Given the number of senior horses I've cared for over my time in the horse world and the fact that researchers estimate that 15-30% of senior horses develop pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (or PPID), you might think I have extensive hands-on experience in managing PPID horses. But guess what: I've been involved in the management of one PPID horse in my entire 20+ years of caring for horses. Go figure!
My family's Miniature Horse, Brandy, was the lone PPID-affected horse I had a hand in caring for, and she was plenty challenging…mainly because we didn't actually diagnose her with PPID until a couple years before she died (of unrelated causes) for a variety of reasons.
We always joked that Brandy grew and shed enough hair each year that should a Belgian need a hair transplant, we'd have him covered.
Photo: Erica Larson
When she first came to us more than a decade ago, she'd been living in a tool-type shed with a herd of goats, eating goat food, and maintaining a body condition score of at least 8, maybe even 9. Her previous owners, while they meant well, had no idea how to properly care for a horse. And while we managed to get a lot of her weight off, she was always a little overweight, despite being on a perpetual diet and living—98% of the time—in a dry lot. So when she began having sporadic laminitic episodes a few years later, we—and our veterinarians—thought they were just resultant from years of eating the wrong stuff and being obese.
Another reason PPID wasn't high on the list of things we worried about was, well, Minis are hairy little beasts! We always joked that Brandy grew and shed enough hair each year that should a Belgian need a hair transplant, we'd have him covered. And growing up next to a Miniature Horse breeding farm, I knew Brandy wasn't alone in growing enough hair for several horses.
And finally, her attitude never changed. She never told us she wasn't feeling good. From the day we got her, through every laminitic episode, to the days she spent more time lying down than standing up because her laminitic feet hurt, she was always the boss mare, screaming for more food, terrorizing our big horses (albeit not chasing them as much when we let her out to play with them), and enjoying her people and life itself.
When it came to the point that she was standing less and lying down more, we called our vet and pretty much expected the worst. But our vet—who saw that Brandy wasn't ready to give up—suggested we try treating her for PPID for a week or so to see if we could make her any more comfortable. If not, we'd say good bye.
Lo and behold, after starting her treatment, Brandy started standing up more. She eventually starting moving a little quicker, and, before long, was running around, bucking, and back to chasing the big horses around the field.
And then everything made sense. Once we treated the underlying problem—PPID—Brandy never had another laminitic episode, her coat (while still thick) shed better each summer, and our happy little Mini just seemed to feel better all around.
But during this process, I had so many questions about PPID, what was actually going on in Brandy's body, and what it meant for her future. Fortunately, I had access to lots of great resources on the topic and great vets willing to take the time to answer my questions. But if you're going through a similar process, have a PPID horse, or just want to learn more about the condition, I'd highly recommend tuning in to TheHorse.com's Ask the Vet Live on managing PPID horses, taking place Thursday, Feb. 27 at 8 p.m. EST. We've got two very knowledgeable and well-respected veterinarians—Dr. Dianne McFarlane (DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM) and Dr. Marian Little (DVM)—who'll be ready and willing to answer your PPID questions. Click here more information, to sign up for an email reminder, or to submit a question.
But now I'd like to hear about your experiences with PPID. Have you managed or are you managing a PPID horse? How did you reach a diagnosis? Please share your experiences below!