Come join us for our client seminar on October 10th! RSVP by October 1st to 434-973-7947!
That was the question the American Association of Equine Practitioners and the American Horse Council considered jointly. The Unwanted Horse Coalition was formed to address the this problem and invites you to become involved. As horse lovers, we share responsibility for this issue.
There are times when your veterinarian might advise running some “bloodwork” on your horse, but why? What information is gained, and how might it help? The answer depends on the specific tests run. Obviously, there are blood tests to detect the presence of specific viruses and bacteria that cause diseases, but what about the hematology and chemistry tests?
First, an explanation of what the tests are and what they reveal. The hematology tests analyze the components of the blood, which are the red blood cells, the white blood cells, and the total solids (proteins) in the blood. Red blood cells carry oxygen to the tissues in the body, and too few red blood cells is called anemia. Red cell numbers can fall because of a lack of production if the bone marrow is being suppressed by inflammation or other illness, loss due to bleeding somewhere in the body, or inappropriate destruction, which can occur with a number of diseases. An increase in red cells is usually associated with dehydration, but rarely, horses with liver disease produce too many red cells. White blood cells are the soldiers of the immune system, and changes in the population of white cells can indicate inflammation. Depending on the change in the white cells, your veterinarian may also gain information about the severity and nature of the inflammation.
The biochemical analysis, or chemistry, is a panel of tests that reflect the function of different organ systems of the body, and can also indicate inflammation. Information is available on a standard chemistry test about the health of the liver, kidneys, muscles, and intestines.
There are a number of situations in which hematology and chemistry can be useful in managing a horse’s health care. The most obvious case is when a horse is showing signs of illness, such as fever, cough, weight loss, loss of appetite, change in manure, etc. The information gained from the blood work can point the veterinarian toward the cause of the disease, which will determine treatment, and also give vital information about the severity of the problem, which may change the approach to treatment (at home vs.in a clinic) or the expected outcome of treatment. Periodic blood tests during treatment help the veterinarian know how the horse is responding to treatment.
Sometimes, it is helpful to run bloodwork on healthy horses. The most common reason to run blood tests on healthy horses is to monitor the health of older horses. Just as we tend to develop problems as we age, horses may develop age related problems as they grow older. Running a hematology and chemistry yearly can help to catch liver, kidney, and sometimes endocrine problems early when intervention is most likely to be helpful. Another group of healthy horses in which routine blood work can be helpful is the population of horses that are maintained on medication long term. Any medication given over time can have systemic effects, and monitoring the health of the organs with simple blood tests can catch liver or kidney problems, gastrointestinal inflammation, or anemia early, before they make the horse sick. Including blood work into your horse’s yearly exam, especially if he is older than 15 years old or on “maintenance” medication or supplements, may help your veterinarian optimize his health and well-being.
Dr. Tracy Norman attended an advanced equine cardiology course in Las Vegas offered by the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine that was only open to internal medicine and veterinary cardiology specialists. New research regarding the importance of heart rhythm disturbances on performance and safety was presented, as well as advanced techniques in echocardiography (heart ultrasound) and cardiac diagnostics for horses with poor athletic performance. This course will help me to thoroughly diagnose heart murmurs, rhythm disturbances, and performance limitations, to formulate a prognosis for horses with heart problems, and aid owners and riders in making informed decisions about the safety and suitability of horses for different kinds of work.
Most horse owners have certain medications/supplies they won’t be caught without. Following is a suggested list to cover most needs until the veterinarian arrives. This would make a great gift for a new horse owner!
Spare halter and lead
Pack of gauze square (4X4’s)
Non stick pads
Stretch gauze rolls
Standing wraps and bandages
One dose of banamine or buscopam-call 1st
Triple antibiotic or SSD ointment
Bute paste, powder or tabs
Mastitis cream syringe
Surgical scrub: Nolvasan or similar
Soaking boot such as a “Davis Blue Boot”
Items to pull a shoe: Rasp and Pull offs
Animalintex poultice pads
So many of us have one of these among our pets, no more so than with our horses. The older horse who has been a part of someone’s life for 20+ years is a blessing and a treasure. I count myself lucky every time I get to be a part of one of these special relationships. These days I am seeing many of my patients cruising through their twenties and enjoying life in their thirties. As this becomes more common, I find myself answering more questions about what special care may be required to keep these horses happy. Here are some insights into issues older horses may face.
