My old horse, Harvey, turned 27 this year. He’s doing well overall, but he is succumbing to the indignities of age as you might expect. About a month ago I noticed he was not peeing like a normal horse. It was just sort of… well, dribbling out, sometimes in drips and sometimes in a stream. Not to be indelicate, but he was “letting it all hang out,” too, unretracted as he grazed in the buggy, humid evening. He seemed perfectly happy, oblivious to changes in his nether region.
What the heck???!!!!
I called the vet in a bit of a panic, and she made the after-hours call to check on him. The Vet did a rectal exam and found his bladder was full — “the size of a basketball,” in fact! She could squeeze the bladder and make Harv urinate a normal stream. This is a good sign, she explained, as it meant that there was no blockage from a mass or urolithiasis (bladder stones). She catheterized Harv and drained out the bladder.
Harv has equine urinary incontinence, which is more of a symptom than a diagnosis. It is an uncommon problem in horses.
What causes equine urinary incontinence?
There are several possible causes:
- Urolithiasis (bladder stones).
- For mares, trauma while giving birth.
- Equine protozoal myeloencephalitis ( EPM).
- Cauda Equine Neuritis (a degenerative neurological condition).
- Cervical arthritis, especially in thoroughbreds.
- Sacral trauma.
- Equine herpes virus-1 myelitis (but usually it happens along with other far more serious symptoms).
- Eating the toxic plant Johnson Grass.
Okay so it can be caused by neurological issues like EPM or Cauda Equine Neuritis, and Harv has been wobbly for the past few years. He has some classic neurological signs like a floppy tail and wonky hind end. It seems like Harv’s problem could be the result of one of the above neurological conditions.
Prognosis and treatment
So what next? I worried that his basketball-sized bladder would rupture. The vet assured me that Harv would not rupture his bladder — apparently so long as there is no blockage, urine will take the path of least resistance and drip out the established opening. If Harv seems uncomfortable or shows signs similar to colic, I need to call the vet. Beyond that, there are several treatment options.
- Harv could go on anti-inflammatories to “calm down” any spasms he might have (some neurological issues cause inflammation).
- Harv could go on low level steroids for about the same reason.
- There is a drug, bethanechol chloride, that can help the bladder contract — but it is expensive and has not been reliably demonstrated to help horses.
- We could test for EPM and treat if necessary.
- As his legs are splashed continually with urine, I need to take care to protect his legs with Vaseline or Desitin.
I’m opting to treat Harv rather conservatively. THere is a new, reasonably priced treatment for EPM (about $200 compared to $1200-$1500/month for the traditional treatment), and he is on vitamin E and anti-inflammatories. He is doing well, though not improving significantly.
The good news is, Harv thinks he’s fine! He’s not at all embarrassed over his condition. He’s enjoying life and getting fat on the grass. This problem is easy to manage in the summer when you can hose him and bathe him. We just have to take Harv’s cue and “live in the moment.” We have the summer to make plans for his winter care…
Recommended reading: DVM 360 article “Urinary incontinence: A drippy problem“.
Stacey Kimmel-Smith – Stacey is a member of Team Redmond, a regular blogger and advocate of Redmond Products