in the trailer only a few feet away.
I’d been asleep for only about an hour when I awoke and felt an urge to check on the horses. Parker was acting strangely. He was systematically bouncing his head downward as hard as he could before reaching the end of the rope. At first I suspected he might be colicking. I took his vital signs, and other than a slightly elevated respiration rate they were normal. I walked him, added a warmer blanket and offered him more water. He drank some, and then he ate a little more hay.
As soon as we arrived home the next day, I called my veterinarian, Martha Pott, DVM, who came out right away. By now Parker had a fever of 103 and he was beginning to cough. A clear case of shipping fever, Pott told me.
Shipping fever, she explained, is a respiratory infection that can develop when a horse is trailered over long distances with his head tied. Trailer interiors are often dusty, and the airborne contaminants can include large numbers of disease-causing bacteria. When the bacteria are inhaled and accumulate in the horse’s lower airways, and he is unable to drop his head to clear them out, the pathogens take root and multiply quickly. This, combined with an immune system challenged by the stress of being on the road, means that serious lung infections can set in within 12 to 24 hours.
Suddenly, I regretted the decision to stay on the road so long on the first leg of our journey and then to tie the horses to the highline overnight.
Pott prescribed two weeks of antibiotics and Banamine , along with rest, yet Parker didn’t get much better. I took his temperature twice a day, and it sometimes ran as high as 105. He had no nasal drainage and coughed only once or twice a day, usually after trying to eat.
When Pott came back for a recheck, she found that Parker was anemic and his white cell count was very low. She changed his antibiotics to doxycycline, and for a few days Parker seemed to perk up---he was more interested in eating, and his temperature was headed toward the normal range. I thought we were over the worst. But he relapsed, and each day he seemed to get more lethargic.
Then, when I went out to feed Parker on the morning of Saturday, June 22, he gave me “that look.” He was very, very ill, and I knew if I didn’t do something quickly, he would die.
Pott’s clinic is closed on the weekends, so I loaded Parker and headed to the nearest referral clinic: Stillwater TAPPED OUT: More than six gallons of fluid were drained from Parker’s chest. Equine Clinic in Stillwater, Minnesota. We were met there by Terry Arnesen, DVM, who listened carefully as I described what we’d been dealing with and the treatments we had tried.
After the standard physical exam, Arnesen brought out an ultrasound machine and placed the probe over Parker’s ribs. Within seconds, he was pointing out to me the amount of fluid surrounding my horse’s lungs, in the space called the pleural cavity. This space is typically like a deflated balloon, he explained, holding only a few teaspoons of lubricating fluid to allow the lungs to move freely as the horse breathes.
When a horse is fighting an