Monday, June 30, 2008

How likely is a horse to get tetanus?

My Quarter Horse got a couple of small cuts on his legs once. This is a fairly common occurance with horses, so I didn't think much about it. I cleaned the cuts and treated them with a spray-on medication but for some reason, I had a bad feeling about them and while my farrier was there, I asked him to take a look to see what he thought. My farrier suggested I call the, needless to say, I called the vet. (I wondered if I was overreacting or worrying for nothing. I had never called the vet for minor cuts before)

From that experience, I was very surprised when I learned that horses are more prone to tetanus than any other domestic animal! There are 2 reasons for this: 1) Horses don't have the "right" immunities to the bacteria that causes tetanus and 2) Horses are notorious for always getting injuries (even small ones) that are highly prone to tetanus.

Tetanus, (also known as lockjaw), doesn't just come from stepping on the rusty nail that your mom always warned you about. Tetanus can infect any wound that has scabbed over or is somehow cut off from fresh air. That's because tetanus grows where there is little oxygen. This can be any wound: large or small, on the body or in the hoof!

Another scary part is that your horse could actually harbor the tetanus for several weeks before showing any signs of the disease. This means that your horse could get a minor cut, the cut heal over, you think nothing more of it and weeks later, Bam! your horse is suddenly extremely sick. By that time, it may be too late to do anything about it.

Early signs of tetanus are colic and body stiffness. Next comes spasms that can be all over the body, including the jaw. The next sure sign of tetanus is what's called protrusion of the third eyelid. The horse then has a very difficult time breathing. The body stiffness will increase all over to the point that the horse is very rigid, with the neck and tail stretched out. The stiffness in the jaw will increase until they can no longer open or close their mouth, (hence the term lockjaw). Finally the horse will go down and die of respiratory failure.

For all of these reasons, I can't stress enough: It is extremely important to keep horses current on tetanus shots and boosters.

Here is a recommended schedule for the tetanus vaccine:

  1. Pregnant mares - 3-6 weeks before giving birth
  2. Foals - 3 - 4 months old
  3. Yearlings & Adult Horses - Annually

Give booster tetanus shots if your horse gets an injury or has surgery (even minor surgery or if your stud colt gets gelded) and it has been longer than 6 months since their last tetanus shot.

A tetanus shot is so cheap (around $10 - $15 dollars) and so easy to give (some vets will sell you the vaccine and let you give the shot yourself) so it is very easy to protect your horse from this disease.

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Sunday, June 29, 2008

What do you do when the horse refuses the dewormer tube?

A lot of people have horses that just simply don't like the dewormer tube and refuse to let it near their mouth. (I can't say that I blame them! Who wants a tube stuck in their mouth and some goopy gel or paste squirted down their throat, right?)

What I've found to work the best is to balance out a negative with a positive. On a regular basis, mix up a yummy concoction of applesauce and honey, (I put about a tablespoon of honey in about 1/4 cup of applesauce), put it in a clean syringe and periodically give it to your horse just as a treat. You can give it to them once a week, a few times a week or once a month, depending on just how much the horse hates and avoids the tube. The more they hate it and fight you on it, the more often you give it to them in order to get them used to it. One good taste in their mouth and they rapidly get used to it!!

If they really fling their head around and won't let the tube near their mouth, all you have to do is get a drop of that yummy stuff in the corner of their mouth or on their lips (even if you have to put it on your finger a few times first) and let them get a taste of it.

Do this several times BEFORE its time for the dewormer. Once they realize that the tube more often means a tasty treat, it will be so-o-o much easier to deworm them when the time comes.

You can experiment with different mixtures based on what you have in the kitchen and what your horse likes best. Applesauce, oatmeal, honey, molasses, etc. (Just remember to be easy on the sugar and sweeteners. If you give them the syringe treat, you might want to cut down on the other treats you normally give).

