Ask Horse Journal: 04/00

Horse Coughs Grass
I was interested in your October 1999 question about the horses who were coughing pasture grass. I have owned my Quarter Horse for over 18 years and never heard her cough until this past summer. It was an upper respiratory cough, beginning as a kind of “sniff,” such as a person makes who has a cold. Her vet diagnosed it exactly as you did for the other letter writer: grass allergy. Then in early September, she choked on an apple. We took her to a clinic and had her scoped. The biggest finding was only mentioned in passing: The vet said something about her epiglottis being abnormally small and looking like a piece of bacon.

We took her off grass, and the coughing disappeared. This spring we had her allergy tested. Grass molds and fungus were positive. We put her on Bioquench and a human homeopathic allergy pill. She did well with limited access to pasture when the weather was dry. When it rained and the grass greened, she began coughing once more after only a few minutes of grass.

The biggest problem is she aspirates the grass from her nose when the grass is green and nice. I talked to New Bolton Center this summer, and the vet there believes the small epiglottis is causing this problem now that she is older (she is 22, but in good health). We have always kept a nice pasture, and she is the only horse on it. I feel sorry for her, standing in the riding ring, when she should be in the grass. Do you have any suggestions’

-Dawne Sohn
Moon Township, PA

Although we don’t like them for long-term use, you might consider a course of antihistamines. The allergies she shows on her blood test are commonly found and may or may not have much to do with her symptoms this year. It is probably just as likely that there is something about the grass making her react. Her epiglottis may be why the grass appears at her nose, but it is not the reason why your mare reacts to the grass.

You might ask your vet about a local application of DMSO to her throat to try to cut any inflammation/irritation and/or feeding MSM. MSM has been shown to curb cellular inflammatory reactions and sometimes helps with allergies. Treat for about two weeks before you try letting her have any grass. It is possible she will be able to eat grass again without problems this year, if the weather is more normal.


Will She Fill Out’
My Quarter Horse filly is three years old, but only 14.1 hands. I suspect she didn’t get a good start on life, but she is in good shape now. I would like her to fill out and grow another inch. She is on free-choice hay but not much pasture. I traced her parents to two stout reining horses, neither over 15 hands. I don’t care so much about her height, but I wish she would get wider. Can I feed her something to help’

-Peggy Desautels
Lancaster, NH

Your filly’s maximum possible adult height and width are determined genetically (see June 1998 “String Test For Height Potential”). Even with a slow start, if she is being fed an adequate diet for optimal growth she will catch up to her potential.

You can’t change bone structure, but you can bulk up areas like her chest, shoulders and hindquarters. She will continue to get longer (bones of the spine are the last to stop growing) and may get a little bit taller at this age, but most of the changes in appearance after the age of three come from additional muscle development. If all you do is pour calories into her, you will end up with a fat young horse with a skinny neck and narrow chest.

She needs regular exercise and a balanced diet. A light but regular exercise program will work well. Gradually build up to four to five miles of jogging/trotting at least three times a week. Cross-country is better than ring work as it avoids stiffness or one-sidedness, works her muscles more evenly and teaches her to deal with different footings.

Grain is not essential if she is holding good weight, but you may need it though once a regular exercise program starts. What is essential is a generous and balanced supply of all the minerals, vitamins and amino acids (protein) she needs to grow, exercise and put on muscle.

Avoid foods that have high mineral imbalances, like brans and alfalfa hay. Do not use a high-fat diet (fat is just empty calories for horses with high energy requirements). Your feed manufacturer probably has a nutrition specialist who can formulate a diet-and-supplement plan matched to your horse and your hay that will maximize her development. The following companies have nationwide product availability and offer nutrition consulting services and a wide range of quality products: TDI 800/457-7577; Triple Crown 800/451-9916; Buckeye Nutrition 800/898-9467. You can also contact a private equine nutritionist or your regional feed manufacturer.


Small Bone Chip
My 11-year-old gelding injured his fetlock by overbending it. The X-rays show a small bone chip. There was soft tissue damage, too, especially the ligaments. He wasn’t three-legged lame. Initial treatment was a month of stall rest with hand walking, Robert Jones bandage, bute, antibiotics and hot cold soaking when the bandage was replaced (minimum weekly). Another month followed with rest in a small paddock, occasional walking, no bandage and diminishing bute dosages. The third month saw him “out to pasture,” where lameness diminished and appears gone. This last month (the fourth), he’s been on a joint nutraceutical supplement. The only evidence of injury now is enlargement of the fetlock area.

