Basic Equine Information
As a horse owner, it is very important to be armed with basic information about your horse, especially when you are contacting your veterinarian in an emergency. Especially important information are your horses “vital signs”. The most basic list of vital signs are: Temperature, Pulse/Heart Rate and Respiratory Rate.
· Temperature: Normal horses rectal temperature varies from about 98-101 F. However, on a very hot day it can be perfectly normal for a horse to have a 101 F temperature due to ambient heat. Exercise can also raise your horses temperature above “normal”. A temperature above 101.5 is a reason to worry and temperatures above 102 should warrant a call to your veterinarian.
· Heart Rate: Heart rate varies considerably based upon a number of different factors. Very fit horses may have lower resting heart rates then the average horse, however most horses normal heart rate fits within the range of 32-48 per minute. Resting heart rates above 48 can be an indication of pain, and is one way of gauging the severity of colic episodes. It can also be used to gauge how a horse responds to oral treatment with anti-inflammatories. The easiest way to take a heart rate is using a stethoscope. Place the bell of the stethoscope in the left “armpit” of your horse. You should hear the “lub dub” of your horses heart beating if you have the stethoscope in the correct location. Each “lub dub” is one heart beat and the quickest way to get a relatively accurate heart rate is by counting beats for 15 seconds and multiplying that number by 4. If you do not have a stethoscope handy, the pulse rate can be taken by putting your hand along the jawbone and finding the artery the runs over the jawbone from inside to the outside aspect of the face. This artery will feel like a rubber band if you are in the correct place. It can be difficult to palpate a pulse on the jaw if you are not used to doing it.
· Respiratory Rate: Respiratory rates can also vary by the horse, however the normal range is generally considered between 8 and 16 breaths per minute. Respiratory rate can be an indicator of respiratory distress such as in cases of pneumonia, “heaves” or allergic responses.
Advanced Vital Signs
More advanced vital signs may include “gut” sounds, digital pulses, limb temperature, salivation, nasal or ocular discharges, swellings and more.
· Gut Sounds: Noises produced by the intestines can give a very simple, very low tech indication of what may be going on inside your horse’s stomach and intestines. Generally a person can hear gut sounds in the flank region, even without a stethoscope, by putting your ear up to the horse’s flank (if it is safe to be in this position). Normal gut sounds are a gurgling noise that can be heard at least several times a minute. With a stethoscope it may be possible to hear gut noises when listening to the heart or lungs! Horses may be perfectly normal and their gut sounds can’t be heard, however lack of gut sounds in conjunction with many other indicators, can be an indication of certain disease conditions. Other gut sounds that can be differentiated are: Sand (may sound like the ocean roaring onto the beach, especially when listened to at the base of the abdomen), Gas and liquid (Can be an indicator of the potential for development of diarrhea).
· Digital Pulses: A pair of arteries run over the back of the fetlock on either side of each leg. If you can feel a “bounding” pulse in these arteries it may be time to call your veterinarian as this can indicate a number of serious conditions.
· Limb Temperature: The temperature of your horses leg can be indicative of a number of conditions. On a normal horse it is generally normal to have a slightly decreasing temperature in the limb as one moves their hand down the leg. Increased heat over certain areas can be indications of infection, laminitis, abscess or other conditions depending on the location.
· Ocular Discharge: Discharge from the eye can be an indicator of a number of different things. Normal horses may have some measure of “tearing” or slight amount of “gubers” around the eye. These can be perfectly normal for your horse and may indicate minor irritation by wind or sun. Significant quantities of tearing as well as blinking and holding the eye shut can indicate pain associated with the eye. Thick ocular discharge may indicate serious infection of the eye or associated structures. The eye is a very delicate structure and ANY significant change warrants a call to your veterinarian.
· Nasal Discharge: Discharge from the nose can be indicative of many conditions ranging from pneumonia to sinus infection or even the possibility of an infected tooth.
Be Prepared for an Equine Health Emergency
If you own horses long enough, sooner or later you are likely to confront a medical emergency. From lacerations to colic to foaling difficulties, there are many emergencies that a horse owner may encounter. You must know how to recognize serious problems and respond promptly, taking appropriate action while awaiting the arrival of your veterinarian.
Preparation is vital when confronted with a medical emergency. No matter the situation you may face, mentally rehearse the steps you will take to avoid letting panic take control. Follow these guidelines from the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) to help you prepare for an equine emergency:
- 1. Keep your veterinarian’s number by each phone, including how the practitioner can be reached after hours.
