What you see. The starting point for addressing any equine health related issue is your observation.


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


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.

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your role


What To Do

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's role

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.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • How long have you noticed this change?
  • Is the horse alone or kept with others in a group?
  • How are you feeding the horse?
  • When did you first notice this problem?
  • What is the horse's age, sex, breed and history?
  • Have you noticed other signs of a problem?
  • What, specifically, are you feeding?
  • Do you think your horse is getting enough feed?
  • How is your horse's attitude and appetite?
  • Does he seem to eat slowly or have difficulty eating?
  • How much exercise does the horse get?
  • Are you feeding the horse alone or in a group?
  • What sort of riding do you do with the horse?
  • What kind of exercise does the horse get?
  • Does the horse have a history of any illness or condition?
  • What are the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE)?

Diagnostics Your Vet May Perform

Figuring out the cause of the problem. These are tests or procedures used by your vet to determine what’s wrong.

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Diagnoses Your Vet May Consider

The cause of the problem. These are conditions or ailments that are the cause of the observations you make.

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Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP