Saturday, September 12, 2009

MBPS: A phenomenon in the horse world?

A friend of mine who breeds horses is especially attentive to her youngsters, and she tends to call the vet at the first sign of anything unusual. Admirable behavior, really. One day her vet told her "I think you have Münchausen syndrome." He was probably referring to Münchausen syndrome by proxy or MBPS, which is...

"the exaggeration or fabrication of illnesses or symptoms by a primary caretaker in order to get sympathy and special attention."

That wasn't his last visit to her farm, but it was the beginning of a downhill slide and they eventually parted ways. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you!

What a thing to say! Except...
While the suggestion she had MBPS was unkind (and bad business), both my friend and I have had our share of horse issues. I wonder about what role I might might have played in Riley's situation, not in the sense of neglect or poor management, but in bringing bad karma somehow. One of my readers once wrote me that when you worry/fear something excessively, you draw it to you. Is that what happened here?

If someone else bought Riley in 2006 would he be in the same predicament now?


  1. I wonder about this everyday with my guy. weve just past our 1year ann- the gal who owned him previously had him 6 year... and never had a vet bill other than vaccinations. he was been lame just about the whole time I have had him. sigh. why now i wonder?! I know he gets great care- and none of my other horses have had extreme vet issue. why him? why now? i guess ill just keep and paying the bills, and keep fingers crossed that this is not a trend!

  2. Whenever I call the vet out (which seems to be monthly this year) for something I always worry that I'm going to get an eye roll response and a pat on the head and be told not to worry. Now I really shouldn't be worried about getting this response but instead I should be hoping for this! But I know I worry more than others... and call the vet more so BUT 9 times out of 10 it is warranted and if I had waited I would have regretted it. (also don't do guilt well)

  3. No, no, no! You have nothing to do with what has happened with Riley - sometimes these things just happen, and sometimes they happen in clusters. Sure, if someone else had bought him, he would have been at a different barn, and different circumstances, and different things would have happened. That doesn't mean you caused any of his problems.

    I've gotten better at knowing when to call the vet and when not - my vet will consult by phone (for free) and I know how to do IM injections, so we can do a lot just with that. I've gotten more quick on tummy trouble - if a horse isn't eating I'm on the phone - and better at judging when lameness issues require an emergency call and when they can wait until Monday. It never hurts to call - better safe than sorry.

  4. My guy's former owner was an RN, and the first thing she said to him every morning was, "Are you ALL RIGHT??" Oddly, she didn't believe in giving any inoculations for fear of epilepsy, foundering, etc. He wasn't allowed to graze (he's a little IR) and couldn't have any treats except stubs of carrots and not many of them. His feet, especially, were a concern, always getting thrush. She told me, "You MUST use my farrier; he is the only one who understands a barefoot trim."

    Since I've had him he has been as sound as can be, has day-long turn out with others (in very short grass), has had his shots, and gets an occasional Starlight mint. I changed farriers, and his bare feet are becoming hard as rocks.

    My take on all this is: you can worry yourself and your horse into a delicate state. But I do not believe you can worry him into a major illness or injury. Then you both need all the pampering and support you can get.

  5. Little one, I know you have been sick with worry. We all worry about those in our care, daily and sometimes hourly. However, illness does not seek one out. It is determined by genetics and environment. You have provided for your two boys very stable :), healthy environments for them to grow and live in. What has happened was not your fault, it could have been much worse if you had not been so attuned to Riley's normal behavior. Keep listening to your gut, and doing your research. Try not to worry, but be active in his care. You will make the right decisions. You always seem to from my perspective anyway!

  6. Whatever happened to Riley has nothing to do with you, I'm sure. It was some kind of freaky accident that might have happened anywhere. Horses are a force of nature beyond our control in so many ways.

    So far, every time I have called my vet it has been for just cause. I've been pretty lucky that way.

