As a Phat Cat (sounds like “fat cat”, but it’s way more cool!) fitness will, of course, be my least favorite topic covered in the Senior series. Cushing’s disease is intellectually interesting (especially since cats rarely suffer from it), and nutrition holds a special place in my stomach, um, I mean heart. However, my humans sneak exercise into my life to help my physique stay panther-like. The humans say exercise is a key component to a long, happy life. So, let’s discuss exercise and your Super Senior.
How are you doing?
Step one will be a good exam by one of my amazing Docs. As horses (and humans and cats) age, they collect injuries. Some of these are big, some are small, but they all add up over time. Also, you see your horse every day. You may not notice a slow change somewhere. A fresh set of eyes will help you come up with the ideal plan for your Super Senior.
A little help from my friends
Your horse may start every ride stiff, there may even be a little limping going on. Let’s be honest, you don’t leap out of bed in the morning as quickly as you used to either! The exam my Docs just performed may highlight areas that could use a little pharmaceutical assistance to get things back on the right track. Joint injections are the most common help Super Seniors appreciate. A little arthritis can stiffen up a joint to the point where movement becomes painful. My Docs put a little bit of steroid to fight off inflammation, and hyaluronic acid as a lubricant into these joints, and miracles happen. Horses who were having trouble moving can go back to a comfortable life as a performance horse. Some horses simply get systemic anti-inflammatories, like Bute, to help them stay comfortable.
A whole lot of a little
The exam and the help from joint injections or anti-inflammatories is all to help you design the best exercise program for your Super Senior. Seniors need to do a whole lot of fitness work. I remember when I was a kitten; it seemed I could stay in shape just by getting up in the morning. Now, should I want to be fit, I would have to do a lot more work! This is one of the many joys of growing older. Our horses suffer the same fate. Fitness programs should be designed to be low impact, but long duration. Trail riding works great for this purpose. There’s nothing like a good walk and jog up and down hills to get you fit without realizing it.
Words of warning here: Seniors don’t take prolonged vacations well. Letting your senior get soft will make it really hard to get them back fit.
Listen to what they’re saying
The most important thing to remember about any fitness work is to check in with your horse. If you are adding a new skill, try it 4-5 times or for about 3-5 minutes the first day, then quit. If your horse is really sore the next day, don’t drill harder on that new skill. Skip a day then go back. Plan on slowly increasing the workload. With Seniors, it’s important to watch for aggravations of old injuries, the appearance of new swelling, and explore any reluctance to perform a well established task.
Ok I survived this little chat about fitness. Want to know even more? Come to our Super Senior Seminar TOMORROW April 19th, 2017 at 6:30pm at the Clinic! If you come early, I might even let you take a selfie with me for your Facebook wall.
Is your older horse taking longer to shed out than usual this spring? Is it getting harder to keep weight on the old man? Has your retiree had more than one hoof abscess in the last year? If so, you may be dealing with PPID, better known as Cushing’s Disease. Read on to learn more about PPID from this wise old cat!
What is PPID?
PPID stands for Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction, which is the technical term for Cushing’s disease in horses. In the most basic sense, PPID is a brain tumor. The brain actually has a very intricate system of glands that produce hormones which stimulate additional glands to produce other hormones that control functions elsewhere in the body. When one of these glands (the Pituitary) in the horse’s brain goes AWOL, you have Cushing’s disease.
The tumor growing on the pituitary gland is called an adenoma. This tumor applies pressure to the gland as it grows, causing over-production of its hormones (namely, adrenocorticotropic hormone, or ACTH). The clinical signs of Cushing’s disease in horses are all a result of too much ACTH in circulation. Time for a nap break…all of these letters are giving this cat a headache!
What are the signs of PPID?
Cushing’s disease can lead to a bunch of problems. For one, overproduction of ACTH can confound the whole winter-coat-growing system, so your horse winds up with long, curly hair in the hottest summer months. Failure to shed out completely or in a timely manner is the most well-known sign of Cushing’s disease. However, now that we know early treatment seems to slow the progression of the disease, our efforts are aimed at diagnosing the disease earlier, using more subtle signs.
