PSSM

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Horse Health Solutions: PSSM, Potential Colic Causes and Treatment, Horse Behavioral Changes, Gait Changes, and More

Jax's PSSM symptoms and solutions - horse health, nervous horse supplements, horse colic causes and treatment

These fixes are specific to my PSSM horse, but can help normal horses when they need a horse health intervention for things like colic, gait changes, behavioral changes, and more:

Jax's PSSM symptoms and solutions - horse health, nervous horse supplements, horse colic causes and treatment
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    Jax’s PSSM Symptom List:

    These symptoms are typical symptoms for both PSSM types focused mostly on those that I’ve experienced with Jax.  I put them under PSSM1, PSSM2, or Either P1/P2/Px based on my best guesses pertaining to triggers and fixes.  The “fixes” listed below are solutions that I’ve used to help Jax get passed specific symptoms, and may not work for all horses.

    Strange Gait Changes:

    TIGHT-ROPE WALKING

    • Horse Health Fix – Hoof balance and comfort helps, as does overall management, but this is an ongoing issue for Jax.  He usually only has this issue in the front limbs (weaker shoulder girdle due to P2, which is the same gene affected by Limb Girdle Muscular Dystrophy in humans).  His hind limbs only do this when he’s really weak, and raising protein typically helps.
    TIGHT-ROPE WALKING

    FORGING AND INTERFERING

    • Horse Health Fix – splint and bell boots, soft shoes/boots rather than metal which will ding the leg and cause splints, strengthening work.  By age 7 he was mostly out of this phase, but he still does it on occasion.
    FORGING AND INTERFERING

    TRIPPING WHILE RIDDEN AND IN PASTURE

    • Horse Health Fix – Exercises including pole work and trail work with uneven footing.  Strengthening and suppling exercises.  Hoof balance helps but this is mostly muscle related (tight shoulders).
    TRIPPING WHILE RIDDEN AND IN PASTURE

    STICKY STIFLES, HITCHY HIND, HIP ROTATES ABNORMALLY

    • Horse Health Fix – higher protein, no alfalfa, Vitamin E, exercises (pole work, backing, bending, etc.).
    STICKY STIFLES, HITCHY HIND, HIP ROTATES ABNORMALLY

    PREFERS CANTER OVER TROT

    • Horse Health Fix  – Trot is a symmetrical gait and can be more difficult than faster gaits.  Work on walk/trot transitions, stop/trot transitions, and don’t allow canter.  If he knows we’re not cantering, he’ll calm down and work at the more difficult symmetrical gait.  Working this gait can be difficult and rough in the beginning.
    PREFERS CANTER OVER TROT

    LOSING GAITS

    • Horse Health Fix – non-gaited horses usually lose canter first, then trot.  This happened before PSSM diagnosis and management, and improved as management improved.  If these gaits start to get rough or disappear then either a trigger feed or stressor is involved, or the management is off (for Jax it’s usually too low protein, gut health is compromised, or no energy and needs higher fat or carbs).
    LOSING GAITS

    Strange Gaits Pics and Videos:

    PSSM Horses - Jax PSSM Symptoms

    Splint and bell boots at age 7 due to forging and interfering

    Video below: this is a bad day – swollen stifles, stiff gait, slamming hooves down (especially in hinds), rope walking, reluctance to move forward, almost looks neuro but passed several neuro tests.

    Cold, wet weather makes this worse, as does too little forage (video was taken at the boarding facility that wasn’t feeding enough hay). He was not on a very high protein diet at this time as this was right before PSSM2 testing, but has since dramatically improved after a couple years on higher protein and ad lib hay once I got him moved from this facility, then moving on to his ad lib forage only diet once I got him home saw even more improvements.

