Sunday, February 21, 2021

An Update of Annie

 

Time for a recap on this Queen!
 

My last post on the blog before a rather long (and well needed) break from writing in any formal sense, outlined the absolute chaos of trying to medically diagnose my sweet mare, and trying to understand the fall out from the subsequent vet visits. If you haven't yet read the entire saga (or simply forgot, because it was nearly 100 years ago at this point), I highly suggest giving it a quick study or revisiting it to simply recall the events in their entirety, because a lot of that information is important and relevant in this post.

As the middle of August came, went, and disappeared, I was beyond elated to see my mare returning to a relatively normal state. I was slowly but surely legging her back up, and continuing to do an obscene amount of research and reading regarding COPD - what it all meant and how to address and support concerns as they arrived. I wouldn't even be joking to say I have tried hundreds of dollars worth of allergen-suppressive and allergen-reducing supplements and drugs and tonics and tinctures. The amount of ingredient labels I have scrutinized with a sharp eye, and the amount of flip-flopping I have done between shipping costs and transport fees from the States to Canada has been... expensive and very time consuming.

For a majority of the year, you wouldn't know she was
diagnosed with respiratory issues at all.

We trialed a few holistic and more natural options, as well as veterinarian prescribed allergy meds with lukewarm success. I didn't notice a rather large difference in her mannerisms, and she continued to have a mild cough (mostly once or twice heading into canter). It was rather frustrating, although we were certainly having more good days than bad days. I held on to hope, knowing that these things take time and the multitude of COPD-related F(ace)book groups I was part of kept me motivated (and humbled) that respiratory issues are a process in itself and you need to take it one day at a time.

And so, we started to take it one day at a time - and things were looking promising. Like previously stated, Annie was slowly being legged up again and I finally was able to actually school her for the first time in months. It felt like we might just make it to the other side of this whole debacle. And yet, as I navigated my way through figuring out what would work best in terms of support for her newly diagnosed condition, Annie seemed to have other plans.

Oh, Annie.
 

You see, not even a day after posting back in August of last year, I noted that Annie's hind left was a bit puffy (that may or may not be why I struggled to publish this post, lest Annie have some kind of trick up her sleeve). I sighed, believing the bit of a gallop she had in the outdoor arena a few days prior was the cause and began the customary cold hosing, poulticing and wrapping so many of us are familiar with. The next day, upon removing the bandages, I noted that the swelling was gone and was relieved to see it did not seem serious. However, a simple glance at her right hind showed that now it was swelling, much like the left had done the day before. 

Confused, but not at all surprised (I mean, when you own a horse like Annie, nothing really surprises you), I cold hosed, poulticed and wrapped both hinds - but not before dosing her with some NSAID support. While I was quite happy to see that her persistent coughing and mucus accumulation was gone, her leg swelling was beginning to worry me. However, I simply assumed she had strained herself galloping around in the outdoor arena.

But what seemed like a "little tweak" seemed to be for naught, as each day that I assessed her, both legs would be in various stages of mild to moderate swelling and as I went through the checklist of what to look for with swelling every single day, I noted a few things: there was no heat accompanying the swelling, she was not lame, cold hosing would help, hand walking/ riding would make the swelling disappear, and constant pressure wraps would remove the swelling. However, within 24 hours it would return. 

 

Even on the rainy days we hand walked.
So much handwalking.

 
At this point I figured maybe she wasn't moving around much and started hand-walking her every single day. This improved the swelling but did not prevent it from returning 24 hours later. I lamented my frustrations to a friend, who suggested perhaps the new hay we had just rolled out could be the culprit. In fact, this friend suggested that from the beginning, but I was too stubborn to recognize it could be a relatively "easy" fix. I instead went ahead and shaved down her hind legs and slathered them in some lotions and potions to combat canon crud and Annie enjoyed throwing me for a loop when she randomly went tight-legged for a day or two post-leg shaving treatment.

But, it didn't last.

So, after trying all the tricks in the book without any solution, I scheduled a vet appointment a week and a half out and decided to do a little test to see if the hay could indeed be the culprit. At the beginning of the year, I had secured hay from two sources, as the previous year left slim pickings and most had to source hay outside of their usual suppliers. In doing this, I was able to score some local bales, but also some higher quality bales that are trucked in from outside of our immediate area. I was pretty tickled to have options, as I am pretty limited to what I can use, as storage options where Annie and Spud are are very limited. That being said, I was able to secure more than enough hay (and then twice over, lol) and in August, after the final cuts were done, we switched to the non-local hay.

