Chat Transcript – Dr. Karen Hayes

Equisearch chatters gained much new insight about their senior horses in this live chat with Dr. Karen Hayes, co-author of "Hands-On Senior Horse Care."

EquiStaff – Welcome to Equisearch’s chat with Karen Hayes, DVM. Dr. Hayes is a graduate of the University of Illinois veterinary school.

ddstables Our old mare has been losing weight drastically the past couple of months. How can we put weight back on?

KarenHayes – DDStables, first you need to try and figure out why she is losing weight because this is the time of year horses should be doing well. I’d have your vet check her teeth and do a general geriatric exam including a blood screen and a rectal palpation. Chances are, if there is a problem, one of those tests will reveal it. If everything comes up normal, then we need to look at her diet.

gbleamI have a 29 yr. old standardbred who still looks good. I’m feeding a pelleted feed(Grow n Win) but was wondering about switching to a senior feed as he’s having trouble chewing hay.

KarenHayes – Gbleam, definitely a good idea to switch feeds because Grow n Win, which is made for youngsters, has a different mineral balance than what oldsters need and you will also get around the chewing problem. How is her appetite?

gbleamMy standardbred’s appetite is fine, and I’ve had his teeth done, but he spits out wads of hay.

KarenHayes – Gbleam, I would suggest that you try chopped hay, which is easier to chew. He needs the fiber, but it is getting difficult for him to chew it the way he needs to so he can digest it. But also have his teeth checked.

KarenHayes – It could be that a couple swipes with the dental float will make his mouth more comfortable and make it easier for him to chew with the teeth he has.

gbleamI’ve had his teeth checked. The dentist says next spring, to have the vet come to tranquilize him to do more extensive work. He said he’s good for 29 years.

EquiStaff – We have had many questions come in via email for Dr. Hayes. Kat Takach would like to know about her 17 year old arab gelding. He has dry scaley skin on the top half of the tail and it seems as if he is losing a lot of hair there also on the crest part of the mane. he has been dewormed and has a “natural” lifestyle; 24 hour turnout on a dry lot with 2 buddies, unlimited grass hay, free choice minerals and salt. he also gets about 2 lbs of alfalfa a day and Hilton Herbs veteran mix. I ride him 6 times a week mostly walking. any ideas that could cause this skin problem?

KarenHayes – If it is itchy, Kat Takach, it could be pinworms or an infection in the skin or it could be he needs his sheath cleaned (this wouldn’t explain the hair loss at the mane, but a lot of geldings who need their sheath cleaned rub their tails.) But the most common itchy problem that would cause what you describe, is an allergy to the common gnat. The best way to get it diagnosed is to have your vet take a look. The allergy can’t be cured, but it sure can be managed. (I have a horse with this problem and I control it with flaxseed and dexamethasone–a prescription item.

PicoloMy 20 year old gelding has started showing an “unnatural” interest in mares (lol). What could be triggering this at his age? I’ve had him 12 years and this is just starting. Given the opportunity he could complete the act … if you get my drift.

KarenHayes – Picolo, LOL! Testosterone comes from many places in the body, in addition to the testicles, which in his case are gone. Is he showing any other symptoms other than this “inappropriate” interest?

Picolo – Karen…no. He eats well and is active … for a questionably sound old man.

KarenHayes – Picolo, if your vet doesn’t find any other problems in your horse, you might try putting him on Regumate (a synthetic progesterone hormone)–in some “frisky” horses, this does help tone down the behavior. Ask your vet.

Picolo – Karen… who knew! Regumate for geldings. I’ll ask..thanks!

ddstablesOur vet was just out and had us dewormer her again on the 5 day wormer, we were just told April has a heart murmur.

KarenHayes – DDstables, that is not uncommon and may or may not be a problem for the horse. Ask your vet if there is a problem with the heart rhythm or if the heart murmur is severe. If the answer is no to both questions, it shouldn’t be a significant problem.

ddstables – Thank You for your advice you gave us another test we could try

EquiStaff – Danny emailed with a question: I have an older mare she was breed 14 months ago she has made a sack. this has been going on for about 4 weeks. but no signs of a colt . the sack get big then will go down and then fill back up. what is her problem?

