Keeping Super Seniors Super

Keeping Super Seniors Super

Tuesdays with Tony

Keeping Super Seniors Super


A very cool thing happened this week: a horse on our Senior Wellness Program was diagnosed with cancer. Whoa, whoa, whoa. Before you get mad at the cat for being insensitive about life (which I am), give a guy a moment to explain why this is cool. This horse’s cancer got found super early, because she is in the Wellness Program. This means my Docs are able to start her on medications early, giving her a significantly better quality of life. And quality of life is the most important thing you can give us critters.


The Bloodwork


On our Senior Wellness Program my Docs pull blood twice yearly. At one of those checks, they are looking for PPID (Cushings), and insulin resistance. PPID really takes a toll on horses. It makes it tough for them to cool off in the summer, and keep warm in the winter. It makes them susceptible to infections. It can cause laminitis. It’s just an awful disease. Luckily there is a treatment, and the earlier the disease is identified, the easier the symptoms are to get under control. Insulin resistance almost always leads to PPID, and is a major cause of laminitis. The good news is insulin resistance can be well-controlled with diet and exercise! At the other bloodwork check, a Complete Blood Count (CBC) and Chemistry panel are pulled. A CBC checks all the types of cells in the blood. The two big categories are red blood cells and white blood cells. Chemistry panels check the function of the major organs like liver and kidneys. I’ll drop some wisdom on you about chemistry panels in a future episode. Today we’ll stick to CBCs.


Oxygen is good


Let’s talk about the red ones first. Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body. It is fairly common to find low red blood cell numbers in older horses. When that happens, my Docs start with an evaluation of the diet. Older horses have a harder time getting all those key nutrients from their food, so a high quality diet is very important! If the diet is good, the Docs start looking for evidence of inflammation.


The Fighters


That brings us to the white blood cells. There are three main types of white blood cells: neutrophils, lymphocytes, and eosinophils. There are a few others added in there, but these are the biggies. In a huge oversimplification of things, they work as follows: neutrophils handle bacteria, lymphocytes handle viruses, and eosinophils are in charge of allergies. So if the red blood cell count was low, and there were a lot of neutrophils, my Docs would start looking for an infection. This hunt generally starts with an ultrasound of the abdomen and chest.


Back to the cancer


I know, I know, what about my opener? You thought this blog was going to be about cancer. Finally, I have arrived at the cancer, you inpatient human. This past week my Docs pulled a CBC and Chemistry panel as part of a routine visit for a horse on our Senior Wellness Plan. The blood work came back with a really high lymphocyte number. Since you have been paying attention to this blog, you think, “Ah, virus!” Good job, you have been listening! However, in this case the number was way, way too high to be a virus. Lymphocyte numbers this high mean lymphoma, and in older horses that’s usually in the intestinal tract.


What’s next?


Next up for this horse will be an ultrasound of her abdomen to see how thick her intestines are. The Docs will also ultrasound, and maybe even x-ray her chest to see if there has been any spread. From there, they will work to come up with a treatment plan that will help this lovely horse live the rest of her days as happy as she can possibly be. This means working to reduce inflammation, and keep her eating. How much time are we talking? Probably about 6-8 months. However, those can be some pretty good months!


Senior horses hold a very, very special place at Springhill Equine. My Docs own Super Seniors themselves, and know the joy that comes from keeping them happy and healthy as long as possible. My Docs also know that quality of life is way, way more important than quantity. When issues like this horse’s lymphoma come up, they work very hard to come up with the best right answer for this horse and her owner. I admire that. It makes me feel a tiny bit of remorse at the harsh looks of disapproval I give my humans from time to time. Never fear, since I’m a cat, I get over that feeling quickly.

Before you go over to the Wellness page on my website, scroll down and subscribe to my blog so you don’t miss one. It’s the big purple box below, you can’t miss it.

Looking for more info on Super Senior horses? Make sure you check out Episode 11 of our podcast, Straight from the Horse Doctor’s Mouth. It’s a half hour of amazing discussion about older horses. Even I, a sleepy cat, was awake and riveted through the whole thing.