2. Consult with your regular veterinarian regarding a back-up or referring veterinarian’s number in case you cannot reach your regular veterinarian quickly enough.
3. Know in advance the most direct route to an equine surgery center in case you need to transport the horse.
4. Post the names and phone numbers of nearby friends and neighbors who can assist you in an emergency while you wait for the veterinarian.
5. Prepare a first aid kit and store it in a clean, dry, readily accessible place. Make sure that family members and other barn users know where the kit is. Also keep a first aid kit in your horse trailer or towing vehicle, and a pared-down version to carry on the trail.
First aid kits can be simple or elaborate. Here is a short list of essential items:
- Cotton roll
- Cling wrap
- Gauze pads, in assorted sizes
- Sharp scissors
- Cup or container
- Rectal thermometer with string and clip attached
- Surgical scrub and antiseptic solution
- Latex gloves
- Saline solution
Many accidents can be prevented by taking the time to evaluate your horse’s environment and removing potential hazards. Mentally rehearse your emergency action plan. In an emergency, time is critical. Don’t be concerned with overreacting or annoying your veterinarian. By acting quickly and promptly, you can minimize the consequences of an injury or illness.
Reprinted with permission from the American Association of Equine Practitioners.
Tips for Owners
Don’t Skip the Purchase Exam
Owning a horse can be a big investment in time, money and emotion. Unfortunately, horses seldom come with a money-back guarantee. That’s why it is so important to investigate the horse’s overall health and condition through a purchase exam conducted by an equine veterinarian. Whether you want a horse as a family pet, a pleasure mount, a breeding animal, or a high performance athlete, you stand the best chance of getting one that meets your needs by investing in a purchase exam.
Purchase examinations may vary, depending on the intended use of the horse and the veterinarian who is doing the examination. Deciding exactly what should be included in the purchase examination requires good communication between you and your veterinarian. The following guidelines from the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) will help ensure a custom-tailored exam:
- · Choose a veterinarian who is familiar with the breed, sport or use for which the horse is being purchased.
· Explain to your veterinarian your expectations and primary uses for the horse, including short- and long-term goals (e.g., showing, then breeding).
· Ask your veterinarian to outline the procedures that he or she feels should be included in the exam and why.
· Establish the costs for these procedures.
· Be present during the purchase exam. The seller or agent should also be present.
· Discuss with your veterinarian his or her findings in private.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions or request further information about your veterinarian’s findings in private.
The veterinarian’s job is neither to pass or fail an animal. Rather, it is to provide you with information regarding any existing medical problems and to discuss those problems with you so that you can make an informed purchase decision. Your veterinarian can advise you about the horse’s current physical condition, but he or she cannot predict the future. The decision to buy is yours alone to make. But your equine veterinarian can be a valuable partner in the process of providing you with objective, health-related information.
10 Tips for Choosing the Best Hay for Your Horse
High-quality hay can be an important source of essential nutrients in your horse’s diet. A horse’s protein and energy requirements depend on age, stage of development, metabolism and workload. A mature horse will eat 2 to 2.5% of its body weight a day, and for optimum health, nutritionists recommend that at least half of this should be roughage such as hay. For a 1000-pound horse, that means at least 10 pounds of roughage each day.
Hay generally falls into one of two categories – grasses or legumes. Legume hay is higher in protein, energy, calcium and vitamin A than grass hays. While hay alone may not meet the total dietary requirements of young, growing horses or those used for high levels of performance, high-quality hay may supply ample nutrition for less active adult horses.
Once you’ve determined the best category of hay for your horse, most people select hay based on how it looks, smells and feels. Use the following tips from the American Association of Equine Practitioners to select the best hay for your horse:
- 1. It’s what’s inside that counts. Ask that one or several bales are opened so you can evaluate the hay inside the bales. Do not worry about slight discoloration on the outside, especially in stacked hay.
2. Choose hay that is as fine-stemmed, green and leafy as possible, and is soft to the touch.
3. Avoid hay that is overcured, excessively sun-bleached, or smells moldy, musty, dusty or fermented.
4. Select hay that has been harvested when the plants are in early bloom for legume hay or before seed heads have formed in grasses. Examine the leaves, stems and flowers or seed pods to determine the level of maturity.
5. Avoid hay that contains significant amounts of weeds, dirt, trash or debris.
6. Examine hay for signs of insect infestation or disease. Be especially careful to check for blister beetles in alfalfa. Ask the grower about any potential problems in the region.
7. Reject bales that seem excessively heavy for their size of feel warm to the touch, as they could contain excess moisture that could cause mold, or worse, spontaneous combustion.
