Old Horses Get Gas…

Yesterday, Biz had some new X-rays on his teeth to determine whether there has been more progression in the deterioration of his teeth.  If you have followed this blog, you know that Biz has EOTRH, which causes the roots of the teeth to break down and become spongy, eventually undermining the stability of the tooth.  Biz had a second tooth pulled back in May, and since then we have been watching a third.  With the fall change in weather, he started dropping a bit of weight, something he has been known to do even before his teeth went bad, but lately he has also been showing more signs of pain in his gums.

So the X-rays went well, and I’m waiting for final word, but the preliminary assessment was to continue watching and waiting, as it didn’t appear there has been a lot of further deterioration in this tooth.  A couple of others we were watching actually seem a bit more stable, as they are forming more cementum.  Basically those tooth are building up extra calcium around the tooth to shore it up – it shows up as a ball type formation around the root of the tooth.  My vet is going to compare his current X-rays with his May X-rays on a high resolution monitor to make sure he wants to stick with the watch and wait theory, but for now…

So today I got a call at work from the friend who owns the stable where Biz lives.  He’s not eating much, pooping even less, and although he doesn’t seem acutely distressed, he just looks “off.”  Those of you who have animals understand what I mean by off.  There’s nothing specific, but you know something isn’t right.  And when your baby is 26 years old, you can’t ignore “off.”  Biz had laid down a couple of times, and gotten back up, and overnight had been down and up several times.  He still had enough pep to run away when I went to catch him (some things will never change), and while a small apple was enough to lure him in, he didn’t want to eat it.  Biz loves apples, so him turning his nose up at one is big news…

The vet arrived, and after the exam, diagnosed a case of gas colic.  A horse’s digestive system is very sensitive, and since they are designed to graze all day, the stomach isn’t intended to hold much food.  It is supposed to move into the small intestine (over 75 feet long in a horse!) relatively quickly to begin digestion.  If the food doesn’t move quickly enough into the intestines, it will start to ferment in the stomach, causing gas.  Almost all horses can’t burp or vomit (although I did have a mare who could burp the most fouling smelling burps, always in your face, but that’s a story for another time), so gas causes extreme discomfort.

Fortunately, we caught his colic early, because it can be fatal for horses if left untreated.  Eventually the discomfort will cause the horse to want to get down on the ground and roll to relieve the pain, but doing that can cause the intestine to twist and cut off the blood supply.  The only treatment at that point is surgical intervention, which is complicated and dangerous.  Biz’s colic was likely caused by the fact that he was sedated yesterday for the X-rays, slowing down the body’s processes, including digestion.  That slow down was enough to cause the colic.

The treatment was a painkiller and a large volume of electrolytes and mineral oil via a nasogastric tube.  That’s right, the vet had to get a tube up his nose and down into his stomach.  Preferably this would be done without sedation, because further sedation could just compound the problem, so we tried it that way.  Biz showed me that he would be perfectly at home among the Lipizzaner Stallions at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna.  Each time we tried to get the tube in, he would rear and jump forward, trying to leave us both in the dust.  My somewhere more than 100 pound body was no match for his 980 pounds of muscle, even if he wasn’t feeling well…

REAR!  LEAP FORWARD!  Drag Camille and the vet along with him!  That was the routine.  Quite impressive really, considering he hasn’t been trained in these maneuvers – if you want to check out his airs above the ground, they looked something like these.  After about a dozen attempts to intubate him, a minor rope burn on my finger, and coming close to a shoulder dislocation (my shoulder, not his), I could barely conceal my relief when the vet concluded that we needed to try Plan B.

Plan B was a mild, short-acting sedative for Biz – sadly I wasn’t offered any – by that time I needed some!  It worked like a charm, the tube went in, followed by about a gallon of electrolyte solution and a Costco size bottle of mineral oil.  Apparently mineral oil prevents gas from forming – I never knew this, but it is certainly information that could come in handy!

Biz got some immediate relief, and I spent the next couple of hours watching him walk around, first in the arena, and then later, in his small outdoor field.  He was interested in nibbling a little grass, and was clearly more comfortable.  Crisis averted.

Sadly, with an old horse, you never know when the next call will come…

Biz and Me, Back in May

Biz and Me, Back in May

12 thoughts on “Old Horses Get Gas…

  1. I know. Old horses are an incredible amount of worry and emotional up and down, but I know I wouldn’t trade it for the other alternative. Give ol’ Biz a hug for me.

    • I know – I hate thinking that “the day” gets closer and closer. It will always be too soon. He has been a great horse and I will always fondly remember how his spunk taught me you just have to get right back on. Or keep holding onto that lead while being dragged down the breezeway! I will give him a hug for you!

    • He has such a well developed fear response, and not too many brain cells to argue on the side of reason! But in the end, we managed to treat him. And he has always been a good healer! But I’m glad we caught it early too!

    • Thank you! I have to say, Biz’s 26 years (almost 24 with me now!) have been anything but boring. When he does something, he does it big. When he was young, I never thought I would get to see him as an old man. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but certainly a lot of worry over the last couple of decades!

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