  7. I agree with Kate. It never hurts to call. We know our pets, we know what it normal and what is not. I wished I listened to my gut more when my Beau seemed off, he may still be here today. You pushed because you knew something was wrong and Riley got helped.

    As for the vet's joke, I agree as well, bad business practice and in very bad taste.

  8. Actually, what he was accusing your friend of is more serious than that. One of the hallmarks of the disorder is that the illnesses are CAUSED by the caretaker. That's why it's considered such a serious issue.

    It's not like hypochondriacs, who only imagine their illnesses. Münchausen syndrome and Münchausen by Proxy actually involves self harm in the former case or inflicting harm on others in the latter, to gain sympathy. They like the "excitement" of showing up at their doc's with "real" symptoms that they themselves caused, thinking that they'll stump the doctors and get attention. It's a very insidious form of abuse.

    I hope that vet gets smacked upside the head. There is NO reason in hell he should have accused your friend of that, especially when there is NO evidence of abuse.

    -Cyg, with Gryph looking over her shoulder

  9. The only thing I'm a little excessive about is Lyme's. I have a Lyme titer done twice a year alongside the vaccinations. My reasoning is that it's so hard to spot, that very often it can do permanent damage before the horse is noticeably sick. It does have the added benefit of giving the vet a baseline to compare to if Lyme's is suspected. They don't think I'm crazy; they think it's a good idea but I do get eye rolls -- usually from the same people who don't believe in giving a full course of vaccinations.

  10. Munchausens is SUCH a serious accusation! Like Gryph(/Cyg) said, it is an accusation of abuse. Someone with MBP would be perhaps poisoning her horse for the specific purpose of being the "savior" who called the vet out. Maybe your friend is a bit of a hypochondriac (by proxy?), but better safe than sorry and it's money for the vet! As for me, I usually consult a little with the vet tech on the phone before getting the vet.

    And no no no Riley's issues are not your fault. If he was somewhere else, maybe the same things would be going on... except he WOULDN'T be in treatment right now with someone less dedicated and astute! I think many times the people with "problemless" horses merely don't pay as much attention as we who pay the vet a lot of time and money.

  11. While I totally disagree that you did anything to cause Riley's problems, it does seem that the people who care the most get stuck with the craziest injuries. How many idots keep horse in with minimal farrier and feed behind one strand of barbed wire and never have a lame day, while our ponies seem to stub their toes on just anything? It's weird, really.

  12. No, I don't think so! You sound like a wonderful, caring mommy. I don't think you have Münchausen syndrome at all, nor do I think your caring attention to your horse brought any "bad karma" or anything to him! Things just happen. Maybe they would have with another owner, maybe not. Maybe things could have just as easily been different for you. I don't think you have anything to feel guilty about. :)

    One thing I think is that doting owners are more likely to notice and treat issues like lameness. I talk with a lot of horse owners. Some are less doting (and in my opinion, neglectful) and just say "Oh my horse is lame some times. Oh well. I ride him anyway."

    Versus if my horse seems "not right" I always try to figure out why. My guy has a stone bruise right now. I think other people thought I was imagining things at first. But I want to be careful with him. I don't think I'm being over protective. Just sensible.

  13. I agree with the sprinklerbandit comment- I have boarders at my barn that don't even know that their horses are still alive (they are, of course) and their horses never have anything happen to them. I also have the boarder who is very conscientious about his horses (almost to the point that I probably get like that vet and say, c'mon, don't look for holes where there aren't any) and his seem to get injured more. Everything else is the same- same food same living situations, etc.

    This is also the boarder that bought two horses close to the same time and one ended up with all sorts of foot issues (which we mananged to work through- so there is hope with seemingly insurmountable foot problems) and one ended up with a bizarre tumor, that also eventually resolved itself, but at the time it seemed like incredibly bad luck. He later bought two ponies for his daughters and never had any problems with either- one reason why I love the ponies- we seem to have less issues with them...knock on wood!


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