8. When possible, purchase and feed hay within a year of harvest to preserve its nutritional value.
9. Store hay in a dry, sheltered area out of the rain, snow and sun, or cover in the stack to protect it from the elements.
10. When buying in quantity, have the hay analyzed by a certified forage laboratory to determine its actual nutrient content.
Remember that horses at different ages and stages of growth, development and activity have different dietary requirements. Consult your veterinarian or a qualified equine nutritionist when formulating your horse’s ration. He or she can help you put together a balanced diet that is safe, nutritious and cost-effective.
10 Tips for Caring for the Older Horse
Because of advances in nutrition, management and health care, horses are living longer, more useful lives. It’s not uncommon to find horses and ponies living well into their 20s and 30s. While genetics play a role in determining life span, you too, can have an impact.
You may think that turning your old-timer out to pasture is the kindest form of retirement. But horses are individuals. Some enjoy being idle; others prefer to be a part of the action. Whatever you do, don’t ignore the horse. Proper nutrition, care and exercise will help the animal thrive. Follow these guidelines to develop a total management plan for your older horse:
- 1. Observe your horse on a regular basis. Watch for changes in body condition, behavior and attitude. Address problems, even seemingly minor ones, right away.
2. Feed a high quality diet. Avoid dusty and moldy feeds.
3. Feed your older horse away from younger, more aggressive ones so it won’t have to compete for feed.
4. Feed at more frequent intervals so as not to upset the digestive system. Two-three times daily is best.
5. Provide plenty of fresh, clean, tepid water. Excessively cold water reduces consumption which can lead to colic and other problems.
6. Adjust and balance rations to maintain proper body conditions. A good rule of thumb is to be able to feel the ribs but not see them.
7. Provide adequate, appropriate exercise to maintain muscle tone, flexibility and mobility.
8. Groom your horse frequently to promote circulation and skin health.
9. Be aware that older horses are prone to tumors. Look for any unusual lumps or growths from head to tail as well as beneath the tail (especially on gray horses).
10. Schedule routine checkups with your equine veterinarian. Call immediately if you suspect a problem.
A quick response to ailments, injuries or a decline in fitness can keep your older horse from having a serious or prolonged setback. That means less worry for you and a better quality of life for your old friend.
Reprinted with permission from the American Association of Equine Practitioners.
Disease Recognition and Tips for Prevention
The number one killer of horses is colic. Colic is not a disease, but rather a combination of signs that alert us to abdominal pain in the horse. Colic can range from mild to severe, but it should never be ignored. Many of the conditions that cause colic can become life threatening in a relatively short period of time. Only by quickly and accurately recognizing colic – and seeking qualified veterinary help – can the chance for recovery be maximized.
While horses seem predisposed to colic due to the anatomy and function of their digestive tracts, management can play a key role in prevention. Although not every case is avoidable, the following guidelines from the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) can maximize the horse’s health and reduce the risk of colic:
- 1. Establish a daily routine – include feeding and exercise schedules – and stick to it.
2. Feed a high quality diet comprised primarily of roughage.
3. Avoid feeding excessive grain and energy-dense supplements. (At least half the horse’s energy should be supplied through hay or forage. A better guide is that twice as much energy should be supplied from a roughage source than from concentrates.)
4. Divide daily concentrate rations into two or more smaller feedings rather than one large one to avoid overloading the horse’s digestive tract. Hay is best fed free-choice.
5. Set up a regular parasite control program with the help of your equine practitioner.
6. Provide exercise and/or turnout on a daily basis. Change the intensity and duration of an exercise regimen gradually.
7. Provide fresh, clean water at all times. (The only exception is when the horse is excessively hot, and then it should be given small sips of luke-warm water until it has recovered.)
8. Avoid putting feed on the ground, especially in sandy soils.
9. Check hay, bedding, pasture, and environment for potentially toxic substances, such as blister beetles, noxious weeds, and other ingestible foreign matter.
10. Reduce stress. Horses experiencing changes in environment or workloads are at high risk of intestinal dysfunction. Pay special attention to horses when transporting them or changing their surroundings, such as at shows.
Virtually any horse is susceptible to colic. Age, sex, and breed differences in susceptibility seem to be relatively minor. The type of colic seen appears to relate to geographic or regional differences, probably due to environmental factors such as sandy soil or climatic stress. Importantly, what this tells us is that, with conscientious care and management, we have the potential to reduce and control colic, the number one killer of horses.