This works really well with giving oral medications, too. I have 2 syrings in hand. I give one syringe of applesauce & honey, then the medication, followed by another syringe of applesauce. I knew about this trick for quite awhile but I really got to put it to the test with a yearling Thoroughbred filly I was treating once that had a bad, deep rooted case of pneumonia that just wouldn't go away. I had to give her oral antibiotics for 2 solid weeks. After the very first dose of meds, I knew I had to get creative in order to get us both through the next 14 days AND to keep her from developing a strong aversion to the oral syringe. She loved it!!! She actually got excited about her applesauce "cocktail". :D She nickered for it and sucked it up so quickly that I could barely get it in her mouth fast enough. She barely noticed the dose of medication in the middle at all. What a great lesson that little filly taught me.


Saturday, June 28, 2008

What is the normal body temperature?

The normal body temperature of an adult horse is 99.5 to 100 degrees.
(Normal for a foal is 99 to 102 degrees)

The temperature is taken rectally. You can use either a bulb thermometer (the glass type with the little bulb of red mercury at the end) or a digital thermometer (my preference)

Lubricate the end of the thermometer. You can use Vasoline but a water based product such as KY jelly is best. With one hand, grip the horses tail firmly and raise the tail out of your way. With your other hand, gently insert the thermometer into the horses rectum about 2 to 3 inches.

For a bulb thermometer, wait 3 minutes before removing the thermometer. Digital thermometers normally beep when the accurate temperature has been taken.

After reading the temperature, don't forget to wash/sanitize the thermometer before storing it away for the next use.

How often should hooves be trimmed?

Weather, the seasons, diet, the health of the horse, what type of work the horse does and the terrain the horse is living or working on, are all factors that can change how fast a horses hoof grows.

Each horse is different and their hooves grow at different speeds (just like your fingernails may grow faster than your best friends') Some horses need a trim every 4 weeks while others may be fine with a trim every 6 - 8 weeks.

Another point to consider is that a horse that has recently foundered may need a trim every 2 weeks.

Consult with a reputable farrier to determine your horses needs, preferably one who is knowledgeable in Natural Hoof Care. Because a horse is almost always on its feet, their hooves are their foundation and of utmost importance to the health of your horse. Get your horse on a regular farrier schedule for a happy, healthy and sound horse.

For more information on natural hoof care, look on this page for links to my favorite sites. I've linked to two of the best in the field: Jaime Jackson (the first natural hoof care practitioner) and Pete Ramey, (a forerunner in the natural hoof care revolution).

Friday, June 27, 2008

What is Thrush in horses?

Thrush is a bacterial infection of the spongy, triangular shaped part of a horses hoof called the frog. Thrush can be easily recognized by the strong, foul odor that comes from the dark stained (usually black) material that is picked out of the hoof. It has a very characteristic smell that is not easily forgotten.

If not treated, thrush can travel into the laminae of the hoof and cause lameness.

Thrush is relatively easy to treat and cure. The bacteria that causes thrush dies almost instantly when it comes in contact with air. Therefore, thrush is normally caused by not keeping the packed mud, manure, etc. picked out of the hoof, thereby giving the bacteria that causes thrush the perfect dark, dirty environment to grow.

Treatment includes cleaning the hoof out thoroughly and the horses living quarters cleaned (or the horse moved). Pick the hoof out every day, followed by a daily application of a commercial product, (like Thrush Buster), or a natural product, (such as vinegar), in order to kill off the bacteria and help the hoof to heal.

What can you tell me about hoof abcesses?

Abcesses are quite common. Some horses are more prone to abcesses than others.

A horse with a hoof abcess will show signs of lameness, sometimes severe. An abcess is basically just an infection inside the hoof, an area where pus is gathering and causing pain and pressure as the infection grows. A good indicator of an abcess is the horse standing with the toe pointed out forward, (rather than resting it behind them) as they are trying to relieve the pressure. Abcesses can be extremely painful.

Abcesses have been called "gravel" for many years because it used to be believed that a small rock (gravel) entered the bottom of the hoof and got infected. It's now known that abcesses are usually called by bacteria entering the hoof through a puncture wound or crack. Often, the wound will be so tiny that you will never see it or know that its there. Abcesses can also occur during or after founder rehabilitation.

