Your Horse's Health
Do you have a horse health questions that you'd like Dr. Hanes to address in a future blog? If so, email your question to firstname.lastname@example.org
Annual Health Check Up
Equine Emergency First Aid Kit
Equine Emergency Flow Chart - How to figure out what's wrong.
Travel Release - Permission form to treat your horse while you're traveling
Annual Health Check Up
The services included in our annual health check-up include:
- Dental exam (without sedation)- this will help determine the need for dental floating by inspecting for points on the cheek teeth as well as incisor alignment.
- Eye exam- to look for cataracts and corneal irregularities and discuss tear duct issues.
- Heart and lung exam- check for murmurs, arrhythmias (irregular beats) and breathing sounds.
- Skin Exam- a quick look to document scars, tumors, lumps and bumps.
- Hoof and Shoeing- evaluation of hoof balance and look for quarter cracks, hoof rings, and thrush.
- Movement in hand- a quick look at the horse being jogged in hand for soundness.
When scheduled as a barn or ranch clinic, each checkup takes approximately 15 minutes and the charge is $75.00. For individual appointments the exam is billed as a Brief Exam at the normal rate.
Probably no other aspect of health care can have a more profound affect on preventing disease that an effective vaccination program. Devastating diseases such as tetanus (lockjaw) can be completely prevented by the simple administration of a yearly vaccine. As new diseases emerge to threaten your horse's health, such as West Nile Fever, science has responded by rapidly developing vaccines to prevent this illness and control it's spread.
The American Association of Equine Practitioners has developed a set of guidelines to help its members put in place an appropriate vaccination program for their clients. Like all aspects of medicine, these guidelines should be implemented in a way that best fits both the individual patient as well as the entire population of horses at risks such as found in large boarding facilities.
Foals and young horses require special consideration due to the maturation of their immune system. These differences can be discussed individually should the need arise.
The following list of illnesses and the corresponding vaccine protocol can serve as a template for your adult horse.
- Sleeping Sickness (also known as Eastern and Western Encephalomyelitis)- vaccination is done once yearly.
- Tetanus- vaccination is done once yearly.
- West Nile Virus- current vaccines have now been proven to afford yearlong protection in most adult horses. Some older horses may benefit from a semi-annual vaccine in high-risk areas.
- Influenza (Flu)- most horses receive flu vaccines twice yearly although horses travelling to shows or other competitions may need a third dose (every 4 months)
- Rhinopneumonitis (Cold virus or Equine Herpes Virus)-the preventable component of this disease complex, respiratory illness, requires at least twice yearly vaccination. Abortion can be prevented by a series of shots given during pregnancy. The devastating neurologic manifestation has not been effectively prevented by vaccination although certain vaccines may reduce the severity of illness.
- Rabies- all warm-blooded animals can become infected with the rabies virus, primarily through the bite of an infected wild animal such as skunks, raccoons and bats. While the risk factors are low, the outcome of infection is always fatal. The disease is also transmissible to humans. Therefore, rabies vaccination is now recommended on a yearly basis.
- Strangles- Infection with Strep. equi bacteria produces a severe respiratory disease occasionally complicated by numerous abscesses and even pneumonia. Fortunately, this condition is easily recognized in most sick individuals and appropriate steps can be taken to minimize the spread. Vaccination on a yearly basis is recommended in herd situations with a history of the illness but many veterinarians do not favor immunizing individual horses living in relative isolation.
- Potomac Horse Fever- once thought to be a serious emerging disease, it is now generally accepted that PHF poses very little threat to horses in California. Horses travelling to endemic areas may benefit from the vaccine.
Deworming Programs: The control of disease caused by internal parasites remains another important aspect of keeping your horse in good health. Just like immunizations, programs should be individualized based on risk factors. These factors can easily be determined by understanding parasite life cycles and exposure to eggs or larva through grazing. Horses living on pasture are at greatest risk, especially when individuals in the herd are not regularly treated, thereby exposing all others. On the other hand, horses housed individually with regular stall/paddock cleaning have much lower risk factors.
A new approach that is gaining popularity involves performing fecal analysis before deciding the need for deworming. A small sample of fresh manure can be tested in the lab with results available in a day or two. With this information at hand, a decision to treat or not is much easier. With the variety of deworming products available today, it is quite easy to insure that your horse is free of parasites.
Tick Fever and Pigeon Fever
Summer- the best of times, the worst of times.
Few equestrians don't get anxious for the arrival of summer. Just like many of our outdoor activities, horseback riding gets in to full swing when the days get longer and the temperatures stay pleasant. Whether it's in the arena, along the trails, or off to summer camp we can all expect some spectacular days spent with our equine companions. So what could spoil this picture and turn summer fun into time spent worrying about when our horse is going to be feeling better and back to work?
Many setbacks we encounter with horses sort of "come with the territory." As we spend more time in the saddle, little bumps and bruises can often be expected. Miles of trailering can raise the chances of injury or getting respiratory illness from hot, humid conditions and poor ventilation. And mixing it up with new horses, stabling and feeds may result in minor illnesses and occasional colic. But what about conditions we can't always predict? Two such summertime illnesses are Equine Tick Fever and Equine Pigeon Fever. Luckily, while an infectious agent causes both diseases, they generally respond to therapy and are not directly contagious to other horses.
