Strangles: Understanding Equine Distemper and Purpura Haemorrhagica

One of the most alarming of infectious diseases in the equine industry is Strangles, which is noted for the characteristic large swelling of lymph nodes under the jaw or in the throat area. Sometimes the node enlargement progresses to the point of interfering with airway or swallowing functions creating a concern that the patient might strangle.

Strangles, also known as equine distemper, is caused by a bacterial infection of the highly infectious Streptococcus equi (Strep equi). It most commonly affects young horses, generally two years of age or less. Although the disease is potentially fatal, the mortality rate is generally less than 10 percent. The morbidity rate, however, is quite high due to the infectious nature of the germ and its ability to survive once infected horses contaminate the environment. The disease has an incubation period ranging from a few days to two weeks. Therefore, minimum isolation time of two weeks is recommended with horses that have been exposed, or horses having an unknown history for biosecurity purposes.

“We see it so commonly in young horses when the germ is found in endemic areas; the younger animals often lack adequate immune protection” said Dr. Glennon Mays, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Science (CVM). “That means that once a location is contaminated with Strangles, we often see it reappear in the horse population because the bacterium is located in that environment. When horses are born or brought to that location, if they don’t have protective immunity, they become infected. ”

The Strep equi germ can survive in contaminated soil, water troughs, feed buckets, and tack. The germ can even be transferred by people from one location to another. Direct transmission between horses occurs through contaminated mucus excretions of the infected horse to the naïve horse. Contaminated horses may shed the germ for two to three weeks.

Infected horses can exhibit several signs, such as general depression and dull behavior, runny nose or eyes and fever. The classic symptom of the infection is swollen lymph nodes beneath the jaw or throat areas or in other external and/or internal body locations. Lymph nodes will usually swell two to three days after infection, and horses will be able to spread disease for approximately two to three weeks after clinical signs appear.

“These lymph nodes swell in reaction to the infection, and often develop into large pus formations,” Mays said. “After swelling, when the nodes soften, it is often therapeutic to drain the nodes by surgical incision. But this requires great caution since large blood vessels are often in close proximity. Care to contain the recovered pus is necessary because it can be very contaminating wherever it collects. The lymph nodes really serve as an area of collection of the bacteria and a concentration point of the infection.”

“You don’t want that fluid getting into the soil, or on objects that will come in contact with uninfected horses,” Mays said. “Remember that the person handling the infected horse or the infected material coming from the horse can become a vehicle for spreading the disease.”

In addition to relieving the swelling of glands, veterinarians will typically administer supportive care, such as anti-inflammatory medications, to horses that retain an adequate appetite, hydration status, and don’t display difficulty breathing.

Some patients may experience high fever spikes (103 F or more) and require more aggressive therapy. In these instances, administration of antibiotics, electrolyte fluids, and anti-inflammatories become necessary. Additional products believed to stimulate the immune system are sometimes incorporated into the therapeutic plan, however, many equine practitioners choose against initiating antimicrobial therapy unless the patient is fevered, depressed, and listless to the point of not eating and drinking adequately.

Mays explained that in some cases Strangles can develop into a clinical presentation called Purpura Haemorrhagica. Purpura causes vasculitis in the extremities resulting in painful swelling of the legs due to acute inflammation of peripheral blood vessels. The legs become tender and sore because circulation is impaired. Horses that develop this condition are either infected with Strangles and progress to the purpura stage, or were previously exposed to the germ without developing an infection.

“The reason behind this development is poorly understood, “Mays said. “But horses that develop purpura are extremely depressed and actually show more clinical signs of illness – essentially sicker than with Strangles alone.”

The vasculitis in the legs can significantly prolong recovery, and can be severe enough that the swelling permanently damages musculoskeletal structures. Laminitis is not an unusual resulting chronic condition. Complications from purpura can produce career-ending results for performance horses. Purpura can also become fatal if not treated in a timely or effective manner.

“My biggest concern is purpura creating a systemic effect resulting in a generalized, body-wide infection producing toxins that becomes a life-threatening condition, “Mays said.

