I’m getting ready to move back to Washington State next month. I am very excited. I will continuing my adventures as an equine ambulatory vet in the beautiful Pacific Northwest.
But for now, let me tell you a sad story.
One of my favorite clients is a quirky older gentleman who lives by himself on a fairly large property. He owns quarter horses and percherons, and he breeds a few percherons every year. There are few things cuter than a new-born percheron foal. Although, being 150lbs+ at birth, they quickly become rambunctious little trouble-makers that are much heavier and stronger than you! You just have to try and keep them from realizing that fact.
So, this older gentleman was the very proud owner of a beautiful black percheron named Joe. Joe was his pride and joy, his favorite horse, raised from a foal. And for many years, this gentle giant had been suffering from chronic progressive lymphedema (CPL), a disease that had left his hind legs swollen and disfigured.
There is a lot that isn’t known about CPL, and it may well be that it is a multifactorial disease. What we do know is that it afflicts draft breeds and there is no cure. For whatever reason, lymphatic return from the legs is compromised, resulting in swelling of the legs. Secondary skin infections develop, leading to further inflammation and irritation. Over time, large nodules and skin folds develop, allowing infections to thrive in the crevasses. With very little in the way of treatment, and no cure, CPL generally progresses until the only right answer is humane euthanasia. The best treatment for CPL is compressive wrapping of the lower limbs to keep the swelling down, like Game Ready Boots. These boots are expensive, treatment requires dedication, and at best the disease course is slowed (but certainly not stopped). However, with few other options, that’s the best we have to offer.
For Joe, with the advanced state of his CPL, we tried our best to keep him comfortable by keeping his legs clipped and dry, frequently scrubbing them to clean off any crusty discharge and ward off inflammation, treating him with antibiotics on occasion if his dermatitis warranted, and otherwise doing what we could to maximize his comfort. Knowing (or at least thinking) that it would be the end of him some day.
Tragically, Joe was found down in his stall last fall and unwilling or unable to rise. On examination it was clear that he had very severe colic, and the decision was made to humanely euthanize him. We all miss Joe. He was a good horse. He taught a lot of vet students about CPL, and I will do my part to ensure that he continues to teach people about CPL for many years.
Here are some photos of Joe, as well as a clydesdale mare who also suffers from CPL. It is a very frustrating disease, and I can only hope that future research will provide us with more treatment options.