower fronts, along the pastern, and her hocks and left stifle (I had the latter three injected for arthritis in February).

The vet then wanted to radiograph all four of Limerick's feet.

Unfortunately, by then I had to leave to get ready for my job interview. I hated leaving Limerick like that but the realization that I had several large vet bills coming my way prompted me to get going.

I found out later that Limerick has slight further rotation in her left fore. The vet thinks she has mild laminitis, and pedal osteitis (inflammation of the coffin/pedal bone, or distal phalanx) on the other feet. Why? From what the vet told me, and my own guess, a) her previous shoes were putting too much pressure on the toes of her front feet; b) constantly stomping her legs for flies, and c) the laminitis may have been brought on, in part or fully, by the colic episodes. Colic causes bacterial die-off in the gut, which in turn sends toxins to the feet. Remember my grass biology lesson of several posts ago? Like that, but take away the grass completely.

Laminitis, inflammation, and something going on within her abdomen--it was too much for me to take. During the vet's visit, I had to try hard to keep my composure. I felt the urge to break into tears with every word she or I said, every lame step Limerick took, every look into Limerick's soft brown eyes. I have never before felt this way during an entire vet visit.

I managed to compose myself throughout the interview, but later when my husband told me the vet suspected laminitis due to further rotation as shown on the radiographs, I could do nothing but cry. Was this the beginning of the end? When told Limerick had to be on stall rest, I cried some more. Stall rest is bad news for colicky horses.

And last, but not least, Limerick was confirmed for Morrie Waud on Tuesday.

I went back to the barn to bring Limerick inside. She was outside in the pasture with her boyfriend and buddies, grazing muzzle in place, nose buried into the grass without a care in the world, just another flicking tail among many.

With heavy heart, I grabbed her lead shank and walked onto the pasture. It was to be her last day outside for a while, and a grim part of me wondered if it was her last day outside...ever.

I think, no, I know, she sensed this. Limerick and Nick would not let me near them; each time I got close, they would fling their bay heads into the air and gallop away, the wind from their flying tails swirling the entire herd. I would wait for everyone to settle down then try again. Same result each time. Finally, I decided that all the running was doing her more harm than another three hours of laid-back turnout and left.

Let her enjoy her freedom, let her be a horse, I thought.

I found the barn guy and explained to him that Limerick needed isoxusprine, and told him how many tablets and when. I told him she couldn't be turned out and why. Then I burst into tears. Feeling embarrassed by my sudden display of raw emotion, I apologized and left.

Peaceful voice when he neighs.
I am Everlasting and Peaceful.
I stand for my horse.

No comments: