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Mystery sick pony. Recurrent colic. Vets confused. Ideas?

Was sent a gorgeous 13.1 hand Welsh pony (age 8) last year because he was a behavior problem. He came from a nice farm where he lived with a muzzle because the grass was lush and he was fat. He was never ill.
We’re talking about a super nice pony. Scores in the upper teens and low 20’s. And jumps around TRAINING level like it’s easy. He’s amazing. The behavior problem (in my opinion) was due to the fact that you shouldn’t jump a 13.1 hand pony over 3’3 jumps and then hand him off to a beginner. But that’s beside the point. He’s a nice pony. And he’s probably going to die soon if I can’t figure out what’s going on.
Upon arrival, he lost weight pretty rapidly. At my barn, in the city, there is no grass. The horses go out at night on baled hay and are inside during the day. They have automatic waterers in the stall so it’s hard to know what they drink.

It was hard to put the weight back on him but we did manage. And then the colic started. He colics no less than every 6 weeks. Three times he has had the full blown episode where he needed 4 bags of fluid.

  1. Fecal count - less than 50
  2. did Panacure anyway (for possible encysted larvae)
  3. Blood levels normal
  4. Salmonella tests- negative

The colics are small colon impactions. Which the vet says is rare. You can see the colic coming because he starts to swell in his loin area. It helps if he is worked very consistently. Days off tend to make him worse.

We feed him soaking wet soupy feed with a tablespoon of Epsom salt. Not just when he has colicked but all the time.

Assure Plus (for sand) may have helped him. But you’re supposed to go off it after 5 weeks (for 3 weeks). And he colicked 8 days after going off it. And he’s colicking again right now. 2 weeks off it.

Doing the glove test for sand tomorrow. Going back on Assure Plus because it’s the only thing anyone can think of.

I’m hoping this sounds familiar to someone…

No ideas but sending good vibes your way…

HAve you had him scoped for ulcers? He could be colicing because he doesn’t feel well.

I had a mare that got an abscess in front, an abscess in back, and coliced the next day from being miserable.

I have a gelding who had a similar issue. He came from Pacific Northwest to TX in the winter. Springtime through summer, he had a colic about every 4 weeks. After trying everything, my vet suggested taking him to veterinary school for evaluation. They ultrasounded, scoped, etc. didn’t really find anything of substance. They suggested a diet change. I had to go hay free (and that’s about as much fun as it sounds) for 8 weeks. Then change his hay from Coastal to either alfalfa or timothy. Senior feed three times daily (small amounts), soak all hay 24/7. Three years later and I still feed x3 daily, soak hay, and feed timothy. He has not had a colic episode since. I believe it was probably a combination of his lack of tolerance of coastal hay and the climate change. Don’t know if your guy had a change of hay or feed when he moved, but it might be worth checking out. Also, they had me monitor how much my horse was drinking. Good luck to you!

Understand he doesn’t have the same access to grass as before. So what else has changed? Just some random thoughts, which you may have already addressed.
What is his rank in the herd and if he is lower ranked, is he being “bullied or ostracized” by the herd? He may need to be in another herd or with just a buddy for a while.
Do you use the same feed and if no what is the major difference between your feed and the old feed.
My guess is the hay is different, what were they feeding him and how much?
Was he in/out part of the day or out 24/7?
Have you checked his teeth? Some horses need to be floated 2 or more times a year while others are can go longer.
Is he gobbling his food because he is always hungry or because he thinks the other horses will get his? I have a gelding who is at “death’s door” if he doesn’t have hay in front of him all of the time. I use a small hole hay net plus provide 1-2 flakes of hay in between time.
Is he fed in his stall or in a paddock with others? Another reason to gobble food plus possible tension that another horse will take his food.

Good luck with him!

I’d scope for ulcers pronto. You talked about behavior problems and less than ideal grazing conditions without the colic both of those things make me suspicious of ulcers and ulcers can lead to colic.