Abcesses almost always increase during the rainy seasons or anytime a horse has to live in very wet surroundings. Fungus and bacteria grow and thrive in moisture. Abcesses can also occur if the horse lives in or is forced to stand in extremely mucky or dirty conditions for any length of time. The hoof actually acts somewhat like a filter or a sponge. The hoof sits in the muck and when the water drains out of the hoof, that leaves all of the bad stuff, (i.e., manure, urine) and therefore concentrated amounts of bacteria left standing in the hoof.

Opinions on treatment for an abcess varies greatly by individual. There are questions on whether the hoof should be covered or bandaged and whether or not soaking the hoof has any real benefits. I'll explain what has worked for me. I highly recommend at this point that you consult with a farrier to diagnose your horse, preferably one who is familiar with (and practices) Natural Hoof Care.

I used to think it was best for a farrier to pare out the abcess/infected area to let the infection drain and allow air to get to it. After reading Pete Ramey's book, "Making Natural Hoof Care Work For You", I was convinced otherwise. Ramey has documented proof of astounding success in many areas of hoof care and I trust his opinion. He recommends that it is best to allow nature to take its course and allow the infection to work its way out on its own. Opening up the sole of the hoof can allow bacteria into the bloodstream, thereby causing a secondary infection.

Normally, the infection will travel upwards through the hoof, following the path of least resistance and will eventually blow out, usually at the coronary band. It's hard to watch a horse hobble around, knowing they are in pain but it's far better than risking serious health issues or death because of a secondary infection caused by opening up the sole of the hoof.

Even if I suspect an abcess, I still always call my farrier, just to be sure there is nothing else causing the lameness.

I believe in soaking the hoof but in moderation since too much wetness can actually make the condition worse.

Ramey suggests a soak in 50% apple cider vinegar and water, 2 hours, twice a week.

I personally do not bandage the hoof for several reasons. 1) a bandage that is too loose is a pain to keep on and they usually fall off, (repeatedly!), 2) its easy to put a bandage on too tightly, (or sometimes when they get wet and dry, they tighten on their own), which can cause more harm than good by cutting off circulation and 3) I believe fresh air is best but that is IF you can have the horse in a fairly clean and dry environment. Confinement to a stall is not recommended because the horse moving will help the abcess to work its way out.

I strongly advise against a poultice because poultices seal the hoof off, which means they seal the bacteria in.

The best things you can do to prevent abcesses are:
  1. Keep your horse in as dry and clean environment as possible. The harder and drier their pasture or paddock is, the healthier the hooves will be. Horses should never stand in wet, muddy, mucky conditions, especially where there is a lot of manure. Keep stalls cleaned out. If your horse stays in a small turnout or paddock, routinely scrape out and remove excess manure. If they are pastured horses, possibly you can rotate pastures, etc.
  2. Pick your horses hooves out every day and get in the daily habit of looking for any wounds, lameness or the dark, foul smell of thrush.
  3. Keep your horse on a routine trimming schedule, about every 4 to 6 weeks or as recommended by the farrier.

Regardless of what you do, there is no 100% guarantee that your horse will never get an abcess in the hoof, however, following the steps above can greatly improve the chances that they won't.

On this page, I have a link to "Making Natural Hoof Care Work For You" by Pete Ramey. I highly recommend taking a look at his website and getting a copy of his book. It will change the way you view the hoof and care for the horse forever.

What is the normal breathing rate?

The normal respiratory rate for a resting, healthy, adult horse is around 12 - 15 breaths per minute.

However, it's not unusual for a horse to breathe as little as 10 breaths per minute or as often as 30 breaths per minute. Anything outside of those two numbers is a sign that something could be wrong. Consult a vet.

What is a horses normal heart beat?

The normal, resting heart beat (pulse) of a healthy, adult horse runs between 35 to 45 beats per minute (bpm)

It varies depending on the age and physical condition of a horse. Horses are just like people in this regard. The more they exercise and the better physical shape they are in, the lower their heart rate will be, too!

What plants are poisonous to horses?

There is a whole slew of plants that are toxic or poisonous to horses. Some will simply make your horse sick and some can be fatal.

Thankfully, most poisonous plants have a foul or bitter taste and horses will avoid them. (I'm personally convinced that most horses are smart enough to know which plants are "bad").