 I tarped over the leftover bale so the horses couldn't access it and supplemented some local square bales from Maizey's stash across the street and within five days time, guess who's legs went tight and normal again? 

I was pretty pleased and switched them back to the non-local hay before our vet appointment to see if her legs would blow up again and lo and they slowly started to fill once again. I hauled out 3+ hours with friends who also had appointments and saw a Vet who travelled up to the area (she used to run a practice in the area but now lives elsewhere). Of course, when I unloaded Annie after a 3 hour trailer ride, her legs were cold and tight. I swear to God, mare.

Just a casual 3 hour trailer ride for the Vet to check
a mare who decided not to have swollen legs
that day.
 
Since there wasn't anything to see, the Vet and I mostly chit-chatted and we both agreed that the excess protein in the non-local hay was probably causing the leg swelling. I noted to the Vet that Annie was diagnosed with COPD and I had heard her cough in the paddock a few times during the "leg swelling test" and I was concerned the local hay could be a trigger. The Vet advised that she would rather see a COPD horse with mildly swollen hind legs vs coughing and being on various medications. She did recommend using some pressure wraps and advised to hand walk and get her moving where I could. 

Things started to get better though, as they always did, and Annie did well with the Equiflex Sleeves I ordered. I'll have to do a product review at one point to go more in depth about my experience with it, because I feel like this post is going to be excessively long otherwise!

Looking (filthy) fancy in her pink sleeves.
 

As the Fall came and went, things were relatively normal - although we still battled the puffy legs. It was certainly made easier with the Equiflex sleeves, and things were chugging along pretty steadily. I managed to continue some relatively easy schooling, given the fact that we had a very, very wet year. I cannot accurately give a number on how many days we had rain, but I just know it was... gross.

We started to get ready for the inevitable Winter and I was able to get things set up pretty early on - given the fact that our usual snowload seemed elusive for the most part. We had some bumps in the road as Annie had periods of regression and success and I started to lose my mind a bit. She presented mid-November with a glob of thick snot affixed to her knee and I sighed, dialed the Vet's number and reached out for more information regarding nebulizers and how they are used as a mucolytic. I had been researching nebulizers for a few months and was starting to lean towards purchasing one to help Annie with her (obvious) mucus accumulation. 

After speaking with our Vet, I took the plunge in purchasing a (very expensive) Flexineb nebulizer and looked forward to seeing what it could do for us and how it would help Annie. I'll have to write a separate post about the Flexineb (I actually want to do a full write up on COPD and what I've found works/ doesn't work, and a bit of a run down of how the Flexineb works, how to clean it, etc. Would any of you be interested in something like that? I haven't found anything that covers the entire use of a Flexineb system (even their own website), and a lot of what I've learned about COPD is what I've strung together from my own Vet's advice, Vet Med articles, F(ace)book posts, blogs, and other horse care websites.

A quick little video of how it looks/ works.
 
Anyways, we got the Flexineb a week after my birthday and I was pleased to see those sporadic, random coughs, started to disappear. The Flexineb, along with the saline and chelated silver (I promise I'll explain how to choose what to put in the cup and how much liquid, how often, etc if everyone wants me to! It'll definitely take some time to write out properly and show little videos but I would be thrilled to do so!) started to work pretty well and I was happy with the results I was seeing. We did a lot of hand walking and a few rides when the weather allowed, but for the most part, I was busy switching out rain blankets every few days as they would get soaked through after being exposed to the torrential downpours we were receiving.

 With Winter coming and the issue with the non-local hay not fitting properly in the hay feeder (which meant I'd have to unravel the bales until they did fit and then stockpile the unraveled hay), I opted to try out the local hay bales (they are half the size). I was nervous, considering the local square bales seemed to aggravate her, but was pleasantly surprised to see the bale didn't seem to cause any issues and I happily continued to use the Flexineb as part of our regular maintenance routine.

One of our many hand-walking nebulizing adventures.

As I continued to familiarize myself with the Flexineb, it's capabilities, and what kind of support Annie needed from it, I was let go from my position at work. It was a devastating blow, given how the entire situation unfolded, but at the end of the day, I cannot help but feel a small amount of pride in myself for sticking to my morals. It did suck though, especially considering Christmas was just around the corner and an increase of COVID cases in our region made work-forces come to a screeching halt.

