Author Archives: Stacey Nahachewsky

Senior Horses

Winter is here and in the back of our minds we all have that little worry about our oldest horses. Will they be ok? Will they make it through another winter? How can I keep them feeling their best through the harshest weather? These questions especially arise when we think of the senior horses that are now pushing 30 years old. Obviously they have lived this long because of your amazing care in the first place, but how can we make sure they keep going strong for their last years? And why are we dealing with these issues now? Horses have been around for a very long time. Shouldn’t this all be old news?


Well, truthfully, horses have never lived as long as they do now for several reasons. Geriatric or senior horses are becoming much more common due to improved husbandry, new knowledge in nutrition and feeding, improved veterinary and farrier care and improved knowledge in fitness, conditioning and work for the horse. 30 years ago it was rare for a horse to outlive its teeth, but now, senior horses can live for several years comfortably with no teeth at all. A rise in the geriatric population can also be attributed to better understanding of behavioral psychology and management, changing functions of horses in today’s society and increased personal attachment of horse owners. It is also more economically feasible to prolong the useful lifespan of a horse as well.


So what can we do to keep these horses around so they can teach our grandkids how to ride? The first and probably most important is nutrition. Older horses fall into 1 category or another, fat or skinny. Both of these categories can be tricky at times to manage. The skinny horse is always a larger concern than the fat horse. Some older horses do not utilize their feed as well as younger horses do and for this reason they may need more feed, higher quality feed, or a supplement to help keep their weight at a good level. One of the easiest ways to increase caloric intake in a senior horse is feed a senior feed and add a vegetable oil to the feed to increase fat levels. When fed grain such as oats, this may give your horse more expendable energy but it doesn’t help increase body condition as well as soaked beet pulp or vegetable oils. Also make sure the younger horses are not bullying or pushing the older horses away from the old-horse-2feed as this can lead to decreased caloric intake as well. If your older horse is being bullied, consider feeding them separately or in a different pen with supplements to ensure they are getting enough good quality feed.

The opposite can also happen, the older horse is often less active and turned out to pasture where exercise is limited but calories are not. Obesity can lead to certain metabolic disorders and adds stress to the feet and legs of the horse. Just like in people, most horses have some arthritis and extra or excessive weight doesn’t help with inflammation or joint pain.


Vaccinations are still very important in the older horse just like in the younger horse. Due to a lifetime of exposure, geriatric horses may be less susceptible to Influenza or Strangles but they can be just as susceptible or more susceptible to diseases such as West Nile, Rabies, Tetanus, EEE and WEE due to a weaker immune system. They can also be carriers of Influenza and Strangles and may not get sick but shed the virus which exposes younger more susceptible horses. Vaccinating has been proven to decrease or eliminate viral shedding and can help protect younger horses through vaccination of older horses.


As mentioned before, it never used to be an issue that horses would outlive their teeth, but from 20+ years of grazing, grinding and chewing, teeth may be warn short enough to make chewing ineffective or may be missing all together. This can create an uneven wear pattern and cause pathologic conditions such as wave mouth or step mouth which prevents the horse from grinding its feed and utilizing it. Annual dental exams and possible treatment is just as important as good nutrition.


Some metabolic diseases that old horses can develop are PPID (Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction) more commonly known as ‘Cushings’, and Metabolic Syndrome. It is unknown at this time if these two disorders are linked or connected with each other but both decrease the immune function of the horse and both increase the occurrence of laminitis. PPID can be successfully managed with Pergolide, a medication that was formerly used in humans with Parkinson’s disease, while Metabolic syndrome is managed with exercise, weight loss and carbohydrate restriction.


Older horses, just like older people tend to develop orthopedic disease such as arthritis. The cartilage wears out and arthritis develops in joints with the most use. Unfortunately this is an irreversible change but we can do a lot for the horse in terms of managing pain and maintaining the range of motion of the affected joints. Keeping extra weight off and having regular balanced farrier hoof care reduces strain on the bones and joints. Exercise increases range of motion which maintains flexibility and lubrication of the joint which decreases the pain from arthritis. And lastly, anti-inflammatory drugs are quite useful. While there is a lot of abuse of drugs out there, especially drugs such as phenylbutazone (Bute), appropriate use can make and older horse much more comfortable and even workable again. Geriatric horses are fast becoming a more common part of our riding community. Those old sturdy steeds are invaluable when it comes to people who are beginners and don’t ride often and for those children who are just learning to care for horses and starting to ride. If we keep these old friends feeling good and staying healthy, they can serve us happily for many many more years.

-Dr. Stacey

Many of the photos from this article were taken from the website below which contains some links to information about proper re-feeding of thin horses.

The Dreaded Colic in horses.

If you work, breath and live horses, or even if you don’t, you’ve probably heard the word ‘colic’ spoken with fear, distress and emotion. Colic is a term that means abdominal pain, its not a diagnosis, it is a symptom. This article will go over a few of the situations that can cause colic, some serious, some not and what they can mean in terms of prognosis and severity.

Some signs and symptoms of colic are:roling

  • Pawing
  • Rolling
  • Bloating
  • Loss of interest in food or water
  • Absence or difficulty having bowel movements
  • Absence of gut sounds
  • Abnormal posturing or behaviour (especially in foals)
  • Sweating
  • Distress or uneasiness

Many things can cause colic, but sometimes colic can occur with no cause as well. When this happens it is termed idiopathic colic meaning the cause is unknown and may not be figured out unless further diagnostics and tests are performed.

intestines horse

This is a list of some of the things that can be a factor or a cause of colic:water

  • High grain/low forage diets
  • Moldy or tainted feed
  • Stress
  • Dental problems
  • Ingestion of sand
  • Lack of water consumption
  • Abrupt changes in feed
  • Parasite infestation

Colic can be broadly divided into a few categories:

1.Gas colic – excessive gas accumulation in the intestines (often referred to as a ‘fart turned sideways’). Gas can also lead to spasms of the intestines creating excessive mobility, cramping and gut sounds. This causes abdominal distention and discomfort usually leading to a visible bloating. The danger with this type of colic is if the colon collects enough gas it can rise and twist causing a colonic torsion which is life threatening and can only be corrected with surgical intervention.