However, if your horse is on a dry lot or where grazing is scarce, they may be tempted to try some of those plants and it's a good idea to identify the plants and get rid of them.

I'm a very visual person and I like pictures, not just descriptions! So, here is a link to a good, illustrated guide to plants that are known to be toxic or poisonous to horses:

How can you tell if your horse has eaten a poisonous plant?

Signs of poisoning include:
  1. Colic
  2. Muscle spasms
  3. Tremors (shaking)
  4. Staggering
  5. Difficulty swallowing
  6. Drooling
  7. Irregular heart beat (slower or faster than normal)
  8. Confusion
  9. Unusual spookiness or panicking for no apparent reason
  10. Urinating more than usual or the urine is an abnormal color
A horse may exhibit just one or many of these symptoms. They don't have to show all signs in order to have been poisoned.

If you suspect your horse has been poisoned, do not delay! Call your vet immediately.

How often should you deworm a horse?

Another question that will have various answers, depending on who you ask. :-)

A good general rule of thumb is to deworm your horse about every 3 months, or 4 times per year.

A good way to keep up with this is to deworm your horse every time the seasons change. Check the official dates of Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter and write it in right on your calendar. Great for remembering to change the batteries on your smoke detectors, too! :D

Can colic cause blindness?

Colic itself would not normally cause blindness but certain types of poisons can cause colic and blindness.

One of the most common poisonings in horses is called moldy corn poisoning. It happens most often between late fall and early spring, after corn has been stored that has too much moisture in it, or has been stored in an already damp area, which makes the corn moldy. Moldy corn will be discolored with shades of pink and/or red to reddish-brown colors in it.

Moldy corn poisoning causes what is known as the blind staggers. A horse that has eaten moldy corn will exhibit signs such as circling and staggering, doesn't blink when you wave your hand in front of their eyes, confusion and will panic for no apparent reason. A horse can die from moldy corn poisoning in just a day or two once these signs begin HOWEVER it IS possible save them if the signs are detected and a vet is called soon enough. (Of course, get the corn away from the horse or get the horse away from the corn immediately!)

If you suspect that your horse has eaten moldy corn, don't delay, call your vet!

Types of Colic

Spasmodic colic is believed to be the most common cause of intestinal colic. It can be caused when a hot horse drinks cold water. It can also be caused by fear or stress, therefore flighty, nervous, high-strung horses are more susceptible to spasmodic colic than a calmer, more laid back, "bomb proof" horse, especially during transportation, moving to a new environment, being separated from its herd, etc.

Impaction colic is very common as well. It's usually caused by the horse overeating, usually too much grain. The horse not having enough water to drink, a heavy worm infestation or the horse not chewing its food properly (due to either eating too fast or dental problems), are all common causes of impaction colic. (A good reason to keep your horses teeth checked).

There is also Flatulent Colic, also known as Tympanic colic. It's more the "indigestion" type colic which causes a lot of gas and pain, normally caused from eating too much grain or grass or eating moldy or bad feed.

Again, colic is an emergency. Call your vet immediately if your horse shows signs of colicking.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

How can you prevent colic?

There are no absolute guarantees that you can totally prevent colic but there are many ways to help try to prevent it. Many horse owners manage to successully avoid it. Sometimes, it just depends on the individual horse.