Every day veterinarians across the country see hundreds of cases of laminitis, a painful disease that affects the feet of horses. Laminitis results from the disruption of blood flow to the sensitive and insensitive laminae within the foot, which secure the coffin bone to the hoof wall. While the exact mechanisms by which the feet are damaged remain a mystery, certain precipitating events can produce laminitis. Although laminitis occurs in the feet, the underlying cause is often a disturbance elsewhere in the horse’s body.
As a horse owner, it is important to recognize the signs of laminitis and seek veterinary help immediately.
Signs of acute laminitis include the following:
- · Lameness, especially when a horse is turning in circles; shifting lameness when standing.
· Heat in the feet.
· Increased digital pulse in the feet.
· Pain in the toe region when pressure is applied with hoof testers.
· Reluctant or hesitant gait, as if “walking on eggshells”.
· A “sawhorse stance,” with the front feet stretched out in front to alleviate pressure on the toes and the hind feet “camped out” or positioned farther back than normal to bear more weight
Signs of chronic laminitis may include the following:
- · Rings in hoof wall that become wider as they are followed from toe to heel
· Bruised soles or “stone bruises”
· Widened white line, commonly called “seedy toe,” with occurrence of blood pockets
· Dropped soles or flat feet
· Thick, “cresty” neck
· Dished hooves, which are the result of unequal rates of hoof growth
If you suspect laminitis, consider it a medical emergency and notify your veterinarian immediately. The sooner treatment begins, the better the chance for recovery.
Reducing Your Horse’s West Nile Risk
Since first being recognized in the United States in 1999, West Nile virus (WNV) has posed a serious threat to horses and humans alike. In the equine population, the virus is transmitted when a mosquito takes a blood meal from a bird infected with WNV, then feeds on a horse. While many horses exposed to WNV experience no signs of illness, the virus can cause inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. In some cases, especially in older horses, WNV can be fatal.
As a horse owner, prevention is the key to reducing your horse’s risk of contracting WNV. Follow these guidelines from the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) to protect your horse against WNV:
- 1. Consider vaccinating your horse against the disease. In February 2003, a vaccine was licensed by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Center for Veterinary Biologics for use in healthy horses as an aid in the prevention of the disease. Talk with your veterinarian about the most appropriate vaccination schedule for your horse.
2. Eliminate potential mosquito breeding sites. Dispose of old receptacles, tires and containers and eliminate areas of standing water.
3. Thoroughly clean livestock watering troughs at least monthly.
4. Use larvicides to control mosquito populations when it is not possible to eliminate particular breeding sites. Such action should only be taken, however, in consultation with your local mosquito control authority.
5. Keep your horse indoors during the peak mosquito activity periods of dusk to dawn.
6. Screen stalls if possible or at least install fans over your horse to help deter mosquitoes.
7. Avoid turning on lights inside the stable during the evening or overnight.
8. Using insect repellants on your horse that are designed to repel mosquitoes can help reduce the chance of being bitten.
9. Remove any birds, including chickens, located in or close to a stable.
10. Don’t forget to protect yourself as well. When outdoors in the evening, wear clothing that covers your skin and apply plenty of mosquito repellent.
Recognize your Horse’s Dental Problems
Horses with dental problems may show obvious signs, such as pain or irritation, or they may show no noticeable signs at all. This is because some horses simply adapt to their discomfort. For this reason, periodic dental examinations are essential to your horse’s health.
It is important to catch dental problems early. If a horse starts behaving abnormally, dental problems should be considered as a potential cause. Waiting too long may increase the difficulty of remedying certain conditions or may even make remedy impossible. Look for the following indicators of dental problems from the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) to know when to seek veterinary attention for your horse:
- 1. Loss of feed from mouth while eating, difficulty with chewing, or excessive salivation.
2. Loss of body condition.
3. Large or undigested feed particles (long stems or whole grain) in manure.
4. Head tilting or tossing, bit chewing, tongue lolling, fighting the bit, or resisting bridling.
5. Poor performance, such as lugging on the bridle, failing to turn or stop, even bucking.
6. Foul odor from mouth or nostrils, or traces of blood from the mouth.
7. Nasal discharge or swelling of the face, jaw or mouth tissues.
Oral exams should be an essential part of an annual physical examination by a veterinarian. Every dental exam provides the opportunity to perform routine preventative dental maintenance. Mature horses should get a thorough dental exam at least once a year, and horses 2 –5 years old should be examined twice yearly.
Reprinted with permission from the American Association of Equine Practitioners.
Mare and Foal Health
- · Breeding Soundness Exam/ Ultrasound for Ovulation
- · Deworm for all stages of encysted small strongyles
- · Vaccinate for rabies
- · 14-16 days post breeding– Ultrasound for pregnancy and rule out twins.