Arthritis to some degree is something with which many older horses have to deal. This is most often mild and may be noticed only as stiffness when first getting out of the stall after a night’s rest. Occasionally it is more significant and may be localized to a particular area and cause obvious lameness and reluctance to move as much as they used to do. Loss of muscle mass can also be seen as a result of decreased activity associated with arthritis. Treatment for arthritis may be as simple as keeping horses turned out for the mildest of cases or daily treatment with joint supplements or pain relievers such as phenylbutazone or firocoxib (Equioxx) for those that need it. If tolerated, slow and steady regular exercise can help keep these horses active and healthy.
As horses age, they often have trouble maintaining their weight. There are several factors that can contribute to this. First, decreased exercise will cause muscles to atrophy especially along the topline, making horses appear skinnier and often sway backed. Those horses that are able to be ridden lightly will maintain a topline better than those that are sidelined for one reason or another. Secondly, older horses may have dental problems associated with coming to the end of their teeth. Horses’ teeth continue to erupt throughout their lifetime but as horses live longer they will run out of tooth root and teeth will begin to fall out. Proper dental care can ease discomfort by removing excessively loose teeth and smoothing any sharp points or transitions in the remaining teeth. With missing teeth or poor dentition it is likely that these horses will need special feed and may even need it soaked so that they can get all the nutrients that they need. Thirdly, the g.i. system becomes much less capable of digesting feeds with age and more of what you feed is wasted and simply passes through the system. The best way to help our older friends through this is with senior feeds that are designed to be more digestible so nutrients are readily available for absorption through the intestines.
Another issue with which our senior horses can be faced is an endocrine disease commonly referred to as equine Cushing’s disease, caused by a tumor on the pituitary gland. While this is a tumor, it is usually slow growing and doesn’t seem to spread to other places in the body. What it does cause are a number of changes in the body associated with excessive hormone production by the affected tissue in the pituitary gland. Outwardly, what you can see is long hair that often doesn’t shed and they can look skinny but have abnormal deposits of fat especially near the tail. These horses also tend to drink more, are more prone to infections, and more susceptible to laminitis. There is a blood test that can help diagnose this problem and medication to help control it (Prascend).
Finally, vision and muscle coordination can sometimes diminish with age. Horses can get cataracts associated with age similar to people. In horses it is called lenticular sclerosis and usually doesn’t lead to blindness but can certainly make it harder to see detail especially in low light. Coordination can diminish for many reasons and most of the time it can be difficult to determine the exact cause, but closer examination may reveal some clues as to whether it is arthritis or infection or something else.
Knowing all this may make some folks wonder why anyone would ever want to have an older horse. But anyone who has had the privilege of caring for that special horse that has taken care of them for so many years will tell you how profound a relationship develops between horse and rider. The joy they get out of seeing that horse respond to them every day when they arrive to take care of all that they need is worth every bit of trouble.
Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease of worldwide distribution that can cause illness in many species of mammals, including people. In horses, leptospiral infection has been associated with kidney failure, pregnancy loss, and equine recurrent uveitis, which can lead to blindness. Horses become infected with leptospirosis through contact of mucus membranes or broken skin with infected water. The kidney is the target organ of the bacteria, and the horse can spread the disease through infected urine. Disease may be asymptomatic, limited to mild fever and malaise, or may cause acute renal failure, uterine infections leading to abortion in mares, or recurrent bouts of uveitis that may affect one or both eyes.
Until recently, control measures for leptospirosis in horses were limited to providing access to clean drinking water, vaccinating other susceptible in-contact animals such as cattle and dogs, and using ruminant vaccines off label. Recently, an equine specific vaccine was introduced (LEPTO EQ EQ INNOVATOR ®) to protect horses against Leptospira pomona, which is reported to be the species of leptospirosis most commonly associated with clinical disease in horses. This vaccine may be especially helpful broodmares, horses with access to ponds or other natural water sources, and horses with equine recurrent uveitis. Please contact your veterinarian to learn more about whether your horse would benefit from this vaccine.
