By Dr. Randel Raub, Purina Mills, LLC
While all of us understand the importance of providing a proper diet for our horses, there is more to maintaining their good overall health and well-being than simply providing an adequate feeding program. Many times, basic husbandry and health care are overlooked, or put off, which directly affects the daily wellness and longevity of our horses.
- PARASITE CONTROL PROGRAM – Considered to be one of the greatest threats to the health of the horse, parasites deprive the horse of many essential nutrients and can cause weight loss, anemia, diarrhea, and impaction. Parasites cause damage to lungs, liver, arteries and intestines, and generally affect the horse’s overall performance. They can cause respiratory disease in foals and colic in adult horses. In fact, the percentage of colic surgeries due to parasites is reported to be quite high.
Parasites are always present in the horse’s daily environment, so we cannot totally eradicate them, but we can offer some measure of control. So where do start?
The first thing to do is re-examine our farm management practices. Are stalls and paddock areas being cleaned daily? Is the manure being composted, or disposed of properly? Are pastures being picked (if small) or harrowed? Pastures should only be harrowed in the hot, dry summer months, not during those times when spreading manure will also spread the parasite population and increase infestation. Are pastures overcrowded? Should “sacrifice areas” be designated in order to improve pasture areas? Your local county conservation district can provide you with more info.
Next, discuss your current deworming program with your veterinarian. There has been significant advancement in research over the past several years with regard to the effectiveness of various chemical groups of dewormers. What we may have considered a suitable deworming program previously may now require a second look in light of new research, available products and veterinary recommendations.
One of the newest concepts in deworming programs is daily prevention with the use of Strongid C or Strongid C 2X by Pfizer. Fed once daily in the horse’s grain ration, this product emphasizes prevention of parasites versus the traditional periodic purge treatment with paste products. Pfizer so strongly supports this philosophy that it offers a program for horse owners that will cover the cost for colic surgery and three days of after-care up to $5,000. Contact your veterinarian for more information on the Pfizer “PreventiCare” program.
- DENTAL CARE – Regular dental care for your horse ranks right up there in importance with a good feeding program, a good deworming program, and a good immunization program. Yet it is often neglected and can be the cause of many problems.
From a nutrition standpoint, good dental care is essential in order for the horse to begin the digestion process of its feedstuffs properly. As a horse masticates (grinds) its feed, its jaws move in such a manner so that, after a period of time, “points” develop on the inside edges of the lower teeth and on the outside edges of the upper teeth.
These points cause discomfort, and even ulcers, so that the horse may be reluctant to chew its feed for an adequate amount of time prior to swallowing. This is important in that, as a horse chews, saliva is released from salivary glands on either side of the lower jaw. Saliva contains enzymes important for the initial phase of the breakdown of feeds. Production of saliva also lubricates the esophagus for swallowing.
A horse needing for dental work may toss or hold its head off to one side while chewing. He might drop grain and/or chunks of partially chewed forage while eating, dunk hay in his water bucket, or bolt his feed.
Behavioral or performance problems can also be an indicator of the need for dental care. Head tossing, a reluctance to being bridled, not working on the bit, etc. can all be a direct result of poor dental condition. If the horse is in pain, he may exhibit signs of general irritability as well.
Including a regular dental exam with your scheduled veterinary visit twice per year, will offer the opportunity to detect and correct any existing condition and head off any more serious concerns.
- IMMUNIZATIONS – Probably one of the easiest and least costly things that we can do to protect the overall wellness of our horse is to vaccinate on a regular basis.
Common vaccinations include influenza, rhinopneumonitis, and tetanus. Depending upon your horse’s lifestyle, your veterinarian may also recommend additional immunizations, such as for strangles or Potomac Horse Fever. Additionally, there are always new diseases lurking on the horizon that we must be aware of and that we may need to consider immunizing against.
One new development in the field of immunology is the influenza intra-nasal vaccine that was recently introduced in the marketplace. Influenza is extremely contagious and has been shown to be responsible for upwards of 66% of viral respiratory disease in horses. Your veterinarian would be happy to discuss with you the benefits of this and other vaccines as a part of your overall immunization program.
- NUTRITION – Research in equine nutrition has made great strides over the past several years. New findings related to not only the needs of the horse, but also how the horse utilizes various nutrients now challenges us to feed our horses better than we ever have before.
Discoveries in research, combined with advancements in manufacturing capabilities, offer the horse owner the availability of higher quality, tested feedstuffs specifically formulated to meet the needs of the individual horse’s lifestyle. No longer do we think that a balanced ration consists of mere hay and oats.
Ongoing studies in aerobic and anaerobic activity and how the horse metabolizes available energy sources provides us with the information necessary to determine the most beneficial ration for each individual so that he can maintain good body condition and achieve maximum performance.
Proper nutrition combined with good dental care, an effective parasite control program, regular immunizations and reliable veterinary care will go a long way in providing your horse with good health, a good disposition and extended longevity.
Here’s to your happy and healthy horse!