I’m told arthroscopic surgery to remove the bone chip isn’t needed if periodic X-rays show no movement. At what frequency should the X-rays be done’ Should the joint supplement be continued and how long’ Are any other treatment recommendations’ Support boots can only be on when he is exercising.

I understand these injuries take a year or more to heal. He was in good condition prior to the injury, finishing a 25-mile event days earlier. Should we stick with ground work vs. under-saddle work’

-William McCauley
Fairbanks, AK

Fetlock injuries can be devastating, but your horse’s progress is encouraging. On the bone-and-cartilage front, we agree with the advice you received. The chip may be embedded tightly in joint capsule/scar tissue and cause no serious irritation. If future X-rays show no movement or irritation of surrounding bone, there is no need to remove it. As a rule, if chips are going to be removed, it should be done as soon as possible after the injury. At this point, surgery could produce more irritation. We would continue joint nutraceuticals for life or at least during the entire healing/lay-up period and while the horse is in active use.

For many horses, the ligament injuries are more problematic than a small, stable bone chip. The soft tissue injuries are the main reason for the prolonged healing/lay-up times. They heal slowly. It can be difficult to maintain proper nutrition for healing without getting the horse fat. We suggest a hay-based diet and a high-quality protein/mineral supplement instead of grain (TDI 30 800/457-7577 or Triple Crown 30 800/451-9916).

Early, gentle exercise (lots of walking) helps create a repair that is stronger and more flexible. Tearing of the joint capsule also likely occurred and could be responsible for the “big ankle” you now see (in combination with increased joint fluid and any ligament/suspensory thickening).

If he tolerates pasture turnout without lameness (we are assuming he is off bute), your vet will likely approve limited formal exercise soon to help make sure he retains full flexibility in the joint. Long walks, first on the level, then with gentle rolling countryside, will be beneficial. Ponying him at first may keep him calmer and limit strain from your added weight. Definitely use sports boots (see May 1999 issue).

Expect some increased heat and filling periodically as he goes thro ugh the process of gradually increasing his workload. These are indications the scar tissue is being stressed and remodeled. Stop work for a few days if it becomes excessive (rely heavily on your vet if you can’t decide whether it is safe to proceed), cool the area and pick up again where you left off. How successful you are at bringing the horse back to work will be directly proportional to how much work you put in.


Heading Off Laminitis
Close observation of a sick horse can catch developing laminitis before damage becomes too extensive. Horses with any digestive disorder, especially those with diarrhea and/or fever (e.g. salmonella, Potomac horse fever), as well as horses off their feed for other reasons, are at high risk of developing abnormal numbers of disease-producing bacteria in their gut. Proliferation of these pathogenic strains results in the release of endotoxin, which is absorbed into the blood stream and causes the sensitive network of blood vessels in the feet to constrict. At this early stage of laminitis, the feet will be ice cold, but the horse may not appear to be sore.

Walking or soaking the feet in warm water may help relieve the vascular spasm but are unlikely to be enough on their own. Call your vet immediately. If approved by the vet, flunixin (Banamine) should be given as it has been shown to block some of the vascular effects of endotoxin. Your vet will have other treatments to use as well, such as intervenous DMSO, peripheral vasodilating drugs, intravenous fluids and nerve blocks to the feet (which also causes spasmed vessels to relax). Rapid action may restore circulation before extensive clotting and damage to the laminae has occurred.


If you horse develops a severe reaction to the sun???usually blistering, skin loss, extensive redness, itching or hives???the cause may be a drug. Many commonly used drugs (phenylbutazone and other NSAIDs, promazine type tranquilizers and antibiotics such as sulfas or tetracycline) are documented as potentially causing photosensitivity. While reactions are rare, if the horse has previously tolerated sun without problems, suspect a drug-induced photosensitivity.


Hold The Bagels
As drug tests become more sensitive, more competitors face drug positives. Most are due to the use of a medication too close to competition. Sometimes, however, competitors faced with a drug positive swear they have never given the horse that drug, and their response may indeed be honest. Morphine is a prime example. Morphine from poppy seeds used to flavor bakery products can result in a morphine positive. The test is so sensitive that amounts as small as 0.1 mg/kg intravenously can be picked up in blood for 48 hours and urine for 144 hours. So save those poppy-seed breads, bagels and rolls for your own lunch, and give your horse a carrot.


Locking Gates
Padlocking your gates is a good idea, especially if no one is on the farm all day. The key should be in the barn in an easily accessible spot. Don’t extend this idea to your barn or stall doors, however. Locking a horse in a barn is dangerous.

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