And as if 2020 wanted to continue the beatings, Annie went into an awful flare a week and a half before Christmas. I was confused, as she had been on a bale of local hay for over a month without an issue and it seemed as though a few days after another bale went out, she was a coughing, hacking mess. There were a few other external factors that were confusing me - writing it all out, it seems so obvious, but being in the situation is a whole 'nother ball game. I drove myself crazy trying to find a trend or a link somewhere... some place. My gut churned, feeling as though it could be the local hay causing issues, but she had been on a bale of local hay just days prior without issue.

Suffice to say - W.T.F.

These were very, very expensive antibiotics.

As her symptoms worsened, much to my dismay, I once again reached out to my vet who immediately sent up some heavy duty (and expensive!) antibiotics since the mucus Annie was coughing up looked a tinge suspicious. We also put her on steroids and a bronchodialator to use with her Flexineb and I struggled to get ahead of the symptoms. 

Two weeks of pure misery trying to gain traction to only have success and then just as quickly, disaster. The Vet changed dosing of the steroids and bronchodialator and we added a few other things and once again, we would have success and then it would all come crashing down within a few days. I spent hours sitting in the hay feeder, as the rain poured down, timing and counting each cough, each sneeze, and any little movement or improvement. Annie, bless her, never felt completely poorly - she still tucked her butt and galloped around several times, but on the not so good days, you could tell she was pretty frustrated with coughing. I felt for her, and panic-ordered several cough remedies, tonics, and cut out every single hard feet or treat I could for fear it was making things worse. We were down to the basics and I was practically living in the paddock with the horses, obsessing over every single breath (in fact, the Boyfriend called me one afternoon asking if I was planning on coming home, since I had left several hours earlier).

It was so wet that my poor phone could
barely snap a clear photo or video.
 

As the bale in the feeder was down to the last 100-200lbs, I made the decision to switch back over to the non-local hay (I know, I know, what a fricken back and forth debacle). It took a few hours of fucking around with the giant bale, fitting a hay net, clearing snow, and then finally loading it... but I was glad it was such a nice day (ie not snowing, raining or below 0!) that I didn't mind it. And, instead of continuing to feed the last hundred or so pounds of the local hay, I dragged it all out and disposed of it far from the horses. 

Once the bale was in, I grew a bit worried as the days ticked by and there didn't seem to be any signs of improvement. I stayed the course, however, and within the nine day mark, Annie was pretty much back to normal. I weaned her off of the whole slew of medication she was on, but continued the antibiotics, and carefully started to exercise her a bit again. And as the days continued to pass, she did really, really well. I was able to successfully reintroduce her grainfeeds (I don't feed extruded feeds, but she is mainly given rice bran and beet pulp, as well as supplements) and I finally was able to breathe a sigh of relief. 

 


There are so many questions I have about this entire saga - namely, why did she do fine with one local bale, but then not the second?? Which brought me to my next plan of attack - allergy testing. 

We are working alongside a local vet to arrange for an allergy panel once roadways are safer and I can actually... yanno... dig my horse trailer out. I'm in no absolute rush to get the panel done, but I know it'll answer so many of the questions I have and remove a lot of fear of "Can I give her this grain?" "What about this hay?". Instead of fighting an invisible trigger, I want to see X, Y, Z in front of me - undeniable proof that they can cause issues and therefore, we can avoid them, minimize them, or implement immunotherapy for them. 

It took some time to get the Vet on board, because I actually had approached this Vet back in August after her diagnosis and several Facebook groups recommended allergy testing to me, and I was given a very abrupt, "We don't do that here." from the receptionist. I am a bit frustrated I didn't push back in the Summer, given how things have turned out now, but I was quite new to the whole allergy/COPD/RAO world and having had just made a 7 hour trek for a lung wash and additional diagnostics, I was a bit overwhelmed and under-educated. 

 

She's still crazy sassy and playful! We both can't wait for
Spring (although maybe a little pre-ride lunging is
in order, lol).

All of that aside, I convinced the Vet and his team to use the lab I chose instead of their usual lab, as it is one of the only labs that also tests feeds (beet pulp, carrots, apples, molasses, etc). After about a month and a half of combing through labs, what they test for, the availability of immunotheraphy shots, and how concise they are, I managed to lock it down as to what I want to use. Of course, being the middle of Winter and facing sub zero temperatures with a horse trailer still buried behind the snow we did get, it isn't the best time to be hauling one of the worst stretches of highways in our region. So, that will all come in Spring. For now, Annie is stable and happy so we aren't in an absolute hurry. 

