Thursday, May 1, 2008

It ain't rocket science!

From the emails and comments left here about the recovery mare, it's pretty obvious that a lot of visitors think that what I have done so far is pretty amazing. While I enjoy the compliments (who wouldn't? lol) one of the reasons for putting this up on the web is so that other people can learn from it.

It ain't rocket science. Really, it's not. It's common sense mixed with a good bit of horse sense.

It does, however, take some understanding of the horses' digestive tract and what gets digested where. It takes a basic understanding of balancing nutrients-not too much protien or sugars or phosphorous or calcium or vit/min. Its understanding what you are feeding and how they work together as a whole (or not) and most importantly, feed management. And patience.

When I read or hear of folks bragging that they picked up a horse who was 3, 4, or 500 pounds underweight, I just mentally roll my eyeballs at these claims. Just 200 pounds off a medium sized horse is one approaching the threshhold of too far gone to recover. Add in underlying medical conditions and it can really be touch and go, even with the best of interventions.

This particular horse is recovering so well simply because she was young-and had not been starved enough to seriously damage her liver or kidney function. Another week and it likely would have been a different outcome altogether-if she made it that far. Once liver function becomes an issue, it's very questionable whether the horse can be saved without an extensive stay in a vet clinic. This mare was lucky!

Statistically, a horse who is a condition score 1 on the Henneke Condition Scoring scale, has a very slim chance of surviving. By that point, their liver and kidneys have serious damage that usually cannot be reversed. Many times, they are on the verge of laying down to die, is not actually down with only autonomous functions present. (At a criminal horse abuse seminar I took years ago, I was told that only about one in ten horses survive a CS1, although that percentage is rising due to continuing dietary research) Once in a while, a horse that is a 2, will also just matter what heroics are attempted. Often, this happens a week or ten days into recovery when they suddenly crash.

Then I hear about folks who emphatically state that recovery takes six months or a year.

Sigh. Not hardly likely!

First, rule out major underlying physical issues. This requires a vet, who is experienced with horses, and who knows a little something about recovery. Not all do, but I am happy to say that the vets here are great with this. Second, design a recovery diet and increase slowly over ten days. Your first instinct is going to be shove hay and grain at them-which is absolutely the wrong approach in most cases. Third, feed more often than is the norm. With some, this might be carefully weighed portions every three or four hours, around the clock. As the horse gains strength and digestive function, you increase the quantity fed to a point where you are feeding for optimum healthy weight, plus at least 15 to 20%. If you increase the amount fed too quickly or it is not balanced, you run the very real risk of colic, laminitis, etc.

When in doubt, and without prompt veterinary attention, it is probably safe to feed a few pounds of good alfalfa hay four times a day and supplying the horse with clean, low protien hay 24/7.

It is very important to pony up the bucks for a veterinarian right away. Get a blood panel done asap!

Weigh everything! Unless you have years weighing hay under your belt, you need a scale to be accurate. Vitals should be checked at every feeding, without fail. High and low gut sounds, CR (capillary refill), gum color checked, hydration, temperature if indicated, pulse and respiration, digital pulse checked. Alfalfa not only provides good nutrition, the calcium it contains can buffer the ulcerative conditions present in most starvation cases. Probiotics are your best friend. Start immediately with that. If you can find a prebiotic to feed the probiotic, even better! (This is not available here in the Valley to my knowledge) If you can't find either, plain yogurt can be substituted, up to four cups a day. Caloric requirements are huge, but need to be supplied in the most beneficial, efficient way. High sugar concentrates are generally not a great idea, but the recovery should include some form of fat supplementation. This can be the ration itself (Amplify, numerous others) vegetable oil, flax seed and/or BOSS, for example. If the horse has a dental condition which precludes hay, then using alfalfa cubes is better than pellets. The longer strands in the cubes is necessary for healthy gut function as horses are grazing animals. And yes, this means soaking them for every meal.

And for heaven's sakes, get help. Ask around to your horsey friends and find someone to mentor you through the recovery. Up here, Alaska Equine Rescue is always ready to help, just call the 800 number. Take the vet's recommendations and stick to them-but be ready to call if you need a consultation too. Do not worm the horse without veterinary attention. Deworming using the wrong product at the wrong time can cause a massive die off-and kill the horse. Leave the feet alone until the horse is stronger unless there is an impelling reason, then start with frequent trims to rectify problems.

Again, remember that as a horse loses from the outside to the inside, they gain from inside to outside. It can take two weeks to see appreciable gain, but don't give up and go hog wild on the feeding. The horse is a pretty complicated critter on the inside and it takes some time for those organs to regain proper function. But have patience-if you are lucky, and have a great vet and the right diet supplied, full recovery is possible!

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