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Inappetent & Down Horses

We hope you all are surviving this wild December weather! We thought we would take some time to talk about a couple of the less obvious emergencies that can happen in our horses.

When should I be concerned when my horse is uninterested in eating?

An alarm should go off as soon as your horse turns his or her nose up at a meal. Horses are grazing animals and are meant to be eating 18 hours a day in the wild; it is their instinct to eat. So, if they are uninterested in their regular food, then that may be an early sign of underlying discomfort. This is even more imperative in ponies, mini horses and mini donkeys, as even short periods of time without feed in these smaller guys can cause liver disease and severe illness.

If you find your horse is uninterested in feed please call your veterinarian. In the meantime you can help out your veterinarian a lot by doing a physical exam (rectal temperature, heart rate, respiratory rate, and gum color; see end of post for normal values).

When should I be concerned when my horse is lying down?

The average horse will spend 1 – 3 hours lying down in a 24 hour period and this is often split into multiple shorter periods of time. With this in mind, there is much individual variability and you are likely to know your horse’s normal behaviors better than anyone else.

Now, how long is too long for your horse to be down? If your horse has been lying in the same spot for longer than 1 hour then it may warrant a closer look. These are some important questions to ask yourself: Can they be encouraged to stand? Do they look bright and alert? Is their breathing slow and relaxed or rapid and exaggerated? This is also an important time to take your horse’s temperature. Many horses that are down and unable to stand on their own become hypothermic quickly. They can also sustain trauma to their muscles just from lying down for extended periods of time, due to their large size. We find down horses to occur much more frequently in the winter. We associate this with older horses with arthritis having a harder time getting around when it’s cold out. Colic is also more common with bad weather as well and some cases of colic can manifest themselves as simply lying down.

If you find your horse down and unwilling to stand, please call your veterinarian immediately. Perform as much of a physical exam as possible (rectal temperature, heart rate, respiratory rate, and color of the gums) and if they are unwilling to get up with much encouragement, place a blanket over them to protect them from the elements.

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