Sunday, December 27, 2009

Beware the Funky Grain!

Merry belated Christmas everyone!

Most of my Holiday season was somewhat expected. Eric bought me two pairs of riding breeches, and, especially for a non-rider, my husband has excellent taste. One pair is cammo, which I'm not totally in love with, but the other pair is navy blue with gold checks. Perfect! More importantly, i got to spend a little time with family, watched Sherlock Holmes on opening night (RD Jr is sexy as!) and enjoyed sitting on the couch for the first time in a very long time.

But alas, more of it was spent at the barn with a worried pit in my stomach. Shorty was quiet on Tuesday. I thought perhaps my boy was colicy, so I handwalked for about thirty minutes. He was completely sound and bore weight equally on all four hooves. He pooped during his walk and again in the cross ties. I listened to his hind gut with my stethoscope and heard sounds in all four quadrants. He was eating fine and drinking. Thinking perhaps his arthritis and the weather was to blame, I wrapped him with his back on track wraps, kissed him on the nose and bid him goodnight with his usual handful of cookies.

The next day, Holly the farrier came for a visit. It is not uncommon for Holly to do Shorty's hooves while I'm at work. I often leave her a check, and she's given me nothing but great service and good shoeing. I got off work a little early and headed straight to the barn to find Shorty with his shoes off, getting trimmed. Holly noted that he was a "touch lame" on his left front. Shorty's never had hoof issues, so I was immediately alarmed. I picked up one of the pieces of trimmed hoof and noticed blood in the laminae, known as sub-surface hematoma. I looked at the piece of trimming and back at Shorty, who was standing in the crossties slightly parked out and putting more weight on his heels. He had a strong digital pulse and a slight amount of heat. My stomach sank... laminitis.

I immediately called the vet and told Holly to put Shorty away without putting his shoes back on. The vet had a four hour wait, so I went to Tractor Supply and bought ten bales of shavings (my car was packed to the ceiling, including the passenger side front seat) and put every single one of them in his stall to give him a great cushion (after picking it out of course). I cold hosed his front hooves, dried them and wrapped them with several diapers, vet wrap and duct tape), wrapped all four legs with standing wraps, took his TPR and changed all of his stall signs to "No treats, no grain, no turnout until further notice."

Once finished, I decided to let Shorty rest quietly in his stall. He was very interested in his hay, so I gave him a big pile of soaked flakes. He laid down several times, but did not trash, so I knew that colic was not my concern... his hooves were the primary source of his discomfort.

I still had time to wait for the vet, and in thinking back to my time in equine health and equine lameness and conditioning, I realized that I should look for the cause. Shorty is not on any medications, and he only gets two and a half pounds of grain twice a day... hardly enough to cause a 1,200 pound horse to develop laminitis. I hadn't switched grains in several months, and I always take a long time to make the switch.

I came down to two possibilities. Scenario one: a well-meaning student passed out too many sugary treats and triggered a GI upset in Shorty. Scenario two: Shorty was given toxic grain. I'd already checked Shorty's grain bucket and knew it to be empty. I checked Shorty's bin in the grain room. The bag of Grown N Win looked and smelled normal. It was about halfway consumed, so if it was the culprit I would have noticed it a while ago. The Ultimate Finish was recently opened. I often leave extra bags of grain in the grain room for the farm owner to replinish as needed, and he had recently opened this new bag. It looked normal, but, surprise surprise it smelled AWFUL. It smelled like cat piss, actually.

The vet showed up and confirmed my diagnosis on laminitis. Luckily, the case was caught early, and radiographs revealed that no rotation of the coffin bone occurred. He is expected to make a full recovery and to go on living a happy, useful life. It should be noted that horses who experience one laminitic episode are often prone to getting it again later in life, so I must be careful in how I manage him. However, the vet believes that a week of stall rest, bute twice a day, cold hosing, wrapping and deep bedding will provide a sound horse.

I made the decision to pull Shorty off his grain completely, although the vet seemed to think Shorty could eat the full amount with no adverse effects. Even if I did return the grain and get another bag of UF (which I will eventually do when I have the time), I would not give a laminitic horse grain. I've always remembered lots of lower quality hay as the primary diet for the laminitis case, and there's plenty of crappy hay at the barn, so Shorty has a constant hay pile in front of his nose and will not get grain for quite a while. Plus, Shorty would go nuts on stall rest with the extra energy. Although he's the master of giving me his cutest face, he's been a trooper about the lack of grain, and I love him even more for that.

I also made the decision to quadruple the vet's estimated date of going back to work. The vet said a week, but I think I will give him the month of January off from work. I will gladly take him for handwalks and put him back on turnout as soon as he's approved, but there's no rush. I'd like to give him time to let his hooves grow out and his gut to recover without the added stress of working. I'll also be getting a second opinion from the veterinary hospital before I officially put the saddle back on. Even one month seems rather short to me, even for a very mild case such as this. Hmm... we'll see.


  1. So sorry - that's discouraging. When it's time for him to go back on pellets of some sort, you might want to try one of the Safe Choice type feeds. Hoping he recovers well!

  2. sad news, but I am glad you caught it early...good luck

  3. Your luck is awful!!! What the crap happened to that UF? Poor Shorty! Although I have to say I think it's a little strange that you picked up the laminitis... and Holly didn't!

  4. Poor Shorty! He's so lucky to have you.

    When you said laminitis my heart sank - our perfect little pony was acting laminitic one day, and we thought we had caught it early, iced him like crazy, put him on bute, pulled his shoes, and kept him on deep sand. But when the vet radiographed him he had more than ten degrees of rotation - he must have been laminitic for weeks without putting a foot wrong until that day! I will probably never recover from the guilt complex.

    Anyway, good luck with Shorty. I'm sorry that this had to happen to you guys. I think the horse gods do this stuff to you because they know that you'll handle it well!