Let me start with a disclaimer – I’m writing this post after being up for quite a while without sleep and I also realized that I hadn’t eaten anything for over 24 hours. I’m dealing with a major equine issue and want to provide as much information and real life probabilities as possible.
This is going to be the first in a series of posts about Big Mike’s new diagnosis as a PSSM horse. The full shebang is known as Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy (PSSM) or Equine Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy (EPSM). I’ve been working with horses for 25+ years and have never encountered such a nerve-wracking and emotional draining disease.
Let me give you a little timeline of events:
- 10 weeks ago – hoof trim with new farrier – Big was reluctant to pick up his back hooves and I assumed that it was him testing out his new farrier’s skills
- 8 weeks ago – Big was “ouchy” on his hooves and I assumed it was the frozen uneven ground (seriously, he is 2100 pounds – that’s a lot of weight on those hooves)
- 4 weeks ago – new blanket (that lasted 2 days) changed and I tried to pick out his back hooves – he shook all over and didn’t want me to pick out his hooves
- over the next week, Big was reluctant to come out of his run-in to play (maybe 1/2 of the day)
- 2 weeks ago – Big wasn’t coming out of his run-in at all – checked for abscesses (none) – would just poke his head out to eat from his bucket
- This is when I decided to call the vet and ask for some medication to alleviate what I still assumed was hoof pain – he was on Previcox for the night and the next day I asked for the vet to come out because the shaking was still present and my gut was telling me to start looking for other answers
- 1 week ago – emergency vet call on Sunday confirmed my googling diagnosis of PSSM/EPSM – blood was drawn to check out kidney numbers and muscle breakdown – began high fat diet (will explain a little ways down in this post)
- 3 days ago – even with high fat diet and hand walking, Big was struggling to even get up from a laying down position and could barely lift his hind hooves to walk – called vet back out and we began the IV drip with additional muscle relaxers, electrolytes, and pain meds
PSSM/EPSM, in a nutshell, is a muscle wasting disease that comes as a result of a horse’s body not being able to properly process carbohydrates within their feed – this is a genetic and inheritable disease that shows up in almost all draft breeds and is also commonly found in Quarter Horses. Lucky me – I have both. It is also commonly misdiagnosed without blood work and/or a muscle biopsy. Many think that it is just a horse “tying up” after a hard exercise and day of rest or even just a case of “stringhalt” or “shivers”. The laying down and getting up that is commonly causes also reminds some owners of colic.
So how did I get to PSSM/EPSM in my online research? I started by googling “sore draft hooves in the winter” and a Rural Heritage link popped up with some information by Dr. Beth Valentine. After reading her description of PSSM/EPSM my gut feeling told me that we had a bingo. I shared my concern with Dr. Jack of Mountain View Vet and he confirmed my fears/research with his visit and the subsequent blood work results.
More research on the subject had me utterly confused: what do I feed now that I know his food is harming him? Do I feed ALL of the horses a new diet to prevent this? Is there a cure or surefire way to prevent this from happening? What body part can I sell to afford the vet bill? What other signs have I missed?
As a horse owner, I do try to educate myself on the potential dangers of just about everything but I am kicking myself for not looking into this sooner.
I’m going to be addressing the food part of this disease in the next post because I have been working through it and don’t have a fulfilling amount of information. I would love to hear about your experience with PSSM horse in the comments below!