The best defense against Strangles is to create a barrier through biosecurity.  Avoid transporting young horses into contaminated or endemic areas. Isolate horses of unknown exposure history for a minimum of two weeks to prevent possible exposure of disease to other animals. Do not bring horses displaying signs of illness into contact with healthy horses. Remember, the infection can be transferred on clothing, tack, vehicle tires, or hands. Due to Strangles’ extremely contagious character, seek veterinary care immediately if suspected. . Often, the veterinarians prefer to examine the animal away from their clinic to avoid contamination.

Vaccines have been available for decades, but remain a contested topic for recommendation. Mays explained that many veterinarians approach vaccination recommendation with caution. “Strep vaccines historically have more potential for reactive properties than other equine biological products. Many practitioners express concern for an increased frequency of post-vaccination complications with Strangles vaccine,” Mays said.


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Hot Weather Calls for Cool Care of Your Horse

n the good old summertime ….. it’s just plain old hot!  For equestrian riding enthusiasts this may necessitate paying extra attention to your horse’s physical needs and changing your riding habits.

“Heat related illness such as heat stress can quickly become heat exhaustion if preventive measures are not taken,” notes Dr. Glennon Mays, clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.

Hot humid weather combined with over exertion and fluid loss can lead to heat stress.  Signs of heat stress include dehydration, elevated body temperature, excessive sweating or no sweating, accelerated heart and respiratory rates, and sluggishness, says Mays.

“To check for dehydration, use your forefinger and thumb to pinch and pull the skin on the side of your horse’s neck; it should snap back in place when released.  If the skin is slow to form to the neck again your horse is dehydrated,” explains Mays.

A horse’s normal body temperature range is 99 to 101 degrees F; body temperature above 103 F is cause for concern since 104 F and greater generally require medical attention.  Additionally, you should be aware of your horse’s pulse and respiration rates.  Normal equine resting pulse rate is 32-44 beats per minute and respiration rate is usually 8-16 breaths per minute, notes Mays.

In addition to checking vital signs, you can help your horse avoid heat stress this summer by providing clean fresh water, good ventilation and shade.  Also, ride in the early morning or late evening when outdoor temperatures are cooler, suggests Mays.

“Adequate water intake is critical.  An average size horse needs about 10 gallons of fresh water per day. In the summertime, a physically active adult horse may consume more than 20 gallons of water daily,” notes Mays. “Water loss from sweating also means that electrolytes (sodium, potassium, and calcium) are lost and these need to be replaced after exercising.  Free access to minerals and salt will help your horse maintain its electrolyte balance.  Your veterinarian can advise you with instructions on ways to mix electrolytes into your horse’s water or feed.”

Your horse’s stall should be well ventilated with good air circulation.  Regular fans help circulate air inside the building.  Be sure that fans and electrical cords are out of your horse’s reach and safely distanced from water sources, cautions Mays.  For pastured horses, provide shade via trees or loafing sheds.

During and after physical activity, your horse moves warm interior blood through veins and into capillaries at the skin’s surface, explains Mays.  When the skin of your horse is cooled this surface blood is cooled also and thus the body temperature of your horse decreases.  A cool water bath will help your overheated horse dissipate excess heat faster.  The water conducts the heat from the surface of the horse and water evaporation from the skin cools your horse’s body.  Standing the horse in cool water also helps to dissipate heat through the hooves.

Heat related illness can be a very serious condition for your horse and should not be taken casually, cautions Mays.  A well-informed horse owner is capable of preventing overheating from occurring when he/she knows the signs of heat stress and what care to provide.

In the good old summertime continue to ride your horse, but be aware of the signs of heat stress.  Tailor you riding time to humidity and temperature conditions.  Provide ample fresh clean water and additional sources of electrolytes.  Set up fans to help circulate air around your horse.  Also, remember the rider exposes him/herself to potential heat-related issues.  Take appropriate precautions for yourself as well!



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Shoo Fly … Don’t Bother Me!-

Shoo fly, don’t bother me!  Summer time is prime time for increased numbers of various types of flies that can irritate your horse and you.  Put away that fly swatter because there are better measures that can be taken to limit the number of flies.

“Stable flies, horse flies, black flies, deer flies, sand flies and biting midge flies — so many flies.  They all can bite your horse, draw blood and possibly cause allergic reactions,” notes Dr. Glennon Mays, clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.

“Flies will probably not be completely eliminated from your horse stable,” states Mays.  “But, there are control measures that can be put in place to decrease the fly population in your horse facilities.  Since stable flies are one of the most common summer pests your horse will encounter, I’ll focus on this fly.”

