Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony. ~ Thomas Merton

Thursday, September 1, 2011

If It's Not One Thing . . .

I mentioned it in passing but feel it deserves a little more attention . . . Cricket has borderline anemia.

Cricket has been lethargic for the past month or so.  By nature she's a conservationist but something told me there was more to the picture.  I'd seen her nibbling some weeds in her pasture and became concerned about possible toxicity.  I made an appointment and had my vet draw blood to run a full check on her.

The good news is - no liver or kidney damage.  In fact Dr. Harry said her levels and ratios couldn't be more perfect.  The one anomaly is her low red blood cell count and low hemoglobin.*  Her red blood cells are perfectly healthy but there just aren't enough of them.

That would explain the lethargy. But what explains the anemia?

There are three main causes for anemia in horses: blood loss, increased blood cell destruction and inadequate blood cell production.  My gut feeling is Cricket is suffering from inadequate blood cell production.

The most obvious sign of blood loss would be acute injury.  That one's easy to rule out.  Other sources of blood loss can be gastric ulcers and parasite infestations.  Symptoms of gastric ulcers and parasite infestations can include, among other things, poor appetite, poor hair coat, mild colic and weight loss.  Cricket shows none of these signs.  Outwardly, she appears to be the picture of health.  Minus the whole "I'm not moving" thing.

Blood cell destruction is often accompanied by fever, yellowish mucous membranes and, in more severe cases, dark reddish urine.  Possible causes are toxicity (red maple leaves or certain classes of drugs) or infection (EIA).  Another cause could be increased exposure to wild onions or garlic, resulting in Heinz body anemia.  As Cricket's blood cells appeared perfectly health, it is unlikely cell destruction is a the root of her problem.

So by process of elimination, we have inadequate blood cell production.  And of course this is the hardest to resolve.  Go figure.  Just my luck.

Inadequate blood cell production can result from prolonged disease, stress, environment, nutrition and probably the alignment of the planets.  Okay, maybe not the last one but still . . . .

Since her blood work showed no signs of infection, I can rule out one cause.

I'm going to look at stress, nutrition and environment and see if we cannot iron out the kinks.  She's been on limited pasture forage and I think her run-mate is bullying her out of her food.  When horses lack access to adequate forage, it can increase stress.  Horses have evolved to graze slowly over long periods of time.  Unfortunately modern horse-keeping doesn't always honor that instinct.  Different horses have different levels of tolerance.  Apparently Cricket's is pretty low.  Go figure.  Just my luck.

* this is the diagnosis as I recall from my phone conversation with my vet.
† Please note the information in this blog post is based on my internet research following Cricket's diagnosis.  It is not intended to replace the advice of a qualified veterinarian.  If you suspect your horse is anemic, please contact your veterinarian and discuss your concerns.

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