Horses that have suffered from prolonged neglect have special needs that extend beyond malnutrition. Many may have health problems need to be addressed in addition to the horse’s nutritional needs. The first step in making a plan for the long term care of horse that has suffered neglect is to have a veterinarian perform a full physical examination to determine the needs of that individual horse, and to document the condition of the horse when it arrives at its foster facility. Without previous records for healthcare, it should be assumed that the horse has not received any attention or preventative care, and the horse should be quarantined from the healthy herd initially.
Farrier care: Horses that are neglected may have significant hoof problems. Poor nutrition contributes to weak hooves, lack of good hygiene can lead to thrush, and lack of trimming leads to severe overgrowth and cracking. An early evaluation with a farrier is needed to make a plan for returning the hoof to a more normal condition. Depending on the condition of the feet, the farrier may request radiographs to evaluate the interior structures of the foot. Changing the foot is a gradual process, and may require frequent visits from the farrier for the first few months.
Deworming: Horses that have not been well cared for are at risk for significant parasitism. The best way to document the parasite burden in a horse is to have a fecal flotation performed. While it is true that parasites contribute to malnutrition in a horse, it is also true that severely debilitated horses lack the internal resources to withstand the damage to the intestinal tract that can occur when parasites die off and are eliminated from the body. Also, it is very difficult without a scale to determine the weight of an emaciated horse to determine proper dosing of anthelminthic drugs. There is no clear consensus in the veterinary community about the exact method that is best for deworming debilitated horses, but there is agreement that the gravest danger to these horses is the emergence of encysted cyathostomes (small strongyles) from the gut wall. When the adult forms of these parasites are killed by drugs like ivermectin, the larvae emerge from the gut wall, causing bleeding, inflammation, and loss of protein. Thus, recommendations most commonly include using a larvacidal medication (a single dose of moxidectin (Quest®) or 5 double doses of fenbendazole (Panacur®) to prevent this rapid emergence. Because there is still damage done to the gut lining, however, it is prudent to wait until the horse is acclimated to a normal plane of nutrition and gaining strength and condition prior to administering any anthelminthic. A veterinarian can help to determine when and how often to address parasite issues in recovering horses.
Vaccination: Horses suffering the effects of chronic malnutrition do not have the ability to respond normally to vaccination. The immune system depends on the body’s ability to produce proteins and build tissues, which is crippled during starvation. Vaccination should not be initiated until the horse is beginning to improve in condition after acclimating to a normal diet; vaccination is an important defense against infectious agents, but is secondary to rebuilding the body from strict survival mode. An initial series of each vaccination will be required, unless there are records to prove previous vaccination. During recovery, a staggered vaccination schedule is preferred, as debilitated horses are not able to withstand the challenges of vaccination that healthy horses are. The American Association of Equine Practitioners deems rabies, tetanus, Eastern Equine Encephalitis, Western Equine Encephalitis, and West Nile Virus to the core vaccines that all horses should receive. Additional recommended vaccinations for different geographical areas should be determined through consultation with the attending veterinarian.
General considerations: Very thin horses lack the intrinsic resources to withstand changes in weather. Providing shelter and blankets helps to avoid further depleting the horse’s energy stores in cold weather. Fresh, clean water and minerals should be available at all times. Meticulous wound care and general hygiene are important, as the immune system is damaged in starvation, and unable to fight against infection. When possible, stress should be minimized; horses should not have to compete for food or shelter, but should have other horses within sight to reduce anxiety. Dental care, which is important, should be delayed until the horse is stronger and gaining weight, as sedation and dental work are often poorly tolerated by debilitated horses. Many horses are rescued from neglectful situations with diseases that are a consequence of their poor care. Frequent veterinary evaluation, including blood work if a problem is suspected, can help to guide treatment and improve outcomes.
Whenever a horse is competing in a horse show or event, it is the owner, rider, and trainer’s responsibility to know and follow the rules or else risk fines or elimination. Most horse shows are governed by the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF). The USEF publishes a rulebook with guidelines for the use of therapeutic medications and drug testing. The rulebook can be found at www.usef.org/drugsandmedications. They also offer an APP for smartphones.
We often receive questions about which medications are allowed and the proper dosage to give to prevent a positive drug test. In this blog, I will discuss some of the important drug rules about commonly used medications. A good rule of thumb is if you aren’t sure about the rule, do not give the drug until you look it up in the rulebook or call and ask USEF or your veterinarian!