    Muscular Symptoms: Possibly PSSM1 Symptoms

    TIGHT MUSCLES

    • Horse Health Fix – finding the right management for your individual horse.  For Jax, chelated calcium is one of the biggest things that helps soften muscles.  Protein, Vitamin E, and fat also help to a degree.  Daily exercise to work glycogen from the muscles.  Blanketing and keeping the muscles warm at all times.
    TIGHT MUSCLES

    MUSCLE SPASMS AND FASCICULATIONS

    • Horse Health Fix – Banamine if an episode is persistent and spasms won’t stop.  If mild hoof or muscle pain is the cause, then Devil’s Claw Plus usually helps.  Herbal relaxers like Valerian root help with muscle relaxation.  Warmth and food help if it’s triggered by cold (blankets are essential to staving off spasms in cool/wet and cold weather).
    MUSCLE SPASMS AND FASCICULATIONS

    TYING UP

    • Horse Health Fix – Banamine, muscle relaxers. Full-blown tying up includes raised CK and AST levels.  Thankfully, Jax has never experienced a full tie up where he couldn’t move.
    TYING UP

    PSSM1 Symptoms Pics and Videos:

    This video was taken early 2017 after 6 hours of trailer ride, vet procedure, and stalling; I believe this was a PSSM1 event due to standing still for too long; getting out and moving helped so we stopped repeatedly for rests on the way home (this episode continued until he got home). This episode was very close to a full-blown tie up, but didn’t quite get that far:

    This video is the beginning spasms that started in the stall after the procedure (removing cancerous tumors from his eyelid). I took him out of the stall and hand walked for about 30 minutes before loading him to take him home. After 10 minutes on the trailer I stopped for gas, and he was tucked up, sweating, and in full spasm (no pics/videos as I was PANICKED!).

    I took him to a secluded area (construction site that was closed for the day) and let him wander and eat grass for about 45 minutes, and he was much better after that. The rest of the trip I stopped a few times but couldn’t get him out of the trailer – he was trembling and spasming the whole way, but wasn’t nearly as close to tie up for the rest of the trip. Once we got home I let him out and he was fine, he literally just needed to move.

    I’ll add that dehydration may have played a part in this, as he refused hay and water the whole day. For the next long trip I’ll be more prepared, with wet soupy mashes to keep him hydrated!

    Jax's PSSM symptoms and solutions - horse health, nervous horse supplements, horse colic causes and treatment

    PSSM1 muscle tension and PSSM2 muscle loss.  If PSSM2 symptoms get bad enough they can trigger Jax’s PSSM1, and the theory is that when muscle fibers break due to PSSM2, even less glycogen is pulled from the muscles because there are less fibers to transfer glycogen.

    Muscular Symptoms: Possibly PSSM2 Symptoms

    SORE BACK AND HIND QUARTERS

    • Horse Health Fix – balance hind hooves, exercise, MSMkidney detox.  Chelated calcium has his back looser and less sore overall.
    SORE BACK AND HIND QUARTERS

    SYMMETRICAL ATROPHY (ASYMMETRICAL CAN BE NEUROLOGICAL)

    • Horse Health Fix – raise protein, don’t overwork or overstimulate the muscles (bodywork, PEMF, etc) to cause excess breakage of muscle fibers.
    SYMMETRICAL ATROPHY (ASYMMETRICAL CAN BE NEUROLOGICAL)

    MUSCLE DIVOTS

    • Horse Health Fix – raise protein or remove trigger feeds (high potassium season brought on the focal divot in the pic below – kidney stress and electrolyte issues can also cause muscle wasting).
    MUSCLE DIVOTS

    MUSCLE SPASMS AND FASCICULATIONS

    • See my fix above in PSSM1 symptoms.
    MUSCLE SPASMS AND FASCICULATIONS

    PSSM2 Pics and Videos:

    PSSM symptoms - PSSM1 symptoms, PSSM2 symptoms, RER symptoms, muscle atrophy, focal muscle divot

    This PSSM2 focal muscle divot appeared on Jax’s neck in late winter of 2019 – this took about 8-10 months to fill back in.

    Many times, tie up episodes include running and nervousness rather than not being able to move – they can also look like or cause colic.  CK and AST levels may stay normal.  Jax has had one episode where his back legs locked but he wanted to run, and I think both P1 and P2 were triggered that day and he was close to a full-blown tie up (P1).

    Now we’ll move onto symptoms that, to be honest, I don’t know which gene (if any?) are the underlying cause, and how I help my horse through them.

