|Hollywood Royal Lady|
My beautiful palomino mare, Holly - more formally known as "Hollywood Royal Lady," - will turn 33 years old in just three weeks, on April 1st. Not long ago, I was growing increasingly concerned she wouldn't be here to celebrate it with her usual birthday bath and extra attention.
Holly has been in good health, for a gracious old lady. She's a bit wobbly in the hocks, now, and her muscle mass isn't what it once was, and her gorgeous ground-length tail recently suffered a major loss of length when Holly's newest granddaughter chewed it off through the fence. Other than that, she's a healthy old gal, and still a prankster deserving of her April Fool's birthday. A few weeks back, I noticed Holly was having quite a bit of flatulence. Holly's been gassy for a few years, but I didn't think much of it - heck, at her age the social graces just aren't as important. The gas got worse, though, so I changed her feed a bit. I added chaff / chop hay to her daily ration of top-quality alfalfa. The gas continued. Soon she developed diarrhea. It was just loose manure at first, accompanied by gassy expulsions. She looked normal otherwise. I took her off the chop hay, thinking it might be too rich, or that the added molasses was causing trouble. The diarrhea worsened.
Soon Holly had fecal matter on her hocks and cheeks from the diarrhea. I gave her probiotic, wormed her, and did some research. Based on what I'd been reading, my hypothesis was that Holly's old teeth had become concave and weren't grinding thoroughly anymore. Long stems of hay were making it through her digestive system and irritating the lining of the gastrointestinal tract - and this caused the gas and diarrhea.
I immediately began to transition Holly to a diet of exclusively bermuda hay and bermuda / alfalfa blend pellets. Within a day after her last meal of alfalfa hay, her diarrhea improved ever-so-slightly. Within three days, it was completely gone. The flatulence disappeared with it. After a week, though, the diarrhea returned. I mentioned it to my husband, the chief on-site spoiler-of-animals. He confessed to giving Holly "a little bit of alfalfa as a treat." After a stern lecture, he promised to never give her any alfalfa hay again. The donkeys (who area also on a strict bermuda diet) are stabled next to her - so Holly can't steal alfalfa through the fence.
Holly's bowel movements are back to normal, she's got no noticeable gas (and it most definitely was noticeable), and she is once again thriving. She doesn't exhibit any negative effects of eating some fresh weeds - I let her nibble on the London Rocket and False Chamomile that are prevalent here this rainy year - and they cause no distress. As it's occasionally a challenge to keep weight on many older horses, we let Holly have free access to the bermuda hay, and we give her several pounds of the alfalfa-bermuda blend pellets twice a day.
I'm now confident Holly will be looking forward to her April Fool's Day celebration of extra carrots and a bran mash surprise. If your own geriatric horse develops diarrhea of unknown origin, consider moving them off alfalfa hay and onto an alternative diet. Pelleted senior diets will, of course, solve this issue. In recent years, I've moved away from giving my horses copious amounts of grain; if you are similarly inclined, consider pelleted alfalfa and bermuda as an alternative. Perhaps your own elderly horse will benefit.