KarenHayes – Danny, holy smokes! Fourteen months is way too long. I’d have her checked tomorrow to make sure she is still pregnant, and if so, to make sure the foal is still alive. 340 days plus or minus two weeks is considered normal. I’ve seen some horses go as long as one year, but never as long as 14 month. I’d be worried too.

ruthcwI have a 30 year old quarter horse that has decided he does not like my grass/alfalfa mix hay. Is it ok to give him straight alfalfa? He is on equine senior, but since he started not eating hay, I have noticed some weight loss.

KarenHayes – Ruthcw, first, for the weight loss, I would start adding some oil to his diet. Start with a tablespoon twice a day and increase by a tablespoon every week until you are up to as much as a cup a day total. If he eats the alfalfa well and it has adequate fiber, then, yes, you can switch to alfalfa, but understand that alfalfa has a high calcium level which can be problematic in older horses regarding their kidneys.

ruthcwWould vegetable or corn oil be the best? What signs should I watch for if kidney problems should start?

KarenHayes – Ruthcw, it really doesn’t matter what kind of oil. some horses like some kinds of oil better than ever. I feed my horses whatever is cheapest, but I prefer cold-pressed oil. It has more nutrients–naturally it is more expensive!

LeahAt what age is it unsafe for a mare to be in foal?

KarenHayes – Leah, it depends on the mare of course. Everybody ages differently, but in a nutshell, if she is starting to look like an old horse, then her risk increases. One of the most common problems during foaling in old mares is exhaustion.

Leah – thank you

KarenHayes – Regarding kidney problems, get your vet to take a blood sample and do that every six months (I’d do that for any horse that is starting to look old anyway), but specifically the excess calcium in alfalfa can cause kidney stones, which can be very painful causing colic-like symptoms, and can also cause kidney damage, most often seen as loss of appetite.

ruthcw – Thank you for the info. Huey has given me so many years of enjoyment, I just want to give back and keep him comfortable.

LeahStill on the breeding subject…should senior stallions be gelded to stay healthy?

KarenHayes – Leah, senior stallions should not necessarily be gelded to stay healthy. The testosterone can keep them lively, which is good.

ZulieI have a 23 year-old gelding and he has arthritis in his back leg..what should i do to help him be not so stiff?

KarenHayes – Zulie, are you giving your gelding any nutraceuticals–any supplements–for his joints? MSM, and the glucosamine chondroitin work very well for some horses. Also the omega-3 type fatty acids (my favorite is flaxseed oil) REALLY help a lot and vitamin E, 2000 units a day divided into two meals.

KarenHayes – That’s a real good start. If he’s really painful still, your vet has lots of tricks up his or her sleeve.

Leahwill omega-3 fatty acids help with my stiffness?

KarenHayes – Leah, most likely, yes. They will help with other things as well, most likely also good for other things, like good cholesterol levels.

Zulie – Awesome! thanks for the info!

ddstablesHow many foals is too many for a mare, We learned that ours had 17 in her life

KarenHayes – DDstables, wow! Most mares will tell you when they’ve had enough. They simply won’t get pregnant again. My rule of thumb is, do they look healthy and happy? If they look run down, they either need a break or they need to be retired from breeding.

ddstables – This is our 26 year old mare she still wants it in the worse way and our 2 year old colt tries telling her she’s old enough to be his great great grandma

KarenHayes – DDstables, she may have an uterine infection. This commonly makes mares act like they are in heat. Also, as some mares go through “menopause” (they run out of eggs), the change in their hormones can also have the same effect. A veterinary exam can tell you what is the case with your mare.

ddstableswould the infection cause her urine to be thick syrup

KarenHayes – DDstables, the infection would not necessarily cause her urine to be syrupy. Sometimes thick, creamy-looking urine passed intermittently is normal. The best way to diagnose uterine infections is an ultrasound exam.

EquiStaff – Josie emailed in about her gelding. He is 20 and is out of shape. She was wondering if there were a way to get him into better shape than he is. Though still active, he has navicular. Karen, would you recommend a similar approach as with Zulie’s horse? With MSM and such supplements?

KarenHayes – Re Josie’s question, we need to find out what she means by out of shape. If he is fat, naturally he needs to lose weight. If he is skinny, he needs to gain. If she simply means out of condition, then the first thing to do is to get the navicular pain under control, which can readily be done in most cases. Then, yes, conditioning an older horse most definitely be done, but the rules are different than they would be for a younger horse. You’re not creating an athlete, you’re simply improving overall health.

ZulieAnd since he is getting older should I be ridding him less and not as hard as normal? He seems like he’s young but i also want him to live a good life w/out still joints etc.