Stable flies feed on the blood of warm blooded animals, explains Mays.  They pierce the skin with their mouth parts, lacerate the skin and then inject saliva which contains an anticoagulant that keeps the blood flowing. The bite can be painful and irritating.  Depending on your horse’s skin sensitivity, there could also be a reaction to the bite.  Stable flies usually feed during the early morning hours and again in the late afternoon.  They also feed selectively preferring the legs and belly to other areas of your horse’s body.

“The female stable fly requires blood meals to produce viable eggs and surprisingly, eggs are deposited in decaying animal and plant waste, generally not in fresh manure,” notes Mays.  “Fly larvae can develop in stable waste that is a combination of damp straw and manure, or under hay bales that are in contact with moist soil. In the warm summer, the entire life cycle from egg to adult can be completed in three to six weeks.”

The hot summer temperatures promote increased fly numbers, but sound sanitation practices in conjunction with other controls can decrease fly populations, says Mays.  Reduce larvae development by eliminating the environment where they can develop.  Spread manure and stable bedding regularly so that it will dry out fast as possible.  Modify drainage areas so that excess water is eliminated.

When stable flies finish feeding, they seek a place to rest and digest their blood meal.  This instinctive habit makes way for control of adult flies with residual insecticides sprayed on stable surfaces, explains Mays.  Sides of buildings (inside and outside), stall surfaces and fences are all areas where flies can be found resting.  Residual insecticides can provide fly control over a period of time.  Be sure to follow label recommendations for use, mixing and spraying.

“Sprays and dusts may be used to protect your horse, but these usually have short residual effect,” notes Mays.  “Repellents containing DEET are better suited for mosquitoes rather than flies.”

The number of flies produced by a pair of stable flies and their offspring in the summer months is in the millions.  Therefore, it is best to establish good fly control practices.  A sound sanitation program is the first step needed to decrease stable fly populations at your horse facilities.

“It will take a combination of controls to decrease stable fly numbers.  You need to implement measures to decrease fly breeding and larvae hatching.  Any stable flies that make it through these stages should be chemically controlled with residual insecticides and direct animal applications,” explains Mays.

Knowledge of some basic stable fly facts in addition to good stable management practices will help you to have a winning chance against the pesky stable fly.



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Topical Wound Care for Horses

Sooner or later, it’s bound to happen.  Your horse comes in with a wound that needs attention.  Do you know the best first aid for your horse’s needs?

“A wound to your horse’s body can take the form of an abrasion, puncture or full thickness skin cut,” notes Dr. Glennon Mays, clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.

“The body has its own marvelous mechanisms for healing injured tissue,” states Mays.  “Following the trauma, the body sends white blood cells to the injured site to clean up the damaged cells and fight infection.  These white blood cells rid the wound of dead cells and bacteria.  This expelling of non-viable cells can be seen as either a clear or slightly yellow discharge.”

The first thought at the sight of this oozing is to dry it up, however, the white blood cells need moisture to continue their healing work, explains Mays.  If additional moisture is needed, an antibiotic topical ointment can be applied.

“The body also responds to the wound with inflammation,” notes Mays.  “The cells that respond to the injured tissue do so to increase blood flow which facilitates clean up and repair of the wound.  This extra flow of blood brings swelling, redness and heat to the injured area.  Therefore, inflammation should be controlled but not suppressed.”

The body continues to remove contaminants while there is inflammation, explains Mays.  As decontamination continues, cells that produce repair material move into the wound area.  Then granulation tissue forms. Excessive granulation can result in “proud flesh” when the new tissue extends beyond the surface of the wound margins.  Moisture does stimulate granulation and excessive moisture often results in “proud flesh” which prohibits continuation of the healing process.  If the wound appears to have excessive granulation tissue, the aid of veterinary care is often needed.

“Wound treatment may include a combination of antibiotics to control infection, anti-inflammatory injections for pain management and ointments for wound medication,” notes Mays.

In treating any wound, the first step should be to clean the injured flesh, states Mays.  Flushing the wound with water or saline solution will help remove dirt and bacteria from the cut.  Saline solution can be made by dissolving two tablespoons of table salt in one gallon of distilled water.  Wounds that are exceptionally dirty may need an antimicrobial wash which contains iodine.  This wash will kill surface bacteria while cleansing the wound.