- · 25-29 days post breeding– Ultrasound to reconfirm viable pregnancy and rule out twinning.
- · 60-70 days post breeding– Ultrasound for fetal sexing if desired.
- · Monitor progesterone levels in at risk mares.
- · 1st deworming after 60 days of pregnancy.
- · 1st vaccination for EHV-1 at 3 months (optional)
- · 2nd vaccination for EHV-1 at 5 months (Recommended)
- · Maintain hoof and dental care.
- · 2nd deworming 90 days after 1st.
- · 3rd vaccination for EHV-1 at 7 months (Recommended)
- · Booster Vaccinations at 9 months: EHV 1/4, EWT, Flu/Rhino, WNV, Rabies.
- · Open Caslicks, increase level of nutrition
- · Optional Vaccinations (consult your veterinarian)- Strangles, PHF, botulism and rotavirus.
- · 3rd deworming 30-45 days prefoaling.
- · Save and weigh placenta
- · Vet exam within 24 hours
- · Test serum IgG (antibodies) concentration in 1st 12-18 hours
- · Deworm mare 24-48 hours post foaling
- · Dip umbilical stump: Twice daily for 2-3 days.
- · Monitor for nursing, meconium passage, urination and conformation.
- · Begin creep feeding
- · Monitor body condition, growth rate and conformation
- · IMPORTANT: Foals that grow too fast can be predisposed to orthopedic conditions such as osteochondrosis desicans (OCD)
- · Deworm for ascarids at 6-8 weeks of age
- · Deworm 6-8 weeks later
- · Between 150-180 days Vaccinate for WNV, EHV 1/4, EWT and rabies. Optional vaccinations: PHF and strangles
- · Deworm 6-8 weeks after 2nd deworming
- · Booster Vaccines 4-6 weeks after primary vaccination
- · Deworm 6-8 weeks after 3 deworming.
- · Booster vaccination for EHV 1/4 and EWT
- · Begin vaccination for Flu/Rhino
- 300-365 days of age
- · Deworm for all stages of encysted small strongyles.
American Association of Equine Practitioners
A “standard” vaccination program for all horses does not exist. Each individual situation requires evaluation based on the following criteria:
- Risk of disease (anticipated exposure, environmental factors, geographic factors, age, breed, use and sex of the horse)
- Consequences of the disease (morbidity/mortality, zoonotic potential)
- Anticipated effectiveness of the selected product(s)
- Potential for adverse reactions to a vaccine(s)
- Cost of immunization (time, labor and vaccine costs) vs. potential cost of disease (time out of competition; impact of movement restrictions imposed in order to control an outbreak of contagious disease; labor and medication if, or when, horses develop clinical disease and require treatment, or loss of life.).
It is estimated that a single horse infected with influenza may cost in excess of $800 and experts recommend minimizing activity (training) for 1 week for every DAY of fever.!
Clients should have realistic expectations and understand that:
- Vaccination alone, in the absence of good management practices directed at infection control, is not sufficient for the prevention of infectious disease.
- Vaccination serves to minimize the risks of infection but cannot prevent disease in all circumstances.
- The primary series of vaccines and booster doses should be appropriately administered prior to likely exposure.
- Each horse in a population is not protected to an equal degree nor for an equal duration following vaccination.
- Protection is not immediately afforded the patient after administration of a vaccine that is designed to induce active immunity. In most instances, a priming series of multiple doses of a vaccine must be administered initially for that vaccine to induce protective active immunity.
- All horses in a herd should be vaccinated at intervals based on the professional opinion of the attending veterinarian.
Ideally, the same schedule is followed for all horses in a population, thus simplifying record keeping, minimizing replication and transmission of infectious agents in a herd and indirectly protecting those horses in the herd that responded poorly to vaccination, thereby optimizing herd-immunity.)
- A properly administered, licensed product should not be assumed to provide complete protection during any given field epidemic.
- Although rare, there is potential for adverse reactions despite appropriate handling
* Some horses may have special circumstances that require additional vaccines or vaccination schedules that are tailored to their unique medical condition. Please consult your veterinarian regarding the best vaccination schedule for Your horse. The benefits of having your veterinarian vaccinate your horse may include:
- Many manufacturer offer diagnostic and treatment guarantees if horses are directly vaccinated by your veterinarian.
- Your veterinarian may notice potential problems your horse may develop before they become a major problem. These may include: dental issues, weight issues, cushings and many more.