EquiStaff – Pat Nicol emailed in about a 25 year old paint. He has started swaying his head from side to side gently when he approaches us, and it appears he is trying to see us. The vet says his eyes are fine, but Pat isn’t so sure about that — he also seems to be more spooked than normal. Old age quirks or specific seeing problems?

KarenHayes – Re Pat Nichols’ question: Your vet may have meant that his eyes looked normal when examining his eyes, but this doesn’t mean he is SEEING normally. Testing vision in horses is very difficult, but it can be done.

EquiStaff – So then would you advise a more thorough exam? Eye exam, that is. or is there little to be done either way?

KarenHayes – In the book Hands-On Senior Horse Care, there is a how-to on page 305 re vision.

KarenHayes – Zulie, let your gelding tell you that. The best thing for geriatric horses is to vary your workout. don’t do the same thing every day. Keep it interesting.

KarenHayes – Zulie, keep it interesting and bear in mind that an old horse will get tired faster and take longer to recover. If you give him a lot of time off, then the next time you ride him the more apt he is to hurt himself. More frequent exercise is better.

Zulie – Ok thanks!

PicoloMy friend has a plump Lipizzan mare that is out to pasture due to an ankle problem. Her vet wants to give the mare thyroid medication to help her lose weight in hopes of getting her pregnant in the spring. She is trying to research the concept of giving thyroid medicine for weight loss. Have you heard of this?

KarenHayes – Picolo, re thyroid medication, this is not a new idea. I would not recommend this unless your horse has been diagnosed with a thyroid problem. The absolutely best way to effect weight loss in a horse that is on pasture is a grazing muzzle. I have two real fat horses in my pasture and with the muzzles they get to be out with their herdmates while eating much less feed. Works like a charm!

RuffianI have a 30-year-old QH/Arab cross and am just interested in the conversation. Have you dealt with special feeding?

KarenHayes – Ruffian, I used to be involved in formulating individual diets, but that was before really good quality senior horse feeds were available commercially. For the old horses in my care, I start with that and then add special supplements as needed.

EquiStaff – Hands-On Senior Horse Care is, in fact, co-authored by Karen Hayes.

Picolo – Hands-On Senior Horse care is FANTASTIC!! What a book!

Ruffian Does it make sense to put an old, retired guy on any sort of arthritis medicine? He’s stiff, but he manages to chase the young geldings away from his “girls.”

KarenHayes – Ruffian, preventive measures against arthritis is always a good idea, because it is the rare horse indeed that doesn’t get arthritis when he gets old. See a previous response about MSM, omega-3s, etc.

ZulieMy horse has had colic from which he wasn’t drinking enough water, which is what the owner said. Is there anything that I can put in his feed that could help to make him drink more water and reduce the colic risk factor? His feed now is COB w/ Senior Horse Pellets.

KarenHayes – Zulie, absolutely. The best thing is salt plus alternate sources of water. Make sure the water is clean. Make sure he has easy access to it. Make sure he has no painful tooth problems that would jolt him when he put his mouth in the water. Make loose, plain salt available free choice right next to the water source and also near where your horse sleeps.

ddstablescould an infection like this cause weight loss

Zulie – Ok awesome!! Thanks for helping me so much!

EquiStaff – An email came in from Chris. He explains that upon moving to a new farm, two of the three horses seemed to have adjusted well. However, the 19 year old mare, who has lived on the old farm for 18 years, seems to be having difficulty with her new environment. She has been pacing and pawing her stall. Any tips for Chris?

KarenHayes – EquiStaff, I would do an ultrasound exam on the uterus. It’s quick, non-invasive and gives you a lot of information. Another thing that can be causing that behavior is the beginnings of Cushing’s Disease due to enlargement of the pituitary gland, which controls many of the horse’s hormones. Your vet can tell whether this looks logical for your mare, and then investigate further.

EquiStaffWould a change in the environment be the cause of this behavior or is the timing coincidental and it’s just old age?

KarenHayes – EquiStaff, regarding the eye exam, some conditions may have a solution, but if your horse’s vision is affected and can’t be improved, two things will have to happen. One, you will have to make changes in management to accommodate the horse’s disability. The other is time for the horse to adjust.

ddstables – Thank you Doc Karen, you gave us a lot of ideas as well as hope Thank you

KarenHayes – The main issue right now is safety for yourself and for your horse.