In the early stages of the disease, PPID can cause lethargy, muscle wasting, regional fat deposits, recurrent infections, increased water consumption, and increased urination. The most worrisome side effect of Cushing’s disease is chronic laminitis. There is no known cure for laminitis, and it can even be life-threatening in horses with PPID. And that’s bad, because horses have 8 fewer lives than us cats.
Pony with Equine Cushings Disease
How do I know if my horse has PPID?
Since the early signs of the disease can be subtle, our docs recommend annual testing for Cushing’s disease on any horse over 10 years of age. First the docs will draw blood, then it goes on a trip to Cornell University where they test the ACTH levels. Then, the doctors will compare your horse’s ACTH levels to the normal range for a horse during that time of year.
Considering your horse’s test results and clinical signs, your vet may recommend daily medication to treat PPID. Luckily, the folks at Boehringer Ingelheim have come up with a great medicine called Prascend that is easy to give, and works really well too! Just one tablet a day mixed in with grain is a sufficient dose for most horses. I’ve heard it tastes better than the cheese-flavored medicine the humans squirt in my mouth every day.
Conveniently, I have an event coming up here next week at Springhill Equine on Wednesday April 19th at 6:30pm, where you can learn all you ever wanted to know about PPID and other senior horse problems! Some of my favorite people from Boehringer Ingelheim will be there to answer any questions you may have, and best of all there will be food! Oh, and a chance to win a free ACTH test for your horse. You may think that is even better than food, but that’s where we will have to agree to disagree………
See you there!
Garbage in, garbage out, or so I hear from the humans. Here I sit munching on a nice grasshopper. They have a great flavor; I recommend you try them, especially roasted with a bit of salt and pepper! Great nutritional choices like this are what keep this cat in top physical condition. Senior feeding strategies for your horse will keep them running at peak performance, too.
You sang it, didn’t you? I know I did. Then I had images of the movie Shrek play through my head. OK, back on track. You have made wise decisions for your horse’s diet (your own, not so much) and things have been going great. However, as horses get older, their diet needs change, and those changes are very different from the ones humans experience. Doing a very thorough evaluation of body condition score, muscle quality, and diet should be done at least every six months on every horse. (Need help? My minion, Beth, has tons of nutrition experience and can help you formulate a custom plan. In fact, Wellness Plans include this!) If you notice topline shrinking, maybe the ribs are a little easier (or harder) to find, or eating is taking a long time, it may be time to adjust the diet.
Protein, Protein, Protein
You’ve been monitoring your horse’s condition, and have noticed the muscles on the topline are slowly fading away. Maybe there are fat pads cropping up by the top of the tail and behind the shoulder blades. It’s just plain harder to maintain condition. Protein is the answer. Well, part of the answer, anyway.
We have been well trained not to increase protein for older people and animals, but, as usual, horses are weird. It’s important to remember that basic diets for horses are pretty low in protein, usually around 10-12%, versus cat diets which hover around 30-32% protein. This means adding protein to equine diets is a relative thing. The easiest way to add protein is with a ration balancer. Just about every major feed company makes a ration balancer. Enrich Plus, Triple Crown 30, Equalizer, and Empower Balance are all examples of ration balancers. Adding a pound or two of one of these to every feeding is often all the older guys need.
When do I switch to Senior Feed?
Maybe never. While 15 years old is our guideline for Super Senior, it’s just that: a guideline. Dr. Lacher’s 27 year old horse is still on a “regular” feed, SafeChoice Maintenance. Full on Senior concentrates are best suited for horses with very bad teeth. These diets are designed to meet all the nutritional needs of a horse: grain, roughage, vitamins, and minerals. Most of our Seniors have pretty good teeth which means they can get loads of nutrition from hay. As long as your Super Senior is doing well on a regular diet, there’s no need to switch to senior feed.
If not Senior feed, then what?