    Muscular Symptoms: Unknown Cause, Likely Either P1/P2/Px:

    TRAVELLING CROOKED

    • Horse Health Fix – Bodywork including fascia work helps but can be short-lived (fascia work seems to last longer than massage, Jax couldn’t handle chiro work, Magnawave worked okay at times and triggered episodes at other times).  Dietary management helps muscles which helps straightness. Straightness exercises and bending exercises on occasion are necessary but can be overdone, especially for P2.  I’ve found no fix for his tail, which he usually lifts crooked and to the left (has since I got him as a 4 year old).
    TRAVELLING CROOKED

    ROACH BACK, TILTED PELVIS, POSTY HIND LEGS

    • Horse Health Fix – When Jax was like this, his muscles were at their worst.  He needed rest with light hand walking, and it wasn’t until after this episode that I learned he’s PSSM and started dietary management.  I think if the diet had been right it would have pulled him out of this episode faster.
    ROACH BACK, TILTED PELVIS, POSTY HIND LEGS

    BODY SORENESS, TIGHT RIGID MUSCLES

    BODY SORENESS, TIGHT RIGID MUSCLES

    MUSCLE SWELLING - PARTICULARLY BEHIND THE SHOULDERS AND SI AREA

    MUSCLE SWELLING - PARTICULARLY BEHIND THE SHOULDERS AND SI AREA

    Miscellaneous Symptoms and Issues

    "BLOODY" URINE

    • Horse Health Fix – when PSSM is the cause of darker urine, the dark color is actually muscle cells breaking down and being excreted through the kidneys.  Some episodes are mild kidney infections that appear as blood-tinged urine due to inflammation in the kidney wall and is most likely caused by a mild PSSM episode that stressed the kidneys.  Jax hasn’t had issues with dark urine since starting chelated calcium, but before that it was chronic (like, YEARS of dealing with it). Baking soda really helped this issue back before I found chelated calcium, but didn’t put a stop to it.  Care needs to be taken here, and more than likely a vet needs to be involved. 
    • For Jax, if it’s a small amount at the end of the stream it’s either due to kidney stress or low protein (P2) – if muscle atrophy happens a couple days after bloody urine, then protein needs to be raised.  If not or if showing high potassium symptoms, then a kidney detox is in order, along with antibiotics (from vet) or antibiotic herbs (I use goldenseal and uva ursi in human doses).  If most of the urine is dark it’s either dehydration or a massive episode – in which case vet involvement and fluid therapy may be needed.  Raising protein to help dark urine can cause further stress on the kidneys if the actual cause of the bloody urine is kidney stress rather than PSSM.
    • Horses with EPM can also have this symptom.
    "BLOODY" URINE

    HOOF ISSUES

    • Horse Health Fix – Raising protein causes faster hoof growth, while transdermal magnesium helps with laminitis, bruising, and abscesses.  Trim often to keep hooves balanced, as they tend to malform quickly due to muscle compensation.  Raising protein increases rate of growth.  If hooves are weaker and tend to run forward easily, then keep trimmed short and don’t allow enough growth to pull the toe forward.
    HOOF ISSUES

    BEHAVIOR AND MENTAL CHANGES

    • Horse Health Fix – for fixing aggressive horse behavior towards other horses, nervous horse supplements help.  My go-to’s are chelated calcium and vitamin B1. Check for mineral/electrolyte imbalances, tweak chelated calcium to stop pain, possibly lower vitamin E (high amounts make some horses spooky and aggressive).  If giving both MSM and Vitamin B12, the overall amount of both may need lowered (with Jax these two play off each other and make him spooky in high amounts).
    BEHAVIOR AND MENTAL CHANGES

    DIFFICULTY WITH FARRIER

    • Horse Health Fix – This happened before PSSM diagnosis and management, and improved as management and strength improved.  I trim my own horse so I can work on his good days (rather than scheduling and hoping it lands on a good day) and so I can work gently with him and take the time he needs.  Some PSSM owners give muscle relaxers, calmers, and other meds to help with farrier visits.  If Jax has been sore but needs a trim I use Devil’s Claw Plus and valerian root.  Since putting him on chelated calcium, he’s really good with his hooves and needs no special supplements.
    DIFFICULTY WITH FARRIER

    GUT ISSUES, PSSM HORSE COLIC CAUSES

    • Horse Colic Treatment: Fix  – Colic, ulcers, acidosis, and other gut issues – there’s multiple causes and multiple treatments, but here’s what works for Jax. My horse colic treatment plan is to lower stress, and manage pain and/or symptoms.  Baking soda can help with acidosis issues if your horse is prone to gut issues and muscle soreness (which can trigger acidemia).  A daily gut supplement and supplements for nervous horses are extremely useful for keeping stress and the gut in check.  My current go-to is a mix of herbs and/or ImmuBiome products for colic and gut symptoms, and daily vitamin B1 and chelated calcium for stress.  Keep in mind that one horse colic cause is PSSM episodes, which can look like or trigger colic.  If in doubt about managing an episode like, this contact your vet.
    GUT ISSUES, PSSM HORSE COLIC CAUSES