EquiStaffRegarding the older mare who has not taken to her new home, is it possible you suggesting that the symptoms of Cushing’s Disease would have been brought on by the change in environment?

KarenHayes – EquiStaff, the change is probably a big factor. I can tell you from experience that the older we get the harder it is to tolerate change.

KarenHayes – Re Chris’ question: If the design of the new stalls makes it difficult for her to hear, see, smell and touch her neighbors the way she used to, she may be anxious about being separated from her herd. The smells of new construction, which we find appealing, can mask the smell she is accustomed to.

KarenHayes – Those old smells were a comfort to her. Try putting a fresh manure pile from her herdmate in her stall. I’d also rearrange things so she is next to the same horse she used to be next to and also so that she can see a horse across the aisle, preferably a buddy.

KarenHayes – DDstables, such an infection would not likely cause weight loss.

RuffianDespite the case cited here, is it true that loss of sight is not usually a problem with older horses?

Picolo – Must run …many thanks for the info. GREAT BOOK! If you have a senior horse buy the book! And no, I’m no relation to Karen Hayes! LOL

KarenHayes – Thank you, Picolo!

arthelDr. Hayes: I have a 33 year old part Arab. He is thin. Two days ago he showed tenderness in his toes, as if he was starting to founder. I backed off his feed. He was receiving grass alfalfa hay, Equine Senior, Corn Oil & Northwest Supplement. Could he founder? Thanks for the help.

KarenHayes – Arthel, yes, your horse could founder. At age 33, he is a candidate for Cushing’s Disease, which dramatically increases his risk of founder. The good news is, if Cushing’s is diagnosed, many horses respond well to treatment and their risk of founder goes down.

KarenHayes – In your horse’s case, Arthel, it may very well not be his diet that is triggering the founder.

EquiStaffMJ emailed in about a 40 year old Arabian-Qtr Horse mare. Though MJ has tried every Senior feed, she doesn’t want to eat them. Now she gets Blue Seal extruded nuggets and eats pretty well. MJ would like to know what the review of the Alliance Nutrition Senior Glo.

KarenHayes – Re MJ’s question, I’m not familiar with that product. But what she is eating may meet her needs with some supplementation. If she eats it and won’t eat anything else, that is what we have to work with. Extruded nuggets can be very good for old horses, because the extrusion process actually does – start the digestion process so the horse has less work to do. The problem is, they’re hard and crunchy like dog kibble, and can cause mouth soreness, but this can be dealt with by crushing or soaking or both.

KarenHayes – Ruffian, regarding loss of sight, it is not generally a problem with older horses.

Ruffian – Thank you, Dr. Hayes. Good discussion, and great book!

ddstables – we were told to feed yogurt in the mares feed what will this provide for her

EquiStaff – Please ask your final questions for Dr. Hayes.

arthelDr. Hayes: Could you explain Cushing’s Disease?

KarenHayes – Arthel, re your question about Cushing’s Disease, the brain produces less of a neurotransmitter called dopamine. This causes the pituitary gland to enlarge. (There are those who think Cushing’s Disease is a tumor. It is really not–it’s just that the gland has enlarged.)

KarenHayes – This deranges the hormones produced by the pituitary gland, resulting in a wide variety of symptoms including long, scruffy hair coat, increased risk of laminitis or founder, increased water intake, increased urinating, etc.

Zulie – My horse has these huge lumps that he gets in the summer. I think that they are fly bites or wasp stings. in the winter time they go away. do you have any ideas as to what these are? these lumps are usually by his shoulder

KarenHayes – Zulie, regarding those lumps, they may be local allergic reactions to insect bites. If you put a fly sheet on, that might eliminate the problem.

Zulie – Ok thanks!

EquiStaff – Dr. Hayes’s book, HANDS-ON SENIOR HORSE CARE, a compendium of tips on senior equine management and first aid, is a wonderful and informative source. You needn’t even go to the store — you can find it on the Equisearch website!

arthel – Dr. Hayes: Thank you for your information

Zulie – Thanks for all your help and info Dr. Hayes

EquiStaff – Thank you, Karen, for joining us tonight and sharing your knowledge.

ddstables – Thank you for the info it sound like a book I need to get.

KarenHayes – My pleasure. Good night everybody, and give your horses a hug for me!

EquiStaff – Thank you chatters. Please refer to the transcript of tonight’s chat which will be available on the website to review questions/concerns about your older horses.

EquiStaff – Good night!

ddstables – This chat came at a good time we were running out of ideas.




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