Okay, you’re having some trouble maintaining topline, but there’s also some fat pads creeping up beside your horse’s tailhead, and you currently feed SafeChoice Maintenance and coastal hay, along with 4-5 pounds of alfalfa hay. Oh, and your horse just turned 17 years old. You ride 3-5 days every week and would put yourself in the moderately in-shape category. Now what?
There’s loads of options out there, but a little tweaking will go a long way here. First, let’s increase the quality and quantity of protein. Dropping back on the amount of SafeChoice Maintenance and adding Empower Balance will increase protein while decreasing calories overall. Trying this simple change for 30 days, while monitoring body condition, may be all the adjusting that’s needed. However, if you aren’t satisfied after 30 days, we can tweak the hay choices, or even switch concentrates all together. My point is: You’ve got options and I’ve got minions to help you with those options.
Want even more information? Want my pawtograph? Come out to the Super Senior Seminar April 19th, 2017 at 6:30pm!
See you there!
Blessed be the old farts. Around here there is a kind of reverence for the older horse. I will admit to jealousy. It’s not pretty, I know, but it’s real. I mean, I’m a cat. I deserve all the reverence around here. In an effort to explore the causes for this misguided worship I talked with my minions, I mean humans, about the phenomenon.
Turns out all my humans went with something along the lines of enjoying their horses, learning from them, and feeling appreciative of all the horses gave to them during their athletic careers. The humans said they wanted to make sure their horses had wonderful retirements since they had earned it. I was a little confused by the “earned it” thing, since I don’t need to earn anything, but I digress.
What messes up a horse’s retirement?
Do they golf? Do they play Canasta and Bridge? Apparently no. They wander around a field and eat. This is a typical day for me if you substitute ‘Clinic’ for ‘field’, so not sure if I’m retired already or how that works. Anyway, dental issues, lameness, and not feeling so hot are the biggies that interfere with retirees’ ability to wander around and eat.
Let’s start with dental issues. Horses are this really weird thing called an hypsodont. It means they have a whole lot of tooth when they are young, which they wear down to nothing over their lifetime. The super cool thing is you humans are doing such a good job taking care of your horses that they now outlive their teeth. Sure. that sounds scary, but with good nutrition it’s not a problem. What it does mean is that you may notice your horse not wanting to eat. You humans do a pretty darn good job knowing your horses. When Tiny backs off on feed, don’t worry that we are going to think you’re crazy. We won’t! We do the exact same thing! What we are going to do is schedule an appointment for one of our Docs to come take a look in Tiny’s mouth. They might find some teeth that need to be adjusted a little bit or potentially extracted.
Moving on to lameness. This one I identify with. I have jumped down from high places one too many times and I’m starting to develop a bit of arthritis in my right front paw. Life catches up with us all. All those daring feats of athleticism we displayed in our younger years show up as aches and pain in our later years. Laminitis (same as founder) may rear its ugly head as well. Once again the signs can be subtle, and you, the awesome human, may notice Flicka is in a different corner of the pasture than normal. Once again, we won’t think you’re crazy when you tell us this. We do the exact same thing! In this case our Docs are going to evaluate feet, legs, and the musculoskeletal system in general to identify a cause for the lameness. If it’s arthritis, they will often recommend NSAIDs (horse aspirin) like bute or Equioxx, and movement, even in small amounts. If it’s laminitis, a test for Cushings is almost always called for. This is a test even a dog could pass! It’s just a blood draw. They also get on the phone with the farrier to make sure your horse’s entire team has the information they need.