“Call your veterinarian if the wound is over a joint, involves bone/ligaments or pulls apart when your horse moves,” explains Mays.  “A wound to your horse’s leg, especially near a joint where there is motion, should be referred to your veterinarian.  If your horse receives a below-the-knee leg wound, it is best to seek medical assistance since leg tissue mass is limited and there can be contamination from dirt.”

Bandaging may not be necessary for some cuts and abrasions.  However, leg wounds may need bandaging to reduce dirt contamination and skin motion so that healing can occur, notes Mays.  A bandage keeps topical medication on the wound.  Also, the light pressure of the bandage suppresses excess outgrowth of skin and promotes less scaring.

Small wounds may go undetected, cautions Mays.  They may not be seen before contamination and infection occur.  Since tetanus is always a threat, be sure that your horse receives a tetanus vaccination and stays current.

Horses are prone to injury.  Knowing basic first aid treatments for healing their wounds will allow you to assess the situation and determine the best treatment for your horse.  The right medication administered at the proper time by the proper person can facilitate the natural healing process of your horse’s body.



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Horse Summer Dermatitis

“Sweet…”, as a modern term, denotes pleasure and enjoyment.  However, for a horse, sweet itch can be anything but “sweet…”.

“Sweet Itch, also known as summer eczema or equine dermatitis, is one of several seasonal allergies that your horse may encounter,” notes Dr. Glennon Mays, clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.

“Equine dermatitis can have varying causes,” explains Mays.  “Allergens may irritant your horse’s skin, but viruses and bacteria may also manifest themselves as dermatitis.  These foreign agents can cause inflammatory conditions in the skin and may affect your horse’s hair coat.  Equine sweet itch is a seasonal allergic skin condition that can be caused by fly bites or midge bites.  Horses that suffer from sweet itch have developed an allergy to these bites.”

Insects flourish in the summer and horses may have sensitivities to insect bites, notes Mays.  In particular, black flies, known as buffalo gnats, can seek horses as hosts.  These flies feed on the blood of mammals and are attracted to hosts by smell, heat and sight.  They prefer the host’s head, hair and ears but will also bite any skin that is exposed.

“The female black flies are blood feeders,” explains Mays.  “The fly bites by cutting into the skin and feeding on the pooled blood.  Anticoagulants injected into the feeding sight cause an allergic reaction.”

Black flies feed during the day, so stable animals during the day when fly populations may be more abundant.  Fly repellents applied to the chest, belly and ears can be effective if applied daily, says Mays.  Cloth coverings fitted over horses’ ears may be used for additional protection.  Coverings may also be used to protect your horse’s eyes and head.

“Allergic dermatitis can result from the black fly bite,” states Mays.  “Antigens in their saliva can cause allergic reactions.  Additionally, the black fly bite can become painful and itchy as blisters form.  Therefore, protecting the face and ears from flies eliminates a major source of irritation for your horse.”

Equine dermatitis will usually result in symptoms such as scratching, biting affected area, crusts, hair coat damage or loss, flaky dandruff and thickened skin, explains Mays.  The itchy skin can be further irritated when the horse rubs the area (on fences or stalls) to the point of hair loss and scabbed skin.  This is when secondary bacteria can enter the skin and cause infection.

“Sweet itch is commonly seen in 4 to 6 year old horses,” notes Mays.  “Repeated exposure to the allergen, in this case, fly bite, is required for the allergy to develop.”

To help reduce the incidence of sweet itch, begin preventative measures before fly season is in full force, suggests Mays.  Use a fan in your horse’s stall.  The constant airflow deters flies from lighting and biting.  If possible, place fine-mesh screens over barn openings to prevent flies from entering stalls.  Install automated insecticide mist systems to help control fly populations.  Consult your local veterinarian for the best insecticide to use in your stables and on your horse.

Black fly, stable fly, horse fly and midge bites all can cause allergic skin reactions in horses.  Corticosteroids are the most useful treatment for controlling these skin allergies, notes Mays.  This anti-inflammatory helps stop the itching so that the skin can heal.  However, there may be steroid side-effects in horses, so they must only be prescribed by your veterinarian.