2. Simple obstruction – material has blocked the pathway through the intestines. Usually this is feed material or a foreign body the horse has ingested. Fluid will back up from the obstruction to the stomach causing distention of these areas. The distension triggers the stretch receptors within the intestines and stomach and this is what causes the pain. Because horses cannot vomit, the intestines or stomach can distend so large they rupture which is fatal. These horses often need to be hospitalized and that fluid removed until the obstruction can be relieved. A key feature to treating these horses is IV fluids; ironically, having fluid retention in the stomach dehydrates the horse and causes the intestines to shrivel around the obstruction even

3. Strangulating obstruction – something has caused a physical blockage by strangling the intestines. This type of obstruction is similar to a simple obstruction except that usually it is a twist in the intestines or a hole in the body that the intestines get trapped in like a hernia. This type of colic progresses faster than a simple obstruction because the blood flow to the trapped intestine is quite quickly cut off and the tissue begins to die from lack of blood flow. This is another form of colic which surgical intervention is the only way to correct the issue, and time is very important because if too much of the intestines die, the chances of survival are minimal.

dead bowel4. Non-strangulating infarction – a portion of the intestines has died and become non-functional. This type of colic is similar to strangulating obstruction in the sense that the blood flow to the intestines is compromised or blocked. The intestines begin to die and must be resected if we hope to save the horse. Often parasites and larvae are the culprit by situating themselves in major arteries or veins occluding the blood flow.

5. Inflammation of the intestinal tract – colitis for the large intestine, enteritis for the small intestine and peritonitis for the space between the intestines in the abdomen. Inflammation causes the natural movement of the intestines (called peristalsis) to stop causing ileus. Ileus, the lack of movement of feed material and fluids through the intestines, causes accumulation of fluid in the intestines and stomach. Instead of a physical obstruction, inflammation causes a mechanical obstruction and is caused by infection, toxin, trauma or certain drugs. Just like in humans, if symptoms are treated early hospitalization usually can be avoided but if a severe case presents itself, hospitalization and aggressive treatment is necessary.

6. Ulcerations – the lining of either the stomach, intestines or colon is damaged. Many horse owners are familiar with stomach ulcers which are usually non-life threatening but can be very uncomfortable. The life threatening type of ulcers is the kind that develops in the right dorsal colon as this interferes with several functions of the colon and can lead to endotoxemia which is a blood infection which can be fatal.

posturingTreatment: Because colic symptoms are broad and each individual horse may show different signs and have different levels of pain tolerance, it is impossible to determine the cause of colic without a medical examination by a veterinarian. The severity of colic signs aren’t always indicative of severity of colic. To determine the best course of treatment, the underlying cause needs to be established. Occasionally it cannot be determined with one veterinary visit and multiple visits with different diagnostics will be necessary. Medicine isn’t black and white so sometimes to identify a surgical colic, symptoms need to progress and your veterinarian will gain clues with each visit. While you are waiting for your veterinarian, you should:

  • Watch your horse, monitor vital signs and note any feces passed. Remove access to all feed because if there is a blockage this will only make the issue worse.
  • Let the horse rest. It is not necessary to walk the horse unless they are trying to roll or endangering themselves or other people.
  • DO NOT administer any medications without direction from your veterinarian. Some colic2medications work better than others for certain kinds of pain and giving the wrong one will only prevent your veterinarian from being able to administer the correct drug: certain drugs cannot be given at the same time as together they cause internal damage. For example, Phenylbutazone (Bute) and Flunixin (Banamine) together can cause serious kidney damage and stomach ulcers. Flunixin is far superior for intestinal pain than Bute and if an owner gives Bute when the horse colics it may not treat the pain adequately and the veterinarian will not be able to safely give Flunixin for at least 12 hours.

Prevention: Once the cause of colic is determined, such as too high grain and not enough forage. That can be corrected and further colic prevented. When the cause is unknown it isn’t always easy to try prevent further episodes but here are some things that help:


  • Feed your horse on a regular schedule including weekends.
  • Avoid sudden changes in diet.
  • Have teeth checked frequently for dental issues that can cause chewing issues.
  • Provide adequate exercise.
  • Clean fresh water should always be available.
  • Keep feed boxed and hay racks along with feed as free of mold/dust as possible.
  • feed an appropriate amount of forage (at least 50% of total diet).
  • Keep feed off the ground to avoid sand accumulation or parasite infestation.
  • Practice an effective parasite prevention/control program.

sand colic

And as always, if you have any questions or concerns. Call your local veterinarian.