One last thing: Our 13th Annual Open House is coming up on September 29th. I heard that there will be a LOT of free give aways, to include a ton of hay, and a Grand Prize of getting your picture taken me, the Amazing Tony. That should be the grand prize, anyway. Check out the Event Page for all the details.

Until next week,



Large animal veterinarian Levy, Gilchrist

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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, or follow us on Facebook!

Tuesdays with Tony – Cancer Awareness

Tuesdays with Tony – Cancer Awareness

As I look forward to fall, I notice that October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, No-Shave November (Movember) is for Prostate Cancer, but what about the horses? Equine Cancer is a thing too, but I don’t see anybody giving horses their own cancer awareness month! What gives? Well I, the honorable Tony, am officially declaring August to be Equine Cancer Awareness month! And my first act to raise awareness is writing this blog.

Like other species, horses are susceptible to many different types of cancer. The most common in horses are melanoma, sarcoids, squamous cell carcinoma, and lymphoma. I’m a cat, so I like to keep things simple. Basically if you are a grey horse, you are going to get melanomas. If you are an Appaloosa or Paint horse with white around your eyes, you are likely to have squamous cell. If you are an unlucky horse of any other color, you could end up with a sarcoid or lymphoma.

If you own a grey horse, you probably already know what melanomas look like. They are usually firm, round grey nodules that commonly occur under the tail or around the external genitalia. Luckily I make it a point to spend at least 5 hours a day grooming my external genitalia, so I would be sure to notice a melanoma right away. Small melanomas are usually benign, but as they get bigger and the horse gets older, they are more likely to become malignant. But have no fear- there are new treatments becoming available!

Oncept, a vaccine that has shown promise against canine melanoma, is now being studied in horses. Now, why you would want to prolong a dog’s life is beyond me, but I guess not everyone can be a cat person. Oncept is going to cost you a pretty penny too: about $4,000 for the initial course of treatment. In addition to Oncept there is an autologous vaccine (that’s a vaccine made from the horse’s own cells–aren’t you impressed I knew that?) in clinical trials.

Sarcoids come in many forms. They can be flat, bumpy, warty, or a mixture. They can show up anywhere on the body. Depending on their location, they usually don’t pose much of a threat, just more of a nuisance. Kind of like me lying in the doorway so everybody has to step over me when they walk through the door. However, the smaller they are, the easier to treat. One treatment for these pesky tumors is a cream called Aldara (aka Imiquimod- say that 5 times fast!) There is also an herbal cream called Xxterra that has shown success in shrinking sarcoids.

Squamous cell carcinoma is not as friendly. As mentioned, it tends to occur on and around the eyes and eyelids of light-skinned horses, and sometimes on their private parts too. This form of cancer is aggressive and difficult to treat. Chemotherapy with 5-Fluorouracil or Cisplatin, radiation, and enucleation (removal of the eye) are the most common treatment modalities. Boy, I can’t wait to play cat Scrabble with Teanie this weekend. Fluorouracil, how many points is that?!

Last but not least, horses can get lymphoma too. Just when you thought colic and laminitis were the only things horses could die from. Lymphoma is sneaky. It is usually impossible to diagnose until a large tumor has already grown internally and spread to other parts of the body. Weight loss and lethargy are often the first sign. Bloodwork usually doesn’t show any striking abnormalities. Sometimes a mass is identified by ultrasound or rectal exam, but most often it is a diagnosis made via the process of elimination.

Lymphoma is sad because it is usually fatal within a few weeks to months. Treatment with steroids and chemotherapy is being studied at UC Davis vet school, but it is going to cost you a lot of Meow Mix for that big of an animal. Hence why we need to raise Equine Cancer Awareness to fund new research!
So class, what have we learned from exceedingly wise, supremely intelligent, impressively well-educated Tony today? Cancer in horses does happen! It doesn’t always carry a poor prognosis for a long and happy life, but treatment options are few and very costly. We need to raise awareness of equine cancer in order to further research into new treatments for this malady!

Now that I’ve exhausted myself with all this knowledge, I must get back to my nap!

Until next week,
– Tony

Tony in bed