If your horse has an annual encounter with summer sweet itch, help him to manage the itch by taking preventative measures to lessen the severity of an annoying allergy.



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Horse Foaling

Newborns evoke a smile and the birth of a foal is no different.  Horse owners greatly anticipate the birth of a foal and are wise to prepare the mare for the birth.

“On average, a mare is pregnant 340 days before giving birth,” notes Dr. Glennon Mays, clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.  “But, mare pregnancies can range from 315 to 387 days.”

“Preparation for foaling should begin prior to the birth,” explains Mays.  “Daily exercise will help the mare in foal tone body muscles and maintain a healthy heart and lungs which can benefit the mare and foal during birthing.”

During the first eight months of pregnancy your mare can maintain nutritional balance on good pasture, quality hay, feed and minerals supplements, but the last three months of pregnancy require dietary changes, notes Mays.  The unborn foal doubles in size during the last 90 days.  Consequently, there is a great need for more protein, minerals and vitamins to support the foal’s growth.  Additionally, the mare needs more nutrients to prepare for lactation.  Quality roughage should be the major portion of your mare’s diet.

“Grain should be reduced the week before foaling,” states Mays.  “Oats and bran are good feed choices at this time since they will help decrease the likelihood of constipation.  After foaling, grain can be increased gradually to resume full ration.”

Regular worming will ensure that the mare will not contaminate the pasture and foaling stall with worm larvae which the foal can ingest, explains Mays.

“Consult your veterinarian about recommended vaccinations for your pregnant mare.  Generally, six weeks prior to the foaling date, the mare should receive a tetanus vaccination to boost the antibodies in her colotrum (first milk).  A mare will only produce colostrum for the first 6-12 hours after birth, after that she will produce milk.  The colostrum helps protect the foal against disease and aids in eliminating fecal material which can build up in its intestinal tract, says Mays.

“Mares prefer privacy when they are foaling and the majority of mares foal at night,” notes Mays.  This could be a survival trait that ensured the mare and foal would be less susceptible to predators during the birthing process when horses were in the wild.”

Appropriate foaling facilities assure a safe and sanitary environment for the mare and her foal.  This may be a grassy paddock or pasture small enough with sufficient lighting to allow visualization of the mare for monitoring the birth process.  If a birthing stable be available, it should be at least 12 feet by 14 feet and prepared in advance of the foal’s arrival.  The stall as well as water/feed buckets and manger should be cleaned and disinfected.  Your veterinarian can suggest the best disinfecting supplies, says Mays.  He can also recommend bedding.

Mares having difficulty with the delivery process may need assistance.  Foals are born two front feet first and then their nose follows.  Any deviation from this warrants a call to your veterinarian.

“The mare is in active labor for about 30 minutes and once the foal is born, both mare and foal may lie quiet for another 30 minutes,” notes Mays.  “During this quiet time blood is being pumped through the umbilical cord from the mare to the foal.  Normally, the umbilical cord breaks on its own below the foal’s abdomen; it should be treated with iodine to prevent infection.  Some veterinarians recommend that the foal receive an enema to facilitate the initial evacuation of the rectum.  A 30 cc volume of glycerin administered per rectum (use a conventional syringe without a needle) is often effective.”

“After giving birth, the mare will lick the foal and establish a bond with her offspring,” says Mays.  “The licking also helps to clean and dry the foal.”

If the foal requires assistance to stand, remember the young bones are soft.  Aggressive handling can compromise bone structure, especially at the rib cage.  Don’t rush in to “help”. Give the foal and mare some time alone unless foal distress is obvious, notes Mays.  Mother Nature has done quite well for a long time without human intervention.  The foal should stand without assistance within an hour, start nursing within three hours and nurse at least once every hour.

Some veterinarians prefer to do complete blood count and chemistry on the foal after 12 hours to determine if it received enough colostrum (and therefore antibodies) to help keep it healthy.  It is very important that the foal build immunity to fight exposure to bacteria in its new environment.

Keeping your mare healthy prior to and after foaling will greatly increase the chances of having a healthy foal that will grow to be a healthy horse.



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Meeting Your Horse’s Needs in the Winter Months

Cold weather brings extra responsibilities for horse caregivers.  Proper nutrition, access to water, adequate shelter, regular hoof care, and, depending on circumstances, dental attention, vaccinations, and parasite control are all winter concerns for the equine enthusiast.