-Dr. Stacey

Cuts, wounds and scrapes

So you have a horse… it is in an open field, you walk up to it and notice it bleeding. You look around and there is nothing for miles! Somehow, somewhere and on something, your horse has lacerated itself. It is a truly amazing skill of the equine species to cause injury on pretty much thin air. The longer you own horses, the more you realize how special horses are when it comes to trauma. Here are some tips that will help healing go smoothly.

horse in a field

1. Cleaning – When you notice the laceration, one of the first things to do is clean it off. The cold hosingeasiest method of cleaning a wound is cold hosing it. That means running cold water from the hose over the wound. The cold of the water also acts like an ice pack and will reduce inflammation as well as get any debris and dirt out of the wound. Horses usually tolerate this very well as it typically feels good. A length of 20 to 30 minutes is usually sufficient, although you should assess the wound after 5 minutes of cold hosing and call your veterinarian as well. After the 20-30 minutes is done, an antimicrobial or antibacterial cleaner such as diluted betadine or chlorhexadine can be used to gently scrub the wound. Rinse clean with the hose afterwards.

cold hosing 2

2. Assessment – This is a very important part. There are a few questions you should ask yourself. Does the wound go through the skin? Can you see other types of tissue such as tendons, muscle, fat tissue? Does it continue to bleed and not slow down after 5 minutes of observation/cold hosing? Does the wound look fresh or old? Does there seem to be a flap or deep hole that may hide further damage? How is the horse behaving due to this wound? Are they lethargic, having trouble moving or breathing? Where is the wound located and are there vital organs in that area?

If the wound goes through the entire skin layer and you can see any other types of tissue, or if wound 1the wound continually bleeds, the laceration should be seen by a veterinarian and may require stitches. In some cases stitches aren’t useful or won’t work, but in those cases your veterinarian will guide you on proper healing care. Stitching wounds is also time sensitive, the faster you suture the wound, the better it heals. After 8 hours, suturing wounds sometimes can have a negative impact as it can trap bacteria. So it is important to see your veterinarian sooner rather than later if you suspect your horse will need stitches.

wound 2Flaps can make a serious wound look not so serious. If you notice a flap of tissue or a deeper hole, it is wise to call your veterinarian as there might be foreign body lodged in that area and it needs to be removed or the wound will not heal and an infection will set in. Also flaps that are hanging away from the horse tend to heal poorly on their own and may need some ‘debridement’ from the veterinarian.

Lastly, is your horse acting strangely? Some horses know they need help and will seek their wound 4owners out, others may act fearful and afraid when normally they are calm and collected. The more unusual your horse behaves, usually the more serious the wound is. The exceptions are naturally very docile horses, they may simply remain docile and have a high pain threshold. This is typical of draft and draft cross horses. If that describes your horse, always err on the safe side and phone your veterinarian. And if your horse is having difficulty breathing, faints or has a seizure, call the veterinarian immediately and describe that behaviour in detail as they may give you instruction that may save your horses life.

3. Wrapping – after your horses wound is clean and assessed and your waiting for your veterinarian to arrive, its important to try stop any bleeding and to keep the wound clean. Infection can inhibit healing and become very costly. if you have clean bandaging material, place a non-stick pad onto the wound (no salves or ointments at this point as they may interfere with the veterinarians treatment plan), wrap with cling wrap or cling gauze snugly and then apply a self adhering wrap such as vet wrap, or similar. If you don’t have these, clean quilted or pillow wrap followed by a tight polo wrap with suffice for short term.


With early intervention, the hope is to suture the wound closed thereby decreasing the time needed for the wound to heal along with reducing any blemishes that might occur and the chance of proud flesh developing. In some instances wounds cannot be closed, and the wound will be managed by what is called “secondary intention” which is a slower process of healing but occasionally the only option available. All horse owners (myself included) have this innate drive to do something for the wound. This often leads us to driving to the feed store and buying the latest and greatest salve that claims to kill bacteria, stop proud flesh and save the world all for $11.99. Contrary to the claims on these products, they can and frequently do hinder wound healing rather than help it. Unless its recommended by your veterinarian, its better to stick with the medically proven healing techniques and salves. There are several “fad” treatments and therapies which are just that. Fads often can be worse than doing nothing. For example, applying an oil to a wound doesn’t speed healing in most cases; in fact it slows it and traps bacteria onto the wound while providing a wonderful growth medium. There are very few instances where oil is helpful.

4. Management – if the wound doesn’t appear to need veterinary care, or the veterinarian has come and gone (and not given any specific directions) then wound care is the next step. A tetanus booster is always recommended when any new wound occurs. Daily cleansing with dilute betadine (the water should be light ice tea colour) followed by cold hosing for 10-20 minutes will help reduce any debris or infection present in the wound bed. If you cannot overcome the urge to place a salve on the wound, stick with a triple antibiotic ointment, silver sulfadiazine, or a chlorhexadine cream for the first three to five days in a fresh wound. After this period, no creams or medications should be placed in the wound because they will stop new cells from bridging the gap between the wound edges. Products marketed to reduce proud flesh should be avoided because they will kill any new cells that come into the wound thus stalling the wound healing process.


Bandaging is an important part of wound therapy, but too much of a good thing can do harm. wrappingThe point of bandaging is to keep the exposed tissue clean and protected while allowing the granulation tissue (pink bumpy stuff) to fill the wound. Proud flesh is the over-exuberant growth of granulation tissue, and for full healing, it may need to be shaved below the skin level. This is a common occurrence in lower limb wounds and there is no known product that is effective in preventing proud flesh completely. The trick with bandaging is that it promotes granulation tissue formation. So how do we know when to stop? granulation tissueDaily bandage removal, cold hosing and re-assessing will help to decide the correct time frame. Once the graduation tissue fully covers or fills the wound, the bandage can be removed. This may seem inappropriate as the wound won’t be healed but granulation tissue is a natural barrier to bacteria and debris. Over time a scab will form and the skin will move across the bed of granulation tissue at a rate of 1mm per day. So depending on the size of wound, it may be a while before you see resolution. If we tamper with the wound too much, remove the scab, place a topical medication on the wound or keep wrapping it, we deter the normal wound healing process.

granulation tissue2

Sometime, no matter how hard we try, proud flesh rears its ugly head and causes loads of frustration. Wounds more prone to developing proud flesh occur in areas of high motion. Every time the leg moves, microscopic cracks develop in the granulation tissue, the body responds by filling these cracks with more granulation tissue and over time it builds up and we call it proud flesh. How can you stop proud flesh? There are no known products that reduce proud flesh and encourage wound healing because reducing proud flesh means you are destroying good debridementhealthy cells which actively heal wounds. As the product reduces proud flesh it also destroys any new skin causing any progression in healing to be lost. This allows more time for more microscopic cracks to develop, more proud flesh to try fill those cracks and a vicious cycle develops preventing wound healing. The best treatment, with the??fastest healing results, is tissue debridement (shaving the excessive granulation tissue off) by your veterinarian. This can be bloody as there are a lot of vessels in granulation tissue so if you get faint with blood, warn your vet before they begin! A veterinarians worst nightmare is working on a species we weren’t trained for (humans).

