Mules With Suddenly Thick Crests

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Q: I just came across your web site tonight, and I must say THANK YOU for such good Q & A's about hoof care.  I plan to be a regular visitor at your site. 

My question:  we have 3 mules (6, 8, and 22 yrs), an Appaloosa mare (17), and a BLM burro (11).  We have been feeding orchard grass/timothy/alfalfa mix hay all winter, and they have been doing well on it.  They are not overweight.  We also give them each a carrot or two a day, plus maybe 5-10 small handfed handfuls of grain about 2-3 times a week.  We fed them more grain than usual (about 1/2 to 3/4 a 5 lb coffee can of COB corn, oats & barley) about 5 days ago when they were shod, and now their crests feel a bit swollen.  They are still alert & happy and show no signs of lameness at all.  The burro is fine. 

Our farrier came highly recommended by a professional breeder we know, and he seems to do a great job.  He said they all have excellent feet and good, hard hooves.  I examined the hoof trimmings closely and they seemed very healthy with a good, tight, solid, white line and no abnormalities that I could see.  Could the extra grain we gave them this week cause our animals be on their way to foundering so quickly?  The snow is still on the ground and only a few blades of green grass have emerged.  Is is possible that the extra grain we gave them has hurt them?  Should we keep feeding just the hay and not allow them to graze on the green grass when it grows?  

We immediately stopped feeding any grain tonight and plan to feed them only a modest amount of hay for the next few days.  Should we contact our vet?  The 22 year old mule and the appy both have thick arching necks, but they are also extremely muscular animals that are older and have been worked a lot, so we did not think of a foundering crest. The mule was just at the vet on Monday to get a cancerous growth on her eye frozen as she is white with pink eyelids. The vet said that she may have foundered in the past.  We also had her vaccinated while she was there.  Any advice you could give would be helpful.

Thank you!

A:Thank you for your kind comments on my web site. I must thank my wife as she is my computer guru and typist as well as twice Northwest champion at 3-day Eventing, which enables her to contribute tremendously to the articles and Q & As on my web site.

Now, on to your problem.

I would like to begin by saying that your animals are lucky indeed that you are as observant and caring as your e-mail has indicated. You have been feeding them sensibly and you are supplying them with excellent professional farrier & vet service. You are also lucky to have noted these early warning

Older animals tend to be more susceptible to laminitis so a history of no problems with the disease is no guarantee of future health. Your 22 year-old mule in particular needs careful monitoring because of her age and because she may have foundered in the past.

I do feel that the amount of increase in the COB was too much, too fast. Yes, they can develop laminitis that suddenly. You were correct in eliminating the COB immediately and allowing them to just go back on the wonderful diet of hay that you have been feeding them.

I would not allow an animal that is cresting up to get near that grass coming through the snow. I would maintain a sensible diet of hay. We don't want to starve them. Cutting back their food bulk consumption can be as damaging as overfeeding them if it is done too drastically or too suddenly. The carrots will not do anything other than to make your animals happy and to give them a feeling of security with their owners so there is no need to discontinue them.

When the crests have subsided down to a more normal appearance you could then reintroduce these animals back on to the pasture gradually. The formula for how much and how fast is already written on my web site in the Laminitis and Founder Q&As.

You have been given a warning by your animals that they are walking a fine line right now between health and laminitis. We are not always fortunate enough to receive a warning and equines are not always fortunate enough to have owners astute enough to notice it when it is given. So do continue to bear this warning in mind and to take the conservative and ultra-cautious path in caring for your 4-legged companions.

I would not think it necessary to contact your vet at this point as long as all the animals appear comfortable and normally sound as you have indicated. However, if these animals exhibit any laminitic symptoms at all, they should have radiographs taken immediately. If there is any sign of rotation or sinking they should be shod with heart bar shoes (I prefer adjustable) without delay-not "let's wait and see"!

Checking the white line of the hoof trimmings for signs of bruising and/or seedy toe as you did is, by the way, an excellent idea that more people should do. It can give you a lot of information about the health of the hoof and the quality of the farrier work.

I would also like to compliment you on the thorough, informative and courteous e-mail message you sent me. You would be amazed at how many messages I will not answer due to the lack of common writing etiquette.

I hope something I have said here will be a benefit to your animals. Keep up the good work. Do not hesitate to e-mail again or to call me if I can be of further service.

Q: Thank you so much for your prompt and helpful reply!  I am happy to let you know that today their crests had already reduced somewhat and they were "full of vinegar" all day.  They all played and ran around like colts.  I will continue the hay and contain them in paddocks so they do not get any green grass for a little while & introduce them to it as suggested on one of your answers. Also, I am going to plant a lot of carrots this year and feed grain only as an occasional and minimal treat.  

I read all the Q & A's on your site last night and learned a great deal.  Though I did stay up very late,
it was definitely worth it!  I will monitor them closely and be alert for any changes, especially Rosebud, our older mule.  We especially appreciate your generous offer to receive phone calls as well.  If they do develop laminitis, we will be certain to find out what we need to do to use the adjustable heart bar shoes.

Again, thank you so much for the excellent information and your kind words. We look forward to visiting your site again often.

Best regards,

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This entire web site is copyright protected.  1996-2001 Geronimo & Mary Bayard,  2001-2008 Mary Fitzpatrick
All rights reserved. Contact Mary for reproduction information & permission.