“Preparing your horse for winter should begin before the first chilling winds hit,” notes Dr. Glennon Mays, clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.  “In late summer, horses living in temperate climates should be allowed to slightly increase body weight so that the extra flesh and fat will provide additional insulation and heat reserve for the winter.”

During the winter, feed and hay ration should be adjusted to give your horse more energy for heat and warmth against the lower temperatures, explains Mays.  Your horse may need extra forage and feed to develop more flesh and fat so that it does not shiver as easily because shivering burns fat and muscle tissue.

“Quality forage should be fed all year and especially during the winter months,” says Mays.  “The best food heat source for your horse is extra hay because as your horse digests hay heat is produced internally by bacterial fermentation.  This warms your horse from the inside.  Higher protein legume hays provide more energy and nutrients and make a good choice for winter feeding.”

Forage and water complement your horse’s diet.  Without water, your horse’s body will not function properly, notes Mays.  As temperatures fall, horses tend to reduce their water intake and reduced water intake combined with increased forage intake may lead to a greater likelihood of impaction and colic.  You may want to consider providing warmed water during the winter months since horses tend to increase water intake when there is access to 45-65 F degree water.  Also, providing loose salt may encourage your horse to drink more.

With food and water needs met, now you can focus on protection from harsh winter weather.

“The horse’s winter coat is the first barrier from cold,” notes Mays.  “The hair coat acts as an insulator and provides warmth.  A layer of air is trapped in the hair coat when a horse fluffs its hair.  An outside horse should be allowed to grow a long hair coat and additionally, the ear and fetlock hair should not be clipped during the winter months.”

It should be noted that once the hair coat becomes wet, the hair lies down and loses its insulating properties, for this reason your horse needs to be able to escape winter’s bitter winds, snow or rain.  A small, three-sided run-in shed is helpful.  Be sure that the back wall is to the prevailing wind and that water does not run under the shed.  Shelter for you pastured horse will reduce feed bills and stress related illness, explains Mays.

“Horses housed in stalls also have special needs during the winter months,” says Mays. “Damp stalls, increased ammonia levels and inadequate ventilation can contribute to poor air quality.  When the barn is closed during cold weather, ammonia, dust and stale air can be trapped in the barn, so good ventilation is crucial for your stall-housed horse.  It is best to open barn doors and have good air flow to reduce the possibility of respiratory problems.  Cleaning stalls daily to remove manure and wet bedding greatly improves air quality in the horse barn.”

“Whether you are riding regularly or not, you should remove dirt from your horse’s hooves,” explains Mays.  “Hooves are still growing in the winter months and appropriate maintenance is important.”

Teeth should be checked for wear and floated if needed.  Sharp teeth edges can cut the tongue as well as prevent proper chewing of forage and feed resulting in wasted or poorly utilized nutrients, notes Mays.

“Horses may get undetected cuts during the winter so update any needed vaccinations and make sure your horse is immunized against tetanus,” states Mays.

Even though nature may be dormant during the winter months, parasites are not, especially in moderate climate environments, says Mays.  Internal and external parasites have a negative influence on your horse’s health.  Tick and lice numbers can increase in areas of confinement.  Long, thick hair cover aids in hiding these parasites, so regular grooming is necessary.  Shorter winter pastures may expose your horse to increased contact with nematode larvae and thus increased internal parasites.

Attention to your horse’s environment, as well as nutritional, physical and medical needs will help your horse weather this winter and be fit for riding come spring.



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Trick or Treat, Give Me Something Good to Eat!

Trick or Treat, give me something good to eat!  There are a number of healthy treats that your horse can enjoy.  These treats can provide pleasure and add beneficial nutrients to your horse’s diet.  However, they can also precipitate into behavioral problems.

“Some fruits and vegetables make healthy horse treats,” notes Dr. Glennon Mays, clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.  “However, feeding your horse foods other than their usual grain and forage can result in some unwanted results.”

“Many horses enjoy apples and an apple cut into pieces makes a wonderful treat,” states Mays.  “Apples should be cut into pieces since a whole apple may cause your horse to choke.  Whole apples are the perfect size to become lodged in the horse’s esophagus.”