No wound will be the same as another. The amount of blood and the appearance can cause panic but it is important to have a plan in place for fast, efficient care and management: Clean, Assess, Call the vet, Wrap and then Manage. Doing these things can help your horse heal and return to comfort as soon as possible and save you money, frustration and time.

– Dr. Stacey


Laminitis – no hoof, no horse.


Founder – painful hooves on pasture.

laminitisLaminitis, commonly known as founder is an extremely painful and potentially life threatening condition in equids where the lamina (layer that bonds the hoof to the coffin bone in the foot) becomes inflammed. It’s extremely painful because inflammed tissue swells, but in a hoof there is no place for the swelling to go causing increased pressure which limits blood flow causing further injury. It can affect any horse, of any age or sex, at any time of the year although spring and summer are most common. If not treated, the coffin bone can separate from the hoof wall and rotate through the bottom of the foot. The level of pain is not indicative of severity.


What are the indications of laminitis?

A horse that is having a laminitis episode will often stand tented out trying to remove the weight off the front stancefeet or be quite reluctant to move. They may have warm hooves and coronary bands, bounding digital pulses and often their heart rate is elevated. Its better to treat laminitis as an emergency as initial treatment is critical to reducing the likelihood of complications such as coffin bone rotation. Low grade re-current symptoms include growth rings on the hoof wall, mis-shapen hoof wall hoof wall ringsoften with low compacted heels, recurrent foot abscesses or brittle hooves, sore feet and a shortened gait that doesn’t seem to improve.

What causes laminitis?

Some breeds and especially ponies are more predisposed to laminitis genetically. Other overweightcommon triggers are:

– obesity

– excessive grain intake or accidental grain overload.

– complication from illness (especially colic or retained placenta from birthing).track horse

– exessive or inappropriate administration of certain drugs.

– animals that have been diagnosed with PPID (Cushings) or Equine Metabolic Syndrome.

– serious concussion from prolonged periods on hard surfaces or stress from long distance travel.broken leg better

– Excessive weight bearing on a single limb due to injury on the opposing limb.

How does diet impact laminitis?

Lush pasture and laminitis episodes go hand in hand in suseptible horses. In grasses it’s the water soluble carbohydrates that trigger dietary induced laminits while in grain it’s the high levels of starch. Both the starch and the carbohydrates have the exact same effect.

Certain grass species and different grain types will have differing amounts of the triggering components. To complicate things further, live grass will have different amounts of carbohydrates based on season and time of day. For this reason, grass in the winter season is less potent than spring and summer grass. Also grass contains less carbohydrates at night then it does during the day when photosynthesis is active.

Knowing all of this is great for your ‘suseptible’ no grasshorses, but once a horse has suffered a laminitic episode it is best to feed just hay for life, no fresh grass. If supplementation is required to keep weight on horses there are special supplementary diets which have low carbohydrate and starch concentrations and increased fat levels to help with weight gain but reduce the risk of another laminitic episode.

Managing Laminitis

Laminitis is a lifelong condition which can be managed and improved but not necessarily cured. The following are basic managment strategies that minimize episodes and help equids suffering from laminitis live a comfortable life.

1. Managing the diet – feed a forage based hay diet of a mixture of mature grasses. High fiber diets are also good along with soaking hay to leach the carbohydrates. Manage grazing very rotation3carefully! Anything that looks lush and lovely will not help your horse, fresh spring grass and grass that is actively growing/photosynthesising are the worst. Avoid bran, due to its high phosphorus levels, feeding over a long period of time will result in lower levels of calcium which is important for hoof health. Always have quality mineral and vitamin blocks available for supplementation. There are also special supplements that target hoof health that may be beneficial. Feeding little amounts more often is also helpful, so hay nets may be a useful aid.

2. Body weight – overweight horses are more prone to laminitic episodes along with an increase in pressure on already sore feet. Always try maintain your horse in ideal body condition which means reducing crusty necks, fat pads behind the shoulders and in the rump areafat pads. If you are unsure of your horses conformation and ideal weight and where they may be hiding their fat deposits, contact your local veterinarian to help. Exercise (as long as they aren’t suffering in a current laminitic episode) is the best way to reduce excess weight safely. Never starve an overweight horse as they can develop a life threatening condition called hyperlipaemia.

3. Hoof care – supplements that target hoof health and regular corrective trimming can drastically increase the comfort and well being and reduce laminitic episodes. Some horses will need special shoes with pads to help provide comfort until the hoof can be otherwise managed.farrier

4. Health – because many health conditions can lead to laminitis, keep in good relation with your veterinarian to properly manage and understand risk factors for the many conditions that can lead to laminitis.

5. Exercise and work – avoid concussion and excessive work on hard surfaces such as hard packed roads and pavement.

6. Test for PPID and/or Equine Metabolic Syndrome – these conditions predispose to laminitis and controlling them can reduce laminitis episodes and improve hoof health in general. If you are wondering if your horse may have these, give your vet a call and they can go over how the tests are done.

