Riding 29 year old Sandy in 1997

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Getting old ain't for sissies

Dottie will be 23 in April and has been suffering from arthritis for a couple of years now, which has been treated with a glucosamine/chondroitin/MSM/HA compound.  But it got worse during the year she was up in Oregon, possibly due to the cold and humidity.  She had a particularly uncomfortable winter up there as in addition to cold and damp, her corral was ankle-deep in mud pretty much all winter.  She was acting uncomfortable enough that we added a low-level of bute to help ease the pain.  It seemed to help, and once the horses could be turned out to pasture, she would run and buck and seemed to be feeling pretty good and happy with her life.

But the harsh winter was the reason I decided to bring her back.  She was left up there for a warm summer at grass, and I brought her back to Arizona about three weeks ago.  Hopefully the drier, warmer climate will help.

Yesterday I had our local equine vet, Drew Justice, come take a look at her.  Last week, I ran out of the glucosamine we brought back from Oregon and I decided to leave her off it until Drew saw her so he could better evaluate her condition without her symptoms being masked by medications.

He was here yesterday and checked out her arthritic back end.  The arthritis is worst in her left hock, and she also has a sticky stifle problem on that same side.  I told him she was retired from riding, although if a small child showed up here I wouldn't hesitate to put a kid on her back and lead her around.  But my plus-sized butt will not be riding her down a trail.  I do hope to get her pain-free enough to be able to "pony" her (lead her from the back of another horse) on some easy trail rides since exercise is good for arthritis.

We decided to try an injection of HA (hyaluronic acid) which I had heard of people injecting into arthritic joints, both on humans and equines.  He preferred to give a systemic injection, which would help all her joints, not just the hock.  So we tried that.  The shots aren't cheap -- about $100 or more -- but he said older horses often see a noticeable improvement, especially during winter.

In addition to that, I will put her back on the glucosamine solution I was using before she went to Oregon.  I'll probably blanket her more.  Normally I don't blanket unless temps are below 25, and I only blanket Dottie.  Her daughters had to endure a minus 7 night last winter without blanketing but they have a covered stall with windbreak, were able to cuddle up with each other, and they get tons of hay at night.  (Digestion of roughage creates body heat so they get most of their hay at night.)  But for Dottie, I don't want her wasting calories keeping warm so I blanket her when it gets really cold.  I think this winter I will make 32 the blanketing threshold.

Then he took a look in her mouth.  Dottie historically has needed her teeth floated about twice a year; most horses can get by with yearly floats.  She needed it again, so he rasped the points off her back teeth.  But she has a hole in one of her lower incisors and the upper above it is cracked.  We'll keep an eye on that and hope it cracks off by itself because an extraction would be a major surgery that would have to be done by an equine dentist.

Knocking out an errant baby tooth in a young horse is no big deal and routinely done by vets as part of a checkup but the permanent teeth in an adult horse are a few inches long and go deep into the bone.  Horses' teeth grow constantly throughout their lives, with the surfaces being worn down by chewing.  When they don't wear evenly, you can get points sticking up from the molars which is what the vet rasps when he "floats" the teeth.  But because those teeth generally don't wear down to gums until the horse is 30 or more, and Dottie is only 22, she still has about a third of her tooth length encased in bone.  So trying to extract that cracked tooth would mean digging out about 2 inches into her jawbone, which is no small matter.

Hopefully it will crack off on its own, and the rest of the tooth can just continue growing out, eventually wearing down the other side of the tooth (the part that will be left after half breaks off) until the tooth is level again, maybe in about ten years if she lives that long.

Anyway, we've got a plan for her care.  I've got a grass hay I bought special for her because it helps her keep her weight on better (it's called Teff and it's wonderful stuff but hard to find).  She gets four pounds of Purina Senior feed every day with a little olive oil in it to help prevent dry skin and keep her coat shiny.  Every month, all the horses get a seven-day treatment of psyllium, to remove any sand or dirt from their gut and prevent sand colic.  The vet took stool samples to test for worms, and if any of them have them (there's a good chance they don't) they will be wormed every 8 weeks.

The water buckets have heating coils in them that will keep water from icing over.  It's important during winter that horses drink plenty of water and they'll drink more if it's warmer than freezing.  Plus, I get the added bonus of not having to put my own aging back out bashing through ice with a crowbar.

I keep a salt block in each of their hay feeders so they get salt whether they want it or not while they lick the last morsels of feed out of the bins, which also encourages them to drink.

Each horse has a covered area at least 10x20 with walls positioned to block the wind from all four directions.  Usually they all have common access to the arena and each other's pens.  I've noticed they seem to congregate in Dash's stall a lot, and they keep each other warm by huddling together when it's cold.

And that's how old Dottie will get through this winter.  With a little help from me and my vet, hopefully she'll be comfortable and warm and relatively pain-free this year.
And that's the latest from the Ranch.

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