Miniature Ventures
Breeders of beautiful Miniature Horses with Action!
Quality Breeding  ~  Quality Transport

Larry, Maryann & Brianna Cerullo
5643 SW Minson Rd.
Powell Butte, OR 97753
Phone: 541-410-6222  

E-mail: miniv@coinet.com


ONLY one word, other than colic, strikes fear and terror into the hearts and minds of experienced miniature horse and pony owners.  That word is HYPERLIPEMIA.  This is supposed to be a disease that is somewhat rare in the equine population and indeed, many veterinarians have absolutely no experience with it other than reading their professional journals.  About seven or eight years ago, a case of Hyperlipemia was discussed on the Lil Beginnings bulletin board and from that moment, many miniature horse and pony owners began to educate themselves about this dread disease.  There appears to be more prevalence in the pony population than elsewhere among horses.

Hyperlipemia, which literally means "overactive or excessive fat",  is a disease that releases body fat reserves into the bloodstream which can overload the horse's liver ultimately causing liver failure and death to the horse. Another name for it is "fatty liver disease" or "hyperlipidemia". 

Hyperlipemia comes on suddenly.  There seem to be many causes of this disease most of which have their roots tied to stress. Horses who have been recently or are being transported have been found with this disease.  Overweight horses, lactating mares, mares who have recently foaled (those two sort of go together), horses who have had major surgery, horses who have colicked and horses experiencing undue stress from new surroundings or new situations have all been found susceptible to this disease. 

Symptoms are depression and lack of appetite (anorexia).  They will show no interest in hay, grain, grass, alfalfa, pasture or any food or treat whatsoever.  We have experienced this disease twice, once with a horse Larry transported across the county and once with a mare (a favorite, of course) who had recently had a successful colic surgery. The transported horse survived.  The mare didn't.

Hyperlipemia is diagnosed positively through blood tests and treatment must be quickly started and aggressively in order to save the horse's life.  Treatment includes glucose and insulin to stop the fat from breaking down into the bloodstream.  The drug Heparin (a blood thinner and an anti-coagulant) is often given to help break down the fat already in the bloodstream. Nutritional support and fluids are a must!

In our case, the mare was already far into the throes of the diesase before we realized she was more than just recovering slowly from the colic surgery.  Our vet did blood tests and communicated with a specialist but wasn't aggressive enough with his treatment.  This was the first case of Hyperlipemia he had ever seen. After we lost the mare, we researched the disease and realized that there WERE home and stopgap treatments...emergency treatments to help hold the horse until it received the proper medical care.  Those treatments included large doses of KARO syrup and/or Apple Juice syringed into the horse's mouth.  The horse may need to be forced to swallow (by rubbing its neck).   A friend of ours had saved a mare with hyperlepemia by doing this because his vet was unavailable.

According to Mary Boyce,
"Most cases of hyperlipemia can be prevented by maintaining feed intake. Enteral feeding of commercially prepared diets are recommended for miniature horses with enterocolitis, colic, or other anorexia-induced primary diseases."

Hyperlepmia is a grave problem.  This is something you need to discuss with your veterinarian BEFORE it occurs.  Treatment, as I said above, is extensive, aggressive and expensive.  With luck you'll never experience this.  It is rare enough even in the pony breeds. 

See also

Larry Ross' article:  Hyperlipemia - A Critical Situation 
A layman's discussion of Hyperlipemia.

Mary Boyce: Hyperlipmia in Miniature Horses
A somewhat technical discussion of Hyperlipmia that your vet SHOULD read.

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