If you have any further questions or concerns about laminitis and your horse, contact your local veterinarian and help your horse or pony live a long comfortable life. No hoof, no horse.

– Dr. Stacey

Equine Vaccination and Deworming

Hello everyone!

Spring time is here! So I thought it would be a good time to review the diseases that we vaccinate against every year and touch on deworming. So, here we go…

Eastern (EEE) and Western (WEE) Equine Encephalitis  This disease affects the nervous system of horses by causing inflammation (swelling) of the brain (encephalitis). It is spread by mosquitos from equid to equid. EEE and WEE are named after the area they affect, Eastern Encephalitis is found in eastern North America and has a 100% mortality rate (death rate) while Western Encephalitis is found in western North America and has a 75% survival rate but affected animals will have permanent damage. Symptoms and signs are related to nerve function impairment and can be seen as twitching, fever, abnormal behaviour, decreased vision, circling, difficulty swallowing or walking and seizures along with many other more non-specific symptoms. Vaccination begins as a foal with a booster one month later and then yearly boosters after that.


Tetanus This disease is caused by a clostridial bacteria that lives in the soil and??enters horses through wounds, especially if wounds are caused by sticks or metal. Tetanus also affects the nerve system and affects the horses stance, causes seizures, affects ability to eat, tail carriage and eventually the ability to breath causing death. A very characteristic feature of tetanus is the stance shown below and protrusion of the 3rd eyelid (eye appears to be sunken in with the inner corner rising up). You can treat tetanus with supportive care but success depends on the severity of the infection and prognosis is usually poor with permanent neurological damage as a result. Vaccination begins as a foal with a booster one month later and then yearly boosters and boosters with any traumatic lesion or puncture wound. tetanus tetanus2tetanus3

Rhinopneumonitis (equine herpes virus)  This disease is caused by a virus (2 different strains)and causes a number of life threatening symptoms. EHV-4 is the more common virus and is highly contagious and spread from horse to horse from secretions and fomites (objects that are infected from secretions). The clinical signs of EHV-4 are fever, cough and respiratory changes and less commonly neurological symptoms such as difficulty walking, hind end paralysis, loss of tail or bladder function, eating and behaviour changes and abortion in pregnant mares. Abortion most often occurs in the 7-11th month of gestation and is anywhere from 2 to 12 weeks post infection. EHV-1 is a less common virus but is more fatal as it is typically a neurological infection while EHV-4 is typically a respiratory infection. If infected horses do survive, they often shed the virus during stressful events and can be the source of outbreaks to naive horses. Vaccination can begin at any time but does require a booster one month later to be effective. After that the horse can be vaccinated annually, or bi-annually if they travel often and have contact with a wide variety of strange horses. Pregnant mares are recommended to have a vaccination every 3 months during pregnancy and 1 month before foaling to prevent abortion with a special version of the vaccine.


Equine Influenza The flu in horses typically affects horses 5 years and younger and causes respiratory symptoms. Symptoms include cough, fever, depression, nasal discharge and weight loss. Influenza, if untreated, can also progress to pneumonia and death. Equine Influenza is extremely contagious from horse to horse and can last for several weeks up to 6 months before full recovery is evident. If horses are brought back into work before recovery is complete, owners risk prolonging recovery and declining horse performance. Due to the high mutation rate of the influenza virus it is possible for a vaccinated horse to contract the illness. But studies show that vaccinated horses have significantly less symptoms and recover in a fraction of the time it takes an unvaccinated horse to recover and this is due to cross protection provided by the vaccine. Rest is vital for recovery as stressing the lungs through exercise doesn’t allow the damaged cells to repair and prolongs the duration of the illness. Vaccination can begin at any time but does require a booster one month later to be effective, after that the horse can be vaccinated annually, or bi-annually if they travel often and have contact with a wide variety of strange horses.

flu2 fluflu3

West Nile Virus West Nile virus is another virus that attacks the neurological system. It is spread by a specific breed of mosquitos that appear in mid to late summer and the main host and source of disease are birds. The mosquitos feed from the birds and then can infect a number of other species including horses. West Nile can also infect humans as well thus it is tracked by the government. The first sign that the disease is present in your area is dead birds. It affects the brain just like EEE and WEE causing encephalitis which leads to a variety of odd neurological symptoms. Horses that contract WNV can be treated with supportive care only and usually have permanent neurological damage if they survive. Vaccination begins as a foal with a booster one month later and then annual boosters after that.

?? west nilewest nile2west nile3

Strangles  Strangles is an infection caused by a bacteria, Streptococcus equi equi, which causes the lymph nodes of the horse to enlarge and abscess. It also affects the horses respiratory system. Strangles is typically a young horse (ages 5 and under) disease that is extremely contagious and can have life threatening consequences but for the most part is not a life threatening infection. Clinical signs include fever, purulent discharge from the nose, depression, difficulty swallowing and breathing and large swellings in the throat latch area. When the lymph nodes swell very large it can make swallowing and breathing difficult for the horse and if not  treated the infection can stay in the guttural pouches and be a source of infection for horses in the future. Treatment is usually successful but different from normal bacterial infections because antibiotics are not given unless the case is very severe as it can block the natural immunity from developing and the horse may get Strangles again. Due to the extreme contagious nature of strangles, infected horses must be quarantined until 1 month??after recovery to prevent spread of the disease. This is because the bacteria can live in the environment for as long as 4 weeks. Fly control is also extremely important as they can spread the disease as well. Vaccination is recommended for horses as foals with a booster 1 month later then yearly until they reach around 5 years of age.