It's been an absolute endeavor working my way through this and even more so without the ability to just waltz into a vet clinic that has all the tests and whistles available. And so, we do the best we can and we do our own research to make those educated choices for our horses... and for the most part, I think we are on the right trajectory. I think the most frustrating thing about respiratory illness in horses is that there is no one size fits all approach. The groups on Facebook have been the most enlightening (and it helps they are so dang supportive too), because there are horses who exhibit a lot more symptoms than Annie does, some that exhibit less, some who can tolerate only square bales, some who can only tolerate steamed hay... and the list goes on. It's challenging, and I've learned a lot about the confusing world of respiratory disorders and to not judge people with their horses because chances are, they are trying so fucking hard to get their partner well again. Above all else, it reaffirms that the art of horsemanship does not stop out of the saddle.

13 comments:

  1. Oh my. What a saga!! I am sorry that you are going through all this. I wonder if, ike asthma there are triggers that set off the chain reaction in the lungs?

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    1. Yes! There are very much triggers - just like allergies in people. Essentially, an allergen is triggering a reaction. I didn’t include it in this post, but the vet we have been dealing with doesn’t believe Annie has asthma - she believes Annie has allergies. Ironically enough, 9/10 COPD/RAO/ asthma/ etc owners all turn to allergy testing to determine their horses triggers because 90% of respiratory issues are environmental. Whether it be the hay, dust, mold spores, pollen, or otherwise.

      We are slowly figuring it out. I am trying to take heart because I know of a friend who took 6-7 years to figure it out. It’s frustrating because what works for one horse does not work for another. For example, the friends horse has to be on a certain supplement year round and must have his hay soaked for a certain period of time and can only have a certain kind of hay. His symptoms are also vastly different than Annie’s - struggling to breathe, heave lines and disinterest in eating/ drinking.

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  2. Ugh I am so sorry you and Annie are having to endure this

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  3. ugh first off i am SO SORRY about your job that is HORRENDOUS second of all I hope you figure out something with Annie but you are DOING everything you can and MORE!

    I hope everything looks up and Spring arrives early up there! HUGS

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    1. Thank you!! It’s been a real rollercoaster. I’m thankful things are seeming to level out. I appreciate the kind works because sometimes I feel like I’m not doing enough!

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  4. So hard to go through all of this, and especially so without easy access to all the tests and vets. You're a great momma for Annie, and I know she appreciates all of your hard work to get her better!
    I did allergy testing on Badger because he was the itchiest horse ever. To the point he was knocking fences down daily by scratching too hard on them. Turns out, he was allergic to Timothy which is in a lot of the hay around here. Poor dude. My trainer had an allergic horse that used the Flexineb and she found it to be a huge help for that mare.
    I hope you get to the bottom of all of it this spring and can get back to your regular riding together.

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    1. I appreciate the support so much!
      That is so good to know - can I ask what lab you used? I know of someone else local to me who had allergy testing done (for her also itchy horse) and she said it was really informative. So far I've found that Spectrum labs is the only one who tests food as well (ie. beet pulp, rice bran, apples, molasses, etc)

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    2. It was through a company called ACTT, but it looks like they have merged with Spectrum. They tested for EVERYTHING, including different tree and grass pollens in your area.

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  5. I'm so sorry you're still going through this. And that you lost your job - that's terrible. Fingers crossed allergy testing gives you some concise answers. My friend's horse here had similar symptoms to Bridget. They opted to get the allergy tests and they came back with a lot of helpful information! So far B is still doing well on her soaked cubes and antihistamines. I know you will find a plan that keeps Annie happy too and I'm sure you're on your way to bigger and better job opportunities.

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    1. It's been a real frustrating ride, I'm not going to lie, but it seems like we are FINALLY getting somewhere. Good to hear that your friend has had valuable information resulting from allergy testing - I'm hoping it's similar for us!

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  6. What a long and miserable saga. I am so sorry you are going through this. However, Annie is so lucky to have you fight and advocate for her. Not everyone would go this far to try to help their horse. I hope you get answers and a working plan in place sooner rather than later. You are an excellent horse woman.

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    1. It has been hard, but it's also been rewarding to finally "get it", if that makes sense?
      Thank you Dom, I appreciate the kind words - it is really nice to hear from someone who is as dedicated and wonderful as yourself <3 It can be really tough up here - we are so isolated with what we have available. Never been an excuse tho, because I manage to get it done (even if we have to haul 7hrs one way to get answers, haha).

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