Morgan Murphy

Hyperlipidemia & Equine Obesity: Why Sudden Dramatic Weight Loss is a Bad Thing.

Miniature horses are growing in popularity in the U.S., both as pets and show animals. Generally, they suffer from many of the same conditions and diseases as their full sized counterparts, however, there are certain conditions which appear to plague minis. One such potentially fatal condition, related to digestion of fats and regulation of appetite, is Hyperlipidemia.

What is Equine Hyperlipidemia?

Small ponies are at greater risk of Hyperlipidemia

While Hyperlipidemia does sometime affect horses, it is more commonly found in ponies, miniatures and donkeys, who tend to struggle more with obesity. The condition usually starts when an obese equine suddenly loses a significant amount of weight.

Hyperlipidemia causes the body to be overrun with fat, hence the term Hyper (Over) Lipidemia (abnormally high concentration of lipids). A miscommunication in the endocrine system causes the horse’s body to think it is in a state of starvation. In response, excessive quantities of stored lipids from inside the cells are released into the bloodstream. The equine then loses its appetite as the body attempts to discourage further fat intake.

What are the Signs of Hyperlipidemia?

A pony suffering with Hyperlipidemia will not necessarily appear to be thin, but will have recently lost weight. Signs of Hyperlipidemia include:

  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Depression
  • Muscle Twitching
  • Lack of coordination
  • Gastric Disturbance – Colic or Diarrhea
  • A damaged or impaired liver function
  • Complete refusal of all food.

It is important to seek veterinary attention immediately if you suspect that your pony is suffering from Hyperlipidemia. One of the main symptoms of this condition is that the pony will refuse all food. Even if an owners tries to feed tempting food, he will show no interest.

Treating Hyperlipidemia in Horses

Hyperlipidemia can emerge very suddenly. Symptoms can occur over a matter of hours and unless caught at a very early stage, treatment can be extremely difficult. The main goal of treatment is to reduce the fats in the blood and stabilize insulin levels. Your veterinarian will normally provide urgent fluid therapy and intravenous glucose. The body must no longer feel it is in a state of starvation and will require nutritional support and insulin therapy to attempt to achieve this. Unfortunately, even aggressive treatment can be ineffective once the liver is overwhelmed. There is a 70% mortality rate associated with delayed treatment. If caught at an early stage, success rates are far higher.

Prevention of Hyperlipidemia in Horses

As yet, researchers don’t yet fully understand what triggers Hyperlipidemia. Some studies suggest that stress and sudden, dramatic weight loss are the leading causes, therefore it is important to adopt a slow, gradual weight loss program when your pony is overweight. Trying to minimize stress during weight loss by feeding more fiber and less concentrate, thus reducing a feeling of being deprived of food. This can help create a fuller feeling and less anxiety over food.

*Image Courtesy of Dollar Photo Club