“Nutritionally, apples provide your horse with potassium which is important for proper muscle contraction and nerve function.  Also, potassium is an electrolyte which is important for cellular metabolism,” explains Mays.  “Additionally, apples provide calcium and phosphorus.  Calcium is important for bone growth, muscle and heart function, and milk production.  Phosphorus is required for bone structure and energy metabolism.  Apples also provide all important fiber to the equine diet,” notes Mays.

From healthy fruit to nutritional vegetable, the carrot makes a welcomed treat for your horse.  Mays notes to also be careful to avoid choking when feeding carrots.  Cutting the carrots into thin slices will prevent a large chunk from becoming lodged in your horse’s esophagus.

“Carrots contain vitamin A which is needed for healthy eyes, mucus membranes, skin and hair,” states Mays.  “Fortunately, fresh pastures and quality hay provide horses with most of their needed vitamin A.  However, lack of green grass in the winter may be reason to provide your horse with additional amounts of vitamin A during those months.”

As in all treats, moderation is the key.  Over indulgence can mean future trouble, warns Mays.  Digestive problems are one aspect of too many apples or carrots, but behavioral problems can be much more difficult to contend with.

“When a horse anticipates and expects a treat as routine, and does not get the treat, unacceptable behavior may occur.  Your horse is a large animal and may become abusive when not given more treats,” states Mays.

As long as the treat remains an infrequent, unexpected reward, apple or carrot pieces can be a true treat for your horse, notes Mays.  However, it should be noted that giving your horse treats too frequently may result in your horse acquiring obnoxious behaviors.

“Giving your horse treats can become problematic because horses can become spoiled to the idea and therefore demand the treat so it is no longer a treat but becomes part of a routine,” explains Mays.

When considering whether to give treats to your horse or not, you should determine their intended purpose and role in your horse’s overall health and well being, notes Mays.  If your horse seems to be satisfied with the treat of a gentle pat on the neck, or vocal praise, then a food treat may not be necessary.

Give your horse something good to eat.  For a horse, something good to eat is a well balanced diet of grain and forage with some mineral supplements and maybe … just an occasional treat of chopped apple or carrot.



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Keeping Your Horse Cool in the Summer

Cool as a cucumber … but what if you are a horse!  Summer heat and humidity can be a dangerous combination for active horses.

“Heat and humidity affect the horse, and with intense exercising, the excess heat has difficulty dissipating,” notes Dr. Glennon Mays, clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.

“Heat is a normal by-product of working muscles and increases during periods of increased exercise,” explains Mays.  “Normally a horse cools itself by sweating which causes heat loss and thus its body cools as sweat evaporates from the skin’s surface.”

When humidity is high, less moisture can evaporate from the skin surface.  Therefore the surface blood vessels will enlarge to help rid the horse’s body of excess heat.

“Overheating, or hyperthermia in the horse is due to a disturbance in the heat regulating mechanism of the horse’s body,” says Mays.  “In addition to summer heat and humidity, poor stable ventilation, prolonged exposure to sun, extreme exercise, transportation/trailering stress, as well as excess weight and poor conditioning may contribute to overheating.”

“If your horse does become overheated, move the horse to a shady area or to a cool, well-ventilated barn.  Then spray with cool water and place ice packs on the horse’s head and large blood vessels on the neck and the inside of its legs,” states Mays.  “Be careful to not spray the horse’s face or get water in its ears; just sponge these areas gently.”

Horses naturally tend to “cool out” while walking rather than standing still, notes Mays.  Therefore, application of ice packs can be challenging.

Allow the horse to have several swallows of cool, clean, fresh water every few minutes.  There is a possibility of colic if your horse drinks large quantities of water in a short period of time.

“To help your horse beat the heat, provide plenty of fresh, cool water,” notes Mays.  “Keep water bucket or trough clean to promote drinking.  Average size work horses can consume over 25 gallons of water per day when the temperature is above 70 degrees.”

Limit strenuous riding to late evening or early morning when the temperature is lower.  Use less tack in the hot summer by minimizing saddle pads and leg boots.  Also clip your horse’s coat and keep its mane and tail trimmed.

Heat stroke can happen to horses whether they are working hard, standing in stifling stables, or traveling in unventilated trailers, notes Mays.  Call a veterinarian and take immediate action if your horse has elevated respiration or pulse (in an inactive horse), body temperature above 103 degrees, or irregular heart beat.