I have a horse who will “colic” when given more than a handful of grain IF he also has ulcers. He starts the up, down, roll around immeadiately after or even before he is finshed eating, so we know that the food hasn’t been in his system long enough for an impaction. We finally figured out that it was the increase in stomach acid caused by mealtime that was hurting his already raw stomach lining.

I have a mare that did this. Turned out to be hind gut ulcers which we treated her for. Alfalfa is a natural buffer and I would suggest that you add some to his diet if you are not already feeding it. My mare can not tolerate oats or any sweet feed containing oats ever since the ulcers. Beet pulp (soaked) plus soaked alfalfa pellets and TSC senior have been her salvation. She is now fat, happy, and colic free for the past 6 years.

Inflammation/thickening of the intestine? (I had one who had this and it presented as a series of colics).

Ulcers: get him scoped or just do gastrogard
Sand: radiographs could help determine extent; does he also have any fevers or loose manure prior to these episodes?
Enteroliths: radiographs sometimes can see them

I’d also get him worked up fully with complete abdominal ultrasound to make sure it isn’t a colitis issue.

With his turnout, depending on your location, sand is a big possibilty. Particularly if he was used to grazing some and your pasture has intermittent grass instead of straight dry lot.

I’d also work on getting more water into him no matter what. You can entice him to drink by making a “sweet tea” mix of 1 cup of sweet feed in the water with a little molasses or things like soaked senior feed or hydration hay.

I think ulcers. I had a horse that was colicing and that was the problem.

I would also cover the auto waterer and give him a bucket at least in his stall. Then you’ll know how much he is drinking inside.

This is really really reaching but I had a horse that I had to always put electrolytes in his water because he didn’t like new water. You mentioned you’re in a city, is there any possibility (even really small) that the horse just doesn’t like the taste of your water?

Are you feeding him fine stemmed grass hay? If so, and he were mine, I would put him on alfalfa, coarse, first cutting if you can get your hands on some. If not, try to find some wider blade, coarse, grass hay. Some horses just can’t tolerate fine stemmed hay and will get impactions.

The biggest thing is the hay. You need to change that ASAP.

Coastal Bermuda grass (Cynodon spp.) common to the southeastern United States is known to elicit intestinal contractions around a mass of feed, causing more water to be compressed out of the material; this can lead to increased desiccation and firmness of the intestinal contents. Mature Coastal Bermuda grass has a high, non-digestible crude fiber content that increases its propensity to ileal impaction colic.

Source: http://www.thehorse.com/articles/16207/impaction-colic-blocking-the-way

I think you’ve had several good suggestions here, but something not mentioned: tapeworms? Not always seen on a fecal when they’re present.

Is he grey? Internal melanoma? He’s a bit young. Or perhaps some other tumor. Have you considered an abdominal ultrasound?

Is bloodwork is normal? Any clues there?

Is his intake restricted at all now? I wonder if perhaps he just can’t handle large mouthfuls of food. Was he always in a muzzle in his previous home? Perhaps a small hole feed net would be useful.

Coastal hay usually causes impactions in the small intestine, not the small colon. OP, you did mean the small colon, right?

I think further workup would be a good idea.

I read small colon and though small intestine, my bad, still change the hay. Too much data out there linking coastal bermuda hay to colic to tempt fate by feeding it to a colic horse.

Here is what I found on small colon impaction:

Small colon impaction should be a differential for horses that present with colic, particularly when associated with diarrhea, in young adult horses during the fall and winter months. Workup should include a full colic examination, abdominocentesis, and blood work. For horses with confirmed small colon impaction, fecal cultures should be initiated, and cases should be treated medically. However, horses should be very carefully observed for evidence of recurrent colic and abdominal distension, at which time surgery should be initiated. Judicious re-feeding is required as part of the post-operative treatment plan. Finally, for farms involving multiple cases, attempts to restrict access to affected horses on the farm should be made to prevent potential spread of infectious agents to other horses.

