Sasha, an impressive dark bay warmblood, was foaled in the Ukraine and trained for dressage. As a six-year-old, he was shipped to a German dealer, who sold him to an American the following year. He was gelded that June and arrived in the United States on July 5. In early August, Sasha was dewormed and given a full round of vaccinations. About a week later, he colicked. That episode was followed by more deworming, which was followed by more colic and an increasingly obvious persistent weight loss.
While Sasha became enveloped in a steady downward spiral of colic, bloating, dramatic weight loss and, eventually, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), his owner aggressively pursued every avenue to find a cure.
A switch from grain to extruded feed and more-fibrous hay helped to slow the weight loss, but the colics continued. Initial blood work provided no clues, but a dextrose-absorption test revealed that the small intestine wasn’t absorbing even this simple sugar. This led to a serum protein electrophoresis test, which separates out the proteins in the blood and can provide clues as to whether there’s an inflammatory process, allergy or malignancy.
The results looked like lymphosarcoma, but it could also have been due to IBD. Fortunately, a normal liver biopsy and liver/spleen ultrasound decreased the likelihood of lymphosarcoma.
The only procedure left was a biopsy of the abnormal sections of the intestine, which Sasha’s owner was reluctant to do. Instead, she opted to try corticosteroids, which would relieve the IBD.
Sasha started on prednisone, a steriod, in the fall, then switched to injectable dexamethasone, a potent steroid with anti-inflammatory properties, on December 1. The dexamethasone did stop the severe colic, except for one episode in January after the horse was again dewormed.
In the meantime, the horse had literally become a steroid junkie and couldn’t be tapered to a low dose. He required steroid injections every four days or he would colic badly. Even with the steroids, Sasha had frequent uncomfortable bloating episodes when manure production would drop. Even eating grass or just hay and weather changes would push him into colic.
All attempts to taper his steroids resulted in colic, sometimes severe enough to require Banamine and/or an extra steroid treatment. Exploratory surgery to remove abnormal sections of the intestines was suggested, however, the prognosis was poor. Things were looking grim. Determined, Sasha’s owner got in touch with a progressive, never-say-die veterinarian who agreed to take the case.
Back To The Basics
It was clear that Sasha’s IBD was at least partially due to stress - intensive training in Europe, gelding, and then the journey to the States - and that the vaccinations and dewormings may have pushed him over the edge. He was placed on a restricted diet in an attempt to get his inflammation under control while supporting a normal immune response.
A hair sample was sent to Uckele Health (www.uckele.com, 800-248-0330) for mineral analysis and a mineral supplement to correct any dietary imbalances or deficiencies. The vet put Sasha on Digest-All for assisting the small-intestine digestive processes, Equi-Pro to help rebuild muscle, and N-acetyl-cysteine to support the synthesis of the antioxidant glutathione, which is good for protecting the gut.
All grain-based feed was stopped, and Sasha was switched to beet pulp, which doesn’t require a functioning small intestine for absorption and is well-tolerated. Sasha was allowed grass hay only and no fresh grass. The goal was to make his diet constant, avoid potential allergens/irritants in commercial grain mixes and use feed that relied minimally on small-intestinal function. Since the small intestine is required for protein absorption, Sasha’s dietary protein level was boosted with an easily digested and absorbed protein source, concentrated whey protein extract.
Intestinal function was further supported by Ration Plus (www.rationplus.com, 800-728-4667). He was also started on a few tablespoons of flaxseed oil for essential fatty acids and on APF (www.auburnlabs.com, 888-714-4697), a blend of Chinese adaptogenic herbs that strengthen immunity and modify inflammatory/allergic reactions. That left one more product to find: a source of bovine colostrum, which was known to treat IBD in experimental animals.
Vita-Flex was contacted about their Glutasyn (www.vita-flex.com, 800-848-2359), which would be an immune-system support and complement the N-acetyl-cysteine. However, at the time, Vita-Flex was developing a new bovine colostrum-based product called Rejuvenex, with which they had positive responses in dogs. Sasha became the first Rejuvenex equine test case.
With the horse’s diet in place, the focus shifted to getting him off steroids. On March 28, Sasha got his first dose of colostrum and was in the process of switching to the beet pulp and other supplements, which he was handling well. He got a dexamethasone injection on March 31 because of bloating and diarrhea, but it was considered likely due to the colostrum.
Determined to continue to use colostrum, the vet added Lactaid, the human product that contains an enzyme to break down milk sugar, to the Rejuvenex. That did it. Sasha looked so good that his owner skipped his next dexamethasone shot - without problems.
Off steroids, Sasha became more energetic, anxious for his food, and wanting to go outside, which he did. Although he still had bloating, it was traced to new spring grass, so Sasha was fitted with a grazing muzzle. By mid-April, he had gained 50 pounds. His coat looked better, and he had gone five days without bloating.
He had one more episode of bloating severe enough to warrant dexamethasone, just in case, during a persistent period. The cause appeared to be a combination of too much grass, which necessitated taping the muzzle shut; too rapid an increase in supplements and too little colostrum. By mid-May his energy levels were rapidly rising, he was shedding out well, and he was even being ridden.
Sasha was switched to a different source of colostrum (Fortius, www.fortius.ca) and did well on this, too. He still had some shaky periods that were traced to either a hay change or too little colostrums, so he was switched to hay cubes to minimize hay changes. Progress was uphill. He was gaining weight, and the bloating episodes were increasingly rare. In November he went on plain oats.
Sasha is now back in work. He’s eating hay cubes, oats and beet pulp, plus a customized mineral supplement. His diet will have to be watched closely, and he will remain colic-prone, but it’s a small price to pay. If Sasha’s owner hadn’t been determined to continue trying, he might not be here today.
Also With This Article
Click here to view ”What is IBD'”
Click here to view ”Why Colostrum'” and ”DMSO and IBD.”