Equine Tick Fever, as the name implies, is acquired by the bite of an infected tick carrying the organism Anaplama phagocytophilum (formerly named Ehrlichia equi but parasitologists seem to enjoy renaming things to confuse us older vets). It is important to remember that ticks bite most horses in this area every season yet very, very few will come down with tick fever. The signs of infection include high fever (over 102 degrees), depression and lack of appetite, jaundice (yellow color to membranes, especially the whites of the eyes), and occasional lower limb swelling. A positive diagnosis must be made by microscopic examination of a blood sample, which shows the organism within the white blood cells. The disease responds rapidly to the administration of tetracycline, which is given intravenously, usually requiring three to five daily doses. Oral doxycycline can also be used. Recovery is nearly 100% with a very few horses suffering relapses. Spontaneous recovery has also been reported.
The name Pigeon Fever comes from the appearance of large abscesses in the chest or pectoral area of the horse, giving them a look similar to pigeons. The infection is not obtained by nor spread by pigeons but is thought to be caused by the bites of flies carrying the infectious bacteria Corynebacterium pseudotuberculosis. Contamination of wounds and skin lesions can also be a route of infection. Initial signs may be mild without as much as a fever but eventually skin swellings develop that become tender and soft as abscesses form and begin to drain. Local swelling, edema of the legs, and fever can all be seen. Most cases will recover if the abscesses are lanced or allowed to drain following hot packs and poltices and recovery is complete. In a small percentage of cases the infection localizes internally which can result in a more serious condition requiring systemic antibiotic therapy. Isolation of sick individuals is rarely needed since direct spread is not possible. However, cleaning up contaminated skin areas as well as the immediate area where pus is present may minimize spread to other horses.
Keep in mind that both of these conditions are fairly rare in our area and that most readers will likely only know someone who knows someone whose horse became ill with Tick Fever or Pigeon Fever. So let this articled serve as a little "heads up" and enjoy the summer.
I think my horse is sick....
For every horse owner, the worry about illness is always in the background. What seems to be one of the most challenging issues is recognizing when your horse is sick and then determining what the likely cause is and how best to respond. Perhaps it's a bit like raising a child in the early years when they can't tell you where it hurts, so you must learn to read the other signs that point you in the direction of figuring things out. Fortunately for most owners the best resource is usually your general sense of when your horse just "isn't himself" and learning a short list of possible causes.
Probably the first thing an owner will discover about a sick horse is the lack of appetite. Whether it's refusal of a carrot or the presence of feed from the last meal, most of us know when our horse refuses food. This should be an immediate signal to check and look for a few other things. Having a thermometer, even an inexpensive digital model from the drug store (regular human digital thermometers work), can provide a valuable piece of information. Simply place the thermometer well within the sphincter and wait for the beep. A horse's normal temperature is between 99 and 101 degrees, so a reading above that would tell you there is a fever. Since fever is associated with infection rather than colic in most instances, a quick look for other signs such as a discharge from the nostrils, coughing, or an unexplained swelling could lead you in the direction of finding the problem.
If no fever is found (remember, ALL horses have a temperature) the problem list for your sick horse shifts towards colic. At this point you look for other signs such as reduced manure in the paddock, evidence that the horse has been down or rolling, efforts to urinate often and other odd behavior. Once you have made some conclusions it's time to call your veterinarian for advice.
There are, of course, many other reasons your horse could be off its feed and possibly sick. Be sure to check the quality of the food, especially if more than one horse in a group seems affected. Deciding when it's appropriate to treat the horse yourself or to call your veterinarian is important. Any time you do give medication to a sick horse be sure to note the drug, amount, and time it was given. Ideally you should consult your veterinarian first and follow their advice since we may be aware of recent illnesses in your stable or neighborhood. The "wait and see" approach may be OK but always remember that most illness is best treated in the early stages before complications set in and a simple cold turns to pneumonia.
Shoes, Barefoot, or "Barefoot Trim"- that is the question.
One of the questions I'm frequently asked is "does my horse need shoes?" A fair question, but one that doesn't always have an easy answer. Many horse owners will point out that horses in the wild don't need shoes. This argument fails to address the reason horse shoes were first conceived, by some records as long as a few thousand years ago when leather hides were laced to the horse's feet for protection. It's not clear when the first iron shoe was used, but it's believed that the motivation to use it was to protect the hoof and prevent excessive wear as horses began traveling dozens and hundreds of miles as beasts of conquest. Today the horseshoe functions in three primary roles. The strength of steel or synthetics exceeds that of hoof wall, so hoof damage can be prevented. A second use of shoes is to modify the movement or "flight" of the hoof to accentuate breed specific show standards as seen with the American Saddlebred Horse. Finally, horseshoes are applied to prevent or mitigate the pain associated with specific lameness conditions.
It makes sense that if your horse doesn't fit into one of these three categories, he (or she) could be a perfect candidate for going barefoot. Since the average horse is not ridden extreme distances or frequently, hoof growth may easily keep up with nominal wear and the only foot maintenance needed is regular shaping of the hoof wall, a "trim". Having this done still gives the farrier a chance to inspect the hoof and advise you of any changes that may require care such as a quarter crack. Not all feet grow and wear at the same rate, so the interval between trimmings must be determined for each horse, generally six to ten weeks.
So what about the "barefoot" trim? Several years ago some horse owners in this country were introduced to the hoof care methods of a German veterinarian, Dr. Strasser. Since that time the teaching and adoption of the method has spread in the fashion of a fast food franchise. A few certified farriers and far more self-taught amateurs now tout the technique as a cure for all foot ailments and the answer to the evils of shoes. Most often referred to as "The Barefoot Trim", the technique is characterized by extreme lowering of the heels and frequent rasping of the hoof wall, which can result in an artificially small foot. From my experience, this trimming method has not lived up to its claims and virtually every client who has tried it has gone back to conventional trimming or the use of shoes. Final word- if you are considering going this route, do your homework, check out some specific web sites, and ask owners who have tried it for their experiences.