When all of it goes wrong
Next there’s the “not feeling so hot”. Again, when you call to say Mister isn’t right, but you can’t put your finger on it, we will be nodding our heads. We know that feeling! This one is a little tougher. Our Docs will put on their detective hats and start the investigation with you. They won’t start with you because you are the prime suspect, they will start with you because you are the best source of information. You know your horse. You know if Mister ate and drank normally, and has he been sleeping normally? Rolling over? Is he in the same place in the herd hierarchy? Next they will take your information, combine it with a good physical exam, and determine a course of action. Usually, this involves some blood tests (remember they’re so easy a dog can pass them), along with an ultrasound of the chest and abdomen. Only thing difficult about an ultrasound is the cold alcohol they put on your skin. Based on these easy, peasy tests, our Docs will help you map out the best treatment options. Lots of times these tests turn up Cushings disease. Cushings is an endocrine disease which messes with every system there is to mess with. Good news though: one small pink pill daily is the treatment. And if you schedule an appointment by the end of the week, our monthly special is $10 off this blood test!
Horses are like fine wine, they only grow better with age. Totally patronizing the humans there, they told me to write that. Anyway, let your horse live long and prosper with a little TLC. The humans yak on a lot about Super Seniors, so this is the first in a four part Tuesdays with Tony expose. Tune in next week for part 2
We in the animal world think it’s fun to display our allergies in fun ways designed to mystify our humans. For instance, I myself suffer from allergies. My allergies manifest themselves as itchy skin. Luckily, I live at a veterinary clinic. My minions do their best to manage my allergies, but I do my best to come up with ways to avoid their treatments. Turns out cats and horses are similar in this way.
It’s not snot
Usually, horses don’t get the runny noses and itchy eyes you humans encounter. Instead, they get itchy skin, diarrhea, and sometimes coughing and wheezing, but very rarely straight up snot. Diarrhea is most often a food allergy. Itchy skin can be caused by allergies to pretty much anything: food, oak trees, sawdust, gnats, the sky, sunshine. Coughing and wheezing are more common with allergies to pollen and dust.
What are they allergic to?!?
The best way to treat allergies is to avoid the thing you’re allergic to. Right. Because it’s easy to avoid bugs and pollen in Florida. So what’s a cat to do? There are a couple of options. One is to treat the horse for allergies to anything. The other option is to identify what your horse is allergic to, then treat with a combination of allergy shots and avoidance.
Let’s talk about identifying what your horse is allergic to first. Just like they do for humans, my Docs do what’s called intradermal allergy testing. They take very small amounts of allergens, like oak pollen, and inject it under the skin. Next, they wait a few hours to see how big a bump that allergen makes on the skin. The bumps get ranked on size, and a custom allergy shot mix is made for your horse based on that.
The other option is the broad-based drug approach. This is like you humans taking benadryl or Claritin. Horses can take Claritin, too. Okay, they do better on Zyrtec, but whatever. These treatments are aimed at reducing the entire body’s allergic response, but, as you humans know, there can be side effects. The most common side effect is drowsiness. This side effect makes many of these drugs a big no-no for show horses.
Making life livable with allergies
Now that you know the options for treating allergies, let’s talk about real world management.
Allergy shots work really well for the coughing, wheezing horse. However, they do take a while (as in a year) to kick in. Allergy shots start with a low dose, then gradually increase over about 2-3 months. These shots get the body to tone down its response to allergens. This means less coughing and wheezing.
Cetirizine (the drug in Zyrtec) and dexamethasone are the most common drugs my doctors use. Cetirizine is cheap and easy to give, but again, can’t be used if you have drug testing at your shows. Dexamethasone is even easier to give, and can be used if drug testing is performed. Depending on your horse, farm, and situation, our Docs can help you design the plan that works best for you.
There is a new drug available to help allergic horses: Apoquel. This drug has been used in dogs with some pretty fabulous results. My Docs are among the first in the country to use this drug on itchy and wheezy horses. I hear the result have been spectacular.
Okay, so let’s just agree that this is not a possibility for most allergens. The only one it is sort of, kind of possible for is gnats. This is done by covering your horse with fly sheets and masks from head to toe, dousing them in fly spray, IBH salve (ask my humans, they have it at the Clinic), and keeping them in front of fans at sunrise and sunset.
Need help in the eternal battle against allergies? Call my humans. They don’t just treat allergic horses, they own allergic horses.
Until next week,
Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!