Here's what you can do to GREATLY LIMIT the chances that your horse will colic:
  1. Always make sure your feed and hay are fresh. Do the visual and sniff test and throw out any feed or hay that smells sour or moldy.
  2. Never overfeed.
  3. Keep poisons out of reach.
  4. Always lock up feeding bins or buildings where feed is stored. Horses will gorge themselves if given the chance. They will actually eat themselves to death.
  5. Don't allow the horse to graze on very rich green grass for extended periods of time. (Keep them away from grass clippings and never allow the horse to have freshly cut grass or someone dump the clippings from a lawn mower. This not only can cause colic, wet grass clippings can actually be fatal to a horse)
  6. Avoid an irregular feeding schedule. Two small feedings a day, morning and evening if possible, (about 10-12 hrs apart) are better than one large feeding.
  7. Don't ride immediately after feeding.
  8. Always keep fresh water available at all times, especially after feeding. Impaction colic is vey common and can often be prevented just by keeping water available.
  9. If you change feed, do it slowly, over 1 1/2 to 2 weeks. Quick changes in feeding can cause colic.
  10. Don't put hay or feed on the ground. Feed from a bowl, dish or other container. Put your horses hay in a hay rack or hay net. Dirt and sand buildup in the gut causes what's known as sand colic.
  11. Stay on a regular worming schedule. (At least every 3 months or every time the seasons change) Worm infestations can cause blockages and colic.
  12. Give your horse regular vet checkups.
  13. Be aware of plants that are poisonous to horses and get them out of the pasture or out of your horses reach.
  14. NEVER let a hot horse drink cool water. Always cool your horse first.
  15. GET RID OF SUGAR! Sugar not only can cause colic but is the leading cause of laminitis and founder! Be careful in the amounts of sweet treats you give your horse and please consider switching from a rich, sugar-loaded feed to a more natural hay substitute or quality whole grain. (For example, Hay pellets, hay cubes, whole oats, etc.)

What causes colic?

I guess this is just about the most common question asked, probably because colic is the #1 killer of horses and the most common fear of horse owners (and rightly so).

Colic is actually just a symptom, not a condition itself. It's a symptom of pain in the abdomen, which can be caused by dozens of things. Some of the things that can cause colic are: too much feed or too rich of a feed, spoiled or moldy feed, changing to a new or different feed too suddenly, not enough water to drink, a hot horse drinking cold water, fear, anxiety and stress, eating a poisonous plant, tetanus, as well as diseases of the internal organs such as the stomach, liver or kidneys. Those are just a few causes of colic. Only a veterinarian can tell you what probably caused the colic.

Horses have extremely sensitive and delicate digestive systems that are designed to live on almost constant grazing of varying types of grasses, and a lot of dry grasses. Pastures of rich, green grass and sweetened commercial horse feeds contain way too much sugar for the horses digestive system. Domesticated horses are so much more at risk of getting foods that are too rich for them to handle, whether we give it to them or they break into the feed bin.

Colic is an emergency. If your horse shows signs of colic, you should call the veterinarian immediately. Do not allow the horse to lie down or roll.

(*Side Note: a lot of people ask why you can't let a horse roll. Don't you hate it when people tell you to do something or not to do something and don't tell you why? So do I! So, I'll tell you why: The reason you can't let a colicky horse roll is because an average sized horses intestines are about 100 feet long and they are not attached to anything inside the stomach cavity, (they are basically "free floating"), so when a horse is in pain, they often thrash and roll violently and roll often. The rolling over and over part can cause their intestines to actually fold over on themselves or get twisted and twisted intestines are almost always fatal. That's why you should never allow a colicking horse to roll. Interesting, huh?)

So...if your horse colics, call the vet, make sure you stay calm, (which will help the horse to stay calmer), keep a halter on them, keep them on their feet and walk them at their own pace until the vet arrives.

Beginnings:A horse resource

Horses are a passion of mine and a large part of my life. It seems to be a personal quest of mine to learn everything I can about them. I've spent a lot of time helping others with their horse issues, answering questions and giving advice both in person and online. One day, someone said, "Wow. You really know a lot about horses. Your answers are great!" and pointed out that there really aren't a lot of websites on the internet where you can just get some quick (and reliable) answers to your horse questions. So, here I am, diving into blogging, a world that I am totally unfamiliar with.

I really don't know where this blog is going to end up but I have a few good general ideas of where I want it to go. It is my hope that I can create a place where people of all ages can quickly find some good answers to a lot of general questions on horse care, behavior and training, as well as helpful and informative links to other great sites and resources.

I have a lot of information to share so it will take a little while to get it all online. I hope you stop back by and keep in touch.

All the best,
Please feel free to email me your horse questions and I'll do my best to answer them or at least point you to someone or someplace that can. (Scroll down to the "About Me" section and click on "View my complete profile" to send me an email) I look forward to hearing from you! ~Melanie