    Feed Sensitivities (See Jax’s Full PSSM Diet): Possibly PSSM1 Related

    HANDLING THE ISSUE OF NSC / CARBS

    • Horse Health Fix – Jax can’t have high NSC concentrates without causing issues, but does need moderate amounts (doesn’t do well on high fat for energy).  He handles pasture fairly well most of the year.  Higher fiber diets, Renew Gold (back when he handled it well), and natural pasture (not heavily fertilized monoculture pastures) have worked for him over the years.  On older growth meadow grass he does really well, stressed short grass can cause issues at times. NO MOLASSES.
     
    HANDLING THE ISSUE OF NSC / CARBS

    STALLING

    • Horse Health Fix – Jax needs 24/7 turnout, no stalling, no exceptions!
     
    STALLING

    ADDING FAT

    • Horse Health Fix – Renew Gold, chia seeds, and flax seeds are past things I’ve tried, and chia seeds are the only thing that worked out long term (flax causes hoof issues and lameness).  On occasion: sunflower and pumpkin seeds.  Oils send him metabolic.
    ADDING FAT

    Feed Sensitivities: Possibly PSSM2 Related

    FORAGE NEEDS

    • Horse Health Fix – 24/7 square or round bales.  Needs forage at all times – possibly due to high protein needs, possibly due to gut stress.  This is part of my horse colic treatment protocol, and lower forage levels are a colic trigger for Jax.
    FORAGE NEEDS

    HIGH PROTEIN

    • Horse Health Fix – High protein was needed when I was trying to fix his change into hard keeper status, but I feel that boarding mis-management was behind a lot of those issues.  On ad lib forage, he has no issues keeping weight, but does need a slight bump in protein levels when on grass (for some reason he loses a bit of muscle on pasture).  I use pea protein isolate for his protein source – see Jax’s full diet.
    HIGH PROTEIN

    Feed Sensitivities: Unknown If P1/P2/Px Related

    HIGH POTASSIUM, SPRING SPOOKINESS

    • The breaking of muscle cells dumps potassium into the bloodstream, causing a hyperkalemic (high potassium blood level) state. This is a normal and short-lived process when muscles are overworked, but can be a chronic issue for PSSM horses. Spring grass growth and shedding stress can raise potassium and affect the kidneys, affecting the excretion of excess potassium.
    • Horse Health Fix – CHELATED CALCIUM is huge for stopping this behavior for Jax.  Removing alfalfa, soy, copra, clover, or other high potassium feed.  Raise chelated calcium.  Add a small handful (1-2 tbsp) of rolled oats for a quick insulin spike to pull potassium back into cells.  Insulin also pulls sugar into muscles as glycogen, so care should be taken with very sensitive P1s.
    HIGH POTASSIUM, SPRING SPOOKINESS

    OIL TRIGGERS IR/EMS SYMPTOMS

    • Horse Health Fix – Symptoms include cresty neck and low grade laminitis.  Instead of oil I use chia seeds, and on occasion I add sunflower and pumpkin seeds.  These are the equivalent of less than half a cup of fat per day, but that amount seems to work for Jax.
     
    OIL TRIGGERS IR/EMS SYMPTOMS

    FADED COAT

    • Horse Health Fix – copper and zinc supplementation, along with low iron, is said to be extremely important in reducing IR symptoms and helping coat fade.  I found that this management style can help fading coat and some metabolic issues, but long term he went anemic.  I found that Jax’s coat is darker with less fade since stopping copper/zinc supplementation and adding some form of calcium to his diet.  Calcium carbonate had side effects, but chelated calcium is doing really well for him.
    FADED COAT

    Feed Sensitivities: Pics

    PSSM in horses, PSSM1, PSSM2 - PSSM symptoms

    Mid-2018 – muscle spasms and sweating induced by too little forage at a boarding facility

    These are the tricks and solutions I’ve found to working with my PSSM horse’s health issues, treating colic symptoms, and even finding his colic causes.  Let me know in the comments what you think!

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