Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Loss of Muscle Mass, Generalized, on Top-line or Back

Code Yellow - Contact Your Vet at Your Convenience for an Appointment

Code Yellow - Contact Your Vet at Your Convenience for an Appointment

    Weight loss and loss of muscle mass over the top-line is commonly seen in older horses. In this case, the back becomes more “sharp” looking, the pelvis, spine and withers appear more prominent. While some of this may be inevitable in older horses, often there are underlying conditions that contribute to it.

    Lack of the right kind of exercise, poor nutrition, degenerative muscle conditions, and chronic systemic disease can all cause loss of muscle mass along the top-line. In older horses, PPID (Cushings Disease) may also contribute to this appearance. Less common conditions causing top-line loss include back pain, chronic pain or lameness of any kind, intestinal dysfunction, chronic inflammation, parasitism or cancer.


    Assess the horse’s general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) paying particular attention to general body condition and coat quality. Assess the back. Is the muscle loss symmetrical or only affecting certain areas. Assess lameness at the trot. Consider your horse’s management, feed, and exercise program. Share your findings and concerns with your vet.


    Your vet rules out body-wide diseases that could be contributing to the muscle loss. If any of these conditions are diagnosed, they will need to be treated. Beyond that, your vet may have suggestions for management changes and exercise regimens to improve your horse’s top-line and overall health.

    POSSIBLE TREATMENTS or TherapiesTo Lessen or Resolve the Sign

    Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP


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