? strangles2strangles3

Equine Infectious Anemia (EIA) This is a disease spread by mosquitos and caused by a virus that in the highly active form causes severe illness and death. It is endemic in Western Canada and Alberta in particular. It will always be around because it persists in the wild horse population. Clinical symptoms can range from a perfectly normal looking horse which is described as a carrier to a horse that is not visibly ill but is difficult to keep weight on and is a poor doer toa horse that has severe anemia, ventral edema, bloodshot eyes, depression, inappetence and generally weak. While there is no preventative vaccine or successful treatment there is a test that can identify positive horses called a Coggin test.  This is a simple blood test and is government regulated as this disease is a reportable disease meaning that the government is involved in its control mainly for importation, exportation and trade purposes. Many stables, shows and events are now requiring your horse to be tested and Coggins negative to participate to help prevent spread of this devastating disease.


Equine Deworming

There are 4 main worms that infect horses: Tapeworms, Strongyles, Pinworms, and Ascarids (roundworms).

worms3 worms4

It is recommended to start deworming as a 4 month foal and every 2 months for 3-4 treatments. Babies in general have a large worm burden due to their natural instinct to eat feces and populate their gut flora. Always ask your veterinarian which dewormer to use on foals as large worm burdens if killed too rapidly can cause impaction of the intestines and death.

For older horses bi-annual deworming is typical if there are worms in the feces. Once in the spring to catch any encysted worms emerging from winter hibernation, and once in the fall after the first heavy frost to kill any worms obtained through the summer of grazing. It used to be recommended to deworm every 2-4 months but recent research has shown this method of deworming encourages resistance in the worms. By only deworming twice yearly any resistant genes in the worms are diluted out with non-resistant genes preventing a fully resistant worm population. If you are unsure whether your horse has worms or which types, a simple fecal float can ensure you are using the correct dewormer at the correct frequency.worms2worms

The most common deworming drugs are Moxidectin, Ivermectin, Fenbendazole, Praziquantal and Pyrantel. These are more commonly known by their brand names respectively: Quest, Eqvalan or Ivomec, Panacur or Safeguard, Quest plus or Eqvalan gold, and Strongid.

Fecal floats are always recommended when you are unsure if your horse has worms as regular worming may not be necessary. Fresh feces is processed in the laboratory and analysed and will give you the type of worm along with how many there are. After that your??veterinarian can recommend individual deworming protocols for each horse. Just make sure if you are collecting  your own fecal samples to submit that you clearly label which sample came from which horse so the results can be properly coordinated.

Always if you have any questions or concerns, contact your local veterinarian.

Happy Trails!

Dr. Stacey

Horse teeth 101

horse incisorsDental Disease in Horses: How much do you know about your horses mouth?

Horses, unlike dogs and cats, have teeth that continuously grow (hypsodontal teeth). This is an adaptation to allow for continued grinding of forage and feed material to better extract nutrients and aid in digestion. A horse has 36 to 42 teeth depending if it’s a mare or stallion and if it has wolf teeth or not. Stallions usually have canine teeth, while mares typically don’t.

Here is a diagram of typical equine dentation. The lower jaw has two halves, each half contains 3 incisors, 1 canine (may or may not be present), 3 premolars and 3 molars. The upper jaw is similar except for a residual premolar which is often referred to as the wolf tooth. These are often removed during castration in colts and on the first dental examination of fillies.

Horse teethequine skull

Age can be determined by looking at a horses teeth due to their eruption time as youngsters along with their wear pattern and shape as adults. Below is an example of how the teeth change with age. It is not an exact science but it can give you a decent estimate of age.

teeth agingDuring the natural chew pattern and wear of the teeth, there are common dental abnormalities that occur during the lifetime of the horse. Some horses due to their conformation and selection for other abilities such as athleticism, agility or disposition have a predisposition to developing pathology (detrimental abnormalities) within their mouth. If these horses were wild, they would perish due to these abnormalities. This is where regular dental care and preventative treatment can significantly prolong the life and well being of your horse.

What are the signs of dental problems?

Signs of dental problems are varied. They can be subtle signs such as slow eating or reluctance to drink cold water, chewing and then stopping and then chewing again. Or more obvious like head tilt during chewing, dropping feed (called quidding, see images), foul breath or weight loss. Some more serious consequences of poor dentation include premature swallowing of feed leading to indigestion, choke or colic. If teeth become infected you may see excessive drooling or sinus discharge (since the roots of the teeth are closely connected with the nasal sinuses) or facial swelling. Oral discomfort will also lead to reluctance taking the bit, excessive head shaking, resistance during training or acting out.

quidding 1 quidding 2

This horse may be acting out due to discomfort in its mouth. Without regular dental care, teeth can develop sharp edges and points which can cause ulcers and irritation, especially when we ask the horse to carry itself in a specific manner such as a tucked head carriage.

bucking horse??skinny horse??

Dental Examination and Pathology

Most dental problems can be prevented by having regular dental care. If you suspect your horse may have a dental problem, a physical exam and then an oral examination can be done by your veterinarian. Due to the nature of the horse, a thorough oral examination cannot be done without sedation and a speculum. This is because the molars in the back of the mouth can’t be safely and properly evaluated without these tools as they are nearly 12 inches from the front teeth.


The following are a list of abnormalities (pathology) that can occur in a horses mouth:

Enamel points–These occur along the top outer edges and along the bottom inner edges of molars and premolars. They can cause ulceration of the cheeks and tongue.

enamel points

Hooks and ramps–These occur along the first premolars and the last molars and can dig into the gums of the opposing side if large enough, and can influence the wear of the opposite matching teeth by changing the chewing pattern of the horse to something unnatural.

hooks and ramps

Parrot mouth–This is where the upper and lower jaw are not the same length causing the upper incisors not to match with the lower. Therefore the teeth won’t wear down naturally and overgrow causing an entire array of problems! It is very important that these horses get regular incisor care to minimize problems. This is an inherited condition so horses with this problem should not be bred.

parrot mouth

Extra teeth–Most often incisors which will cause misalignment leading to abnormal wear.??

extra teeth

Tooth fracture-1Young horses that fracture their baby teeth may have adult teeth that erupt abnormally. Older horses that fracture their adult teeth will influence how the opposing tooth is worn down and may need corrective adjustments until the fractured tooth grows out to a normal size again.