Source: http://veterinarycalendar.dvm360.com/small-colon-impaction-proceedings?rel=canonical

I’d be looking at something viral or bacterial, I’d talk to your vet about a blood panel. You’re in the 2% and it’s a bad 2% to be in. I’d keep this pony quarantined and police his poop and do the samonella testing.

Here is some good reading on the subject, a bit scholarly with some surgical pictures though just to prepare you:

Another worm thing to consider, encysted cyathostomes don’t always respond to Panacur - in some regions, they have developed a resistance. We had 3 horses colicing for a few months in the fall/winter (I think 9 episodes total) and tried everything we could think of until a vet came up with this. After deworming with Quest (Moxidectin), the colics stopped.

About a year later, my BO had a horse in California, recently imported from Europe, who colicked and died; on the autopsy they found it was due to encysted cyathostomes. This was a well-bred horse that had been regularly dewormed but obviously whatever dewormers they’d used had not worked on these worms.

Thank you for your replies. We are considering a total work up at vet school. But speaking from personal experience, 3 horses of mine have died on the table in the last 15 years, so I am not really into the whole go-to-the-hospital and pay $6k for a dead horse kind of drama and heartache.

He is getting alfalfa hay. And I think that definitely helps because the one day the barn help forgot and gave him the regular hay (fescue) he did colic. Could have been a coincidence.

He’s better this morning and totally starving but I’m afraid to start feeding him. Vet comes this afternoon. This pony is up to $3500 in vet bills at this point.

Things that stand out from the responses:
He’s low on the totem pole. For sure. He is ostracized by the others. He is a weirdo who doesn’t fit in. He hates the gelding in the stall next to him, also. This is a really sweet tempered pony. It’s not as though he routinely just strikes out. He just doesn’t seem to like who he’s near. Any horse.

He looks depressed. Always. Completely low head and sweet and super docile all the time. Doesn’t fit his incredible athleticism.

His former stable was one of the wealthiest possible horse situations. And my place is pretty plain. Don’t know if that insults his ideas of who he is and where he’s been sent.

He doesn’t have his own person. Most of my horses don’t. They are lesson horses. But most horses do fine in that situation and some do not. I find homes for those.

I think he did get Quest when we wormed in March. But I will check that and make sure. He got Panacure just now and no change.

I will talk to vet about doing GastroGuard for awhile.
We are treating him for sand already and that may have been working.

Already did the Salmonella testing. Quarantined him for that time also. It was negative. 3 fecal samples sent in from three consecutive days.

Did the blood panel. Nothing stood out.

He never got coastal hay. I’ve personally seen the damage it can do and my horses are always on something thicker.

I’ll cover the auto-waterer - excellent idea. He has a bucket but he doesn’t use it because of the waterer. And I love the idea of giving him a flavored water (sweet feed/molasses) as well. Probably a separate bucket.

And I think it might be time to consider a hay free diet. Or keeping him inside always on Alfalfa. Otherwise, it means building him a paddock. He’s the most expensive free pony I’ve ever had!!

ALWAYS look a gift horse in the mouth. Always.

I think he did get Quest when we wormed in March. But I will check that and make sure. He got Panacure just now and no change[/QUOTE]

Has he been wormed with praziquantel? Quest Plus or Equimax or Zimecterin Gold?

Just Quest and Panacur will not get tapeworms. Tapes don’t always show up on a fecal. A large tapeworm load might cause what you’re seeing…at least some of it. Worth a shot!

I have just verified that he did NOT qet Quest or Quest Plus. Thank you Simkie, that will be part of the convo with the vet today

I’ve had good luck with this supplement


I also found a big difference in keeping one of my prone to colic horses on probiotics. I now just keep everyone on it (it is affordable).

I will say your description of him sounds like he may have ulcers. I have one who did who was very similar. Never went off his feed but wasn’t thriving and sort of depressed and basically TOO calm. Good luck finding what works for this boy.