NSAIDs or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs refer to commonly used drugs Phenylbutazone (Bute), Flunixin meglumine (Banamine), Firocoxib (Equioxx or Previcox), Diclofenac (Surpass), Ketofen, Meclofenamic Acid (Arquel), or Naproxen. These drugs are restricted medications, which means they are allowed but only at a specific dosage. All NSAIDS should be administered no sooner than 12 hours before the horse shows. A 1000 lb horse is allowed to have a maximum of 2 grams of Phenylbutazone (Bute) every 24 hours. This is best given as 1 gram orally twice daily. Flunixin meglumine (Banamine) is permitted at a maximum of 500mg every 24 hours for a 1000lb horse. This is equivalent to 10cc of injectable or 1000 lb dose of paste. Both Phenylbutazone and Flunixin are permitted daily for a maximum of 5 days in a row.
In 2011, the USEF passed a rule change that allowed only the use of one NSAID at a time. This means that a horse may have only one drug classified as a NSAID in its bloodstream at the time of the drug test. This is important not only on the day that you show but also the week before you show. For example, if your horse is treated for colic a few days before the show and the veterinarian administers Flunixin, you can not give the horse Phenylbutazone at the show because he will test positive for both Phenylbutazone and Flunixin, resulting in a positive drug test! Depending on the dosage, it takes minimum of 3 – 5 days for these drugs to be eliminated in the horse.
People often ask about Equioxx versus Previcox, both are a drug call Firocoxib. Previcox is FDA approved for use in dogs and Equioxx is FDA approved for use in horses. A 1000 lb horse is allowed a maximum dose of 45.5 mg of Firocoxib every 24 hours. This means if your horse only weighs 1000 lbs and you gave him a 57 mg tablet of Previcox, he may test over the legal limit. This can also happen if the horse is given a higher dose or loading dose of Equioxx. Firocoxib is permitted once every 24 hours for 14 days in a row.
Many thanks to all who attended the seminar last night at the Clinic, especially to Dr. Scott Pleasant and Travis Burns from Virginia Tech. There was a good turnout and an excellent presentation by the Virginia Tech team.
We will plan to have another one this winter. Travis Burns, the farrier from Tech, is going to give us a list of subjects that he feels are pertinent. We also welcome suggestions from area farriers and veterinarians. These sessions are a good opportunity for vets to interact with the farriers that we depend on for support. We had a very good turnout of farriers from the Valley and fewer from Albemarle, but a lot of new faces.
We appreciate the support and expertise of the farriers in our area and look forward to our next get together.
THANKS to all of you who kept me and my horse Joe ( I'm Cotton-Eyed Joe) in your thoughts and prayers after his recent colic. Joe received EXCELLENT care and life-saving surgery from Blue Ridge Equine and Dr. Trostle. I am grateful for the experience of Dr. Trostle, the interns, the great care and frequent communication.
Thank you so much for your excellent care and compassion shown to Zack and me during our visits to the clinic over the past few months. He is such a sensitive guy, and I love him so much – you made a scary and difficult time so much easier to bear. I always know my animals are safe in your hands! I hope you all know how grateful I am.
A heartfelt thank you for the tremendous work your team performed on Sprout and Lulu. The past 2 weeks have been an education for me on the vast medical resources available at BREC. I truly realized the extent and depth of veterinary talents within your organization. I feel totally blessed knowing you are there for me and my equines.
Thank you, Anne, Dr. Hecking, Dr. Moore, and Courtney for being so helpful through this whole journey, and for being respectful and compassionate to the end. I would recommend you all highly to anyone who is in need of a professional and caring veterinary clinic.
Thank you so much, Anne, for your speedy reply and your consideration for giving me a little education in the process. This, along with the wonderful Dr. Hecking is the reason I want to be your customer! You all have a wonderful day.
Just thought you might like to see pictures of Willie and me checking out the ACTHA trail at the Horse Center. Willie and I are also back to taking dressage lessons, and hope to enter Dressage With a View at the Horse Center on June 30th! Just Intro A and B, but not too shabby for all he has been through. None of this would be possible without all of your hard work, expert care and belief in us. Thank you so much!
Blue Ridge Equine Clinic
4510 Mockernut Lane
Earlysville, VA 22936
434.973.7947 phone 434.973.7449 fax
55 Mint Spring Circle
Staunton, VA 24401
540.460.5702 phone 540.324.0220 fax