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Dear Cowboy Bob,

We had a mare that we were given as it had been neglected; it came to us bone thin. We wormed her twice. We were also told she was between 12-14. She had never had a colt; we were told they left her in with a stallion for four years and she never had one. Anyway, we wormed her and fed her hay, sweet feed and corn. We also were told by our vet to give her weight builder, so we bought it and gave her the recommended dosage. But she never gained an ounce and died today.

My husband is very distraught and angry. She had blood coming from her mouth at death. Do you know what we could have done differently to maybe have saved her? We have three other horses and have had them for a very long time and they are all doing great. We just don't understand why she didn't come out of it.

M. & S. G.


First of all, let me say how sorry I am to hear about your mare's death after your dedicated efforts to save her. I know from personal experience the feelings of grief and anger that naturally spring from such situations. In time, they will subside.

I'm not a vet, and it may require a careful autopsy to really determine the cause of death. After a study of the Merck Vet Manual, based on your description, however, I have a strong suspicion about the cause. If I'm right, there probably wasn't much you could have done to prevent her death.

My guess is that she probably suffered from what the vets call "hyperlipemia syndrome." In layman's terms, hyperlipemia occurs when a horse is severely under-fed while under stress (pregnancy, illness, hard exercise, etc.) This can cause a cascade of effects, such as liver disease (or failure), change in insulin balance, depletion of body fat (anorexia), etc.

Good nutrition may help, but most horses with hyperlipemia syndrome either won't eat what is needed or can't utilize the feed. Intravenous feeding is the best solution, but even that has a doubtful outcome when the animal's organs and metabolism have suffered great damage.

I'm sure this isn't much help, but at least you can take some comfort in the fact that you probably did as much as was humanly possible under the circumstances -- and that the mare died in the knowledge that her two-legged friends loved her and did their best to save her.

May the Lord bless and reward you for your unselfish care of one of His creatures.

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