“Do the skin pinch test to check your horse’s hydration,” says Mays.  Test for dehydration by pinching the skin along the horse’s neck.  The skin should snap back quickly.  If the pinched area collapses slowly the horse is dehydrated.

Hot weather does require that you give your horse special care.  But, you and your horse can lessen summer’s hot days when you practice these cool tips to beat the heat.




Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at Suggestions for future topics may be directed to

Equine First Aid and Emergencies

Although it is the most basic form of health care, horse owners should be aware that horses need first aid care just as much as people do, if not more. There are many situations that a horse owner might run into such as soft tissue injuries like lacerations and puncture wounds, ophthalmic injuries, strains, sprains, other acute lameness issues, colic, fever, depression, and dystocia or foaling difficulties.

Horse owners should be able to have the basic skills required to take care of a horse during an emergency situation until a veterinarian is available, such as dialing the phone to seek professional help when needed.

“Probably the minimum competency skill level is comfort with applying a bandage in case of a hemorrhaging lower extremity” said Dr. Glennon Mays, clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, “or understanding how to encourage a painful, recumbent horse to stop rolling and get up off the ground and walk around in a circle while waiting for the veterinarian’s arrival in the case of colic.”

Cooperativeness on the part of the animal to accomplish routine acts can actually be practiced under non-emergency situations in order to succeed in time of crisis.

“This cooperativeness is remindful of school children practicing a fire drill” said Mays. “If something is familiar, it is more easily performed in a crisis situation. If a horse is accustomed to having bandages applied to legs or being loaded in a trailer for no obvious reason, then it won’t seem quite so unusual a request during times of stress or pain.”

In case of emergency, there are a few things that horse owners should have on-hand; especially emergency phone numbers that are readily accessible.

“In a tense moment, the pre-determined numbers can be dialed in order of preference. In case the first choice is unavailable, secondary or tertiary selections have already been made” said Mays. “I also suggest having some bandage materials on hand. Beyond basic leg wrapping techniques, other first aid supplies can vary according to the qualifications of the owner of the horse and the client-patient relationship with the veterinarian.”

Of course, there will be times when it is absolutely necessary that the horse owner calls a veterinarian for assistance. A professional caregiver should be summoned when the horse’s caretaker feels uncomfortable or inadequate providing the type of care that is necessary, or whenever an animal insurance company is involved.

“Often professional care is provided more quickly when the patient is transported rather than waiting for a busy veterinarian to break away from a practice or hospital environment. However, many vets solely provide ambulatory service and don’t operate from a clinic or hospital facility” said Mays. “Some patients requiring emergency care cannot initially be transported, depending on the experience level of the owner and one’s ability to accurately interpret the situation of the animal in danger. Another factor to consider is the comparison of the facility where the horse located and the facility a veterinarian may provide.”

General anesthesia may be avoided by transporting a young horse with a laceration to a veterinarian’s facility, for example, when the owner’s facility is not equipped with an area for safe restraint. Safety for the animal as well as the people providing the care of the animal is of highest importance.

There are several emergencies that tend to happen frequently to horses. One of the most common involves soft tissue injuries. Since horses are “flight” rather than “fight” responders, punctured, lacerated or avulsed soft tissues are ordinary reasons for seeking emergency assistance.

“Another common emergency need is in response to engorgement due to inadvertent duplication at feeding time or inconsistency in feeding time. Introduction of new feed, hay or grazing sources can create a need for emergency help at times” said Mays. “Because horses are naturally inquisitive, eye injuries are another common need for immediate assistance. Tearing excessively, squinting the eyelids, unnatural desire to stay inside a shaded area when pasture mates are out grazing are all indications of a possible eye problem. When owners are examining their horse, it’s often a good practice to take a look at both sides of the animal no matter how normal one side appears.”

The inquisitive nature of horses can also create other emergency care opportunities. Horses become entrapped in cattle guards, tree forks, narrow chute spaces, and even empty trailers where the wind has assisted in closing the gates of the trailer.

“From a veterinarian’s point of view, it’s very frustrating to be invited to attend an animal situation that has already progressed several days because the owner’s decision to provide therapy has proven a mistake” said Mays. “Please don’t wait too long and always listen to your conscience.”



Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at Suggestions for future topics may be directed to