Caps– As a horse ages, the first premolars and molars erupt first and then the second and then the third. As the third premolar erupts, the first molar is already well established, so if there isn’t enough space the baby tooth gets wedged and doesn’t allow the adult tooth to fully erupt, this is called a cap.

Wave mouth and Step mouth–These problems refer to an irregular bite surface which prevents proper grinding of feed. Both conditions esasberate if left alone until the horse can no longer chew or grind feed and often results in pain as gum disease and feed impaction develop. If caught early, they can be corrected. If left too long there are management strategies but no solution.

???? ?? ?? ?? ?? ?? ?? ?? ?? ?? ?? ?? ?? ?? ?? ?? ??wavemouthstep mouth

Equine Odontoclastic Tooth Resorption and hypercementosis (EOTRH)–This condition affects older horses and is extremely painful, to the point the horse will not be able to apprehend food and loses condition rapidly because they simply rather not eat due to the pain. An example of how extreme this pain can be is that even horses with fractured mandibles will continue to eat so we know that EOTRH is extremely uncomfortable and if not corrected the horse will starve to death. The only way to correct the condition is remove all the incisors. While this may seem harsh, the horses rapidly adapt and can even continue to graze with their now pain free gums. They simply aren’t as efficient at grazing anymore and may need nutritional supplementation.


What is the best way to ensure healthy dentation?

The best way to maintain oral health in a horse is have your veterinarian perform routine oral examinations and dental floats if necessary. Depending on your individual horses needs this may be every 6 months or every few years, the more problems your horse has in their mouth the more often dental floats will be required. Ask your veterinarian how often they recommend floating teeth for each individual horse and their unique circumstances.

Chronic Pain Management in Horses

Eventually all horse owners come to a time when they own a horse that has chronic pain of some sort. Whether that is arthritis, laminitis, navicular disease or old injuries it often comes down to management as total elimination is often not possible. It’s always important to try find a diagnosis when it comes to pain for horses as this will often change the approach a veterinarian has when prescribing medications as some target certain conditions much better than others. In this article I am going to review a few different drugs and their benefits in certain conditions, most will need to be prescribed by a veterinarian but they might be a good option for your horse.

  1. Flunixin Meglumin–This is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). It’s used as an analgesic and helps reduce fever in horses as well. It’s most commonly known as the brand name Banamine but there are several commercial names available. Its best for soft tissue pain and intestinal pain which is where it is most commonly used, in colic. Prolonged use (more than 5 days consecutively) increases the risk of toxicity as well as increased dosages over the recommendation. More is not better when it comes to Flunixin as a pain killer as its effects reach a peak and more will not help reduce pain any further. If too much is given, the kidneys and right colon are heavily effected which can lead to kidney failure or right dorsal colitis. Gastric ulcers, like with any NSAID can also form with inappropriate use. It is also a prohibited substance under the International Federation for Equestrian Sport regulations, so horses can fail drug tests if this is used while they are competing.
  2. Phenylbutazone–Another NSAID for commonly called Bute. Bute is used as an analgesic as well and is very good for osteo (bone) pain and general anti-inflammatory. It is most prescribed for lameness and injuries as it can be given safely for longer periods of time. Always ask your veterinarian about proper dosages because phenylbutazone at high doses can also cause kidney failure, stomach ulcers and decreases the ability of the horse to clot as it thins the blood. This is especially true in young, old and stressed horses who have a decreased ability to metabolize the drug. If horses are on long term use (6 months or more) then regular bloodwork should be done to evaluate the animals ability to metabolize the drug and to monitor internal organ function. Phenylbutazone is also a banned substance in some equestrian organizations and rules and regulations should always be reviewed before competition to allow for proper withdrawal time before competing. In humans phenylbutazone is known to cause a life threatening aplastic anaemia and should never be consumed by a person.
  1. Joint injections–Many horses, especially high competition level horses benefit from the advantage of joint injections to help with osteoarthritis, chips and decreased range of motion. Joint injections usually have a cocktail of ingredients which is tailored to the individual horse based on its specific needs and the joint injected. Most include a steroid, an antibiotic and an anti-inflammatory/joint supplement such as Legend. There is a recovery period of a few days with joint injections and they can sometimes be slightly painful to start but the analgesia can last 6 months to a year. Because the drugs are local and not systemically given and the effects last a long time these horses rarely if ever fail drug tests when given the correct amount of time before competition drug tests.
  2. Firocoxib–The brand name is called Equinoxx or the dog label is Previcox. This drug is also an NSAID but what makes it special from Bute or Flunixin is that it is COX-2 receptor selective where the other two are not.  (They act on both COX-1 and COX-2 receptors in the body). So it targets osteo pain more with fewer side effects. I find it best for the retired horse that is consistently stiff and just needs a little boost in their everyday step. The issue with this drug is that it is quite expensive (close to $9 a day) and it can get really tricky to dose as it only comes in a paste form labeled for horses so if your horse is difficult to give oral meds too the price can add up quickly. The dog version is a pill but again, unless your horse falls in the perfect weight category dosing can become very tricky and overdosing can lead to kidney failure which in an old horse could be fatal. As well to complicate things more, it is illegal to prescribe a dog approved drug to a horse if there is an equivalent horse approved drug on the market. And if something were to ever go wrong when giving your horse the dog version of this drug, insurance companies won’t support the claim and the drug company won’t take responsibility either.
  3. Gabapentin–This drug is specifically good for treating neuropathic pain, pain which arises from nerves. This occurs often with navicular syndrome and chronic laminitis cases. It’s great when used in conjunction with other drugs such as Bute or Firocoxib as it targets a different aspect of pain than NSAIDS and with chronic pain sometimes that the nerves causing phantom pain from years of painful stimulus (this is often called wind up in medical terms) and Gabapentin relieves that aspect.
  4. Legend, OsPhos and Adequan–Legend (Hyaluronate sodium), OsPhos (clodronate disodium) and Adequan (Polysulfated glycosaminoglycan) are all aids in joint pain. Legend is an anti-inflammatory/lubricant which helps the symptoms of osteoarthritis and is both an IV (intravenous) and IA (intra-articular). It has no contra-indications and is a natural substance found in both eyes and joints as a lubricant. OsPhos is used specifically in navicular disease and also manages the symptoms, its mechanism is unknown but it does show favourable results when managing the pain. OsPhos is only injected IM (intramuscular) but does have other side effects and can induce minor colic in 10% of horses that get it. For this reason it is always administered in a veterinary hospital so the horse can be monitored for several hours post injection. Adequan is specifically for carpal (knee) and hock joints for degenerative joint disease or traumatic joint dysfunction. It provides the building blocks for the cartilage of the joint and also provides anti-inflammatory properties as well helping the joint rebuild and manage the pain in inflammation associated with certain conditions. It can be given IM or IA and has minimal side effects. All 3 of these options will run you around $500-600 as the medications are not cheap but they all have good results for increasing the comfort of horses with joint pain.
  5. Last but not least when managing chronic pain in horses, especially if they have had or are still competing in some sort of athletic endeavour, just like in people, regular massage, chiropractic and acupuncture will help significantly. It is only natural to develop tight muscles and unaligned joints during exercise and since horses are for the most part athletes, modalities that correct these can make a world of difference in how your horse feels and performs. And don’t forget about your old gelding in the field, just like when people get old and years of wear and tear become obvious on our bodies, it can be the same for your retired horse. It never hurts to allow them a spa day and massage them down and re-align them every now and then. Acupuncture as well can really improve performance and comfort and is an avenue worth exploring with your equine friend.

Hope you enjoyed this article and if you think your horse may benefit from some pain management, talk to your veterinarian today and find out which avenue may provide the most comfort for your horse.

Equine Infectious Anemia

With the recent outbreaks of Equine Infectious Anemia in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, I get a lot of questions regarding the severity of the disease and its risk factors. Here is a quick outline on the disease, its symptoms, treatment and how you can try protect your horses.

Equine Infectious Anemia (EIA), what is it?

EIA is a potentially fatal viral disease that affects the equine species which includes horses, donkeys and mules. Once the horse contracts the disease it is a carrier for life and becomes a source of infection for other horses. Much like HIV in people, it is incurable, lifelong and continually infectious. It is a disease only of the equine species, so other species like humans, dogs, cats or cattle cannot contract the disease. After a horse contracts the disease, it is likely to die or die of complications from the disease.

Equine Infectious Anemia severity is directly related to the amount of virus contracted. Horses can either be acute, subacute or chronically infected. The acute symptoms are the most severe and are related to the virus’s ability to enter the horses white blood cells and cause them to release pro-inflammatory mediators in large unhealthy amounts. Platelet production is suppressed at the same time by being ‘tagged’ and destroyed by the body’s natural defense mechanisms. The outcome of these effects result in a horse that is lethargic, febrile and has thrombocytopenia (low platelet levels, which are important for clotting during bleeding). These signs can be mild and only last 1-3 days so can be easily missed, but the symptoms often continue to re-occur and as the disease progresses the horse will become anemic, small pinpoint haemorrhages will show up on the mucous membranes, edema of the legs and belly will occur and eventually the horse will become weak and uncoordinated. At this point the horse often dies.

Occasionally horses will not show any symptoms and these are considered the carrier type chronically infected horses. These horses are a major source of infection for other horses. They are rare, but this is the reason we haven’t been able to eradicate the disease because often these rare chronically infected horses are wild ones.

wild horses

Is EIA common in North America?

Yes. It is actually found world wide and is considered to be a sporadic disease among horse populations all over the world. In Canada, EIA has existed since the 1800s with outbreaks occurring most often where wild horses are prevalent. The occurrence of the disease is not high, but fatality if contracted is common.

How does Equine Infectious Anemia spread and get passed from horse to horse?

EIA is spread around by contaminated blood. An infected animal gets bitten by an insect such as horse flies, stable flies, midges or deer flies, the insect sucks blood and becomes contaminated itself. Once the insect is contaminated it can pass on the infection to another horse by biting it and spreading the contaminated blood. Transfer can also occur through humans that use the same needles, syringes or other instruments on multiple horses. Any method of blood to blood contact can potentially spread the disease from horse to horse. Research has also proven that EIA can be transferred through semen on an infected stallion which will infect the foal before it is even born.

Stallion???? flies

What clinical signs can an owner watch out for?

Once a horse is infected, it usually takes anywhere from 2-4 weeks for symptoms to show up. But it can take as little as 1 week or as long as 3 months as well. Horses that are infected may show any or all of the following symptoms:

– Weakness, depression, weight loss, anorexia, intermittent fever up to 41C. Yellow gums or eyes, small pin point blood spots under the tongue and/or eyes, swelling of the legs or bottom of the belly, loss of coordination. Infected foals are usually aborted before birth, or die shortly (up to 2 months) after birth.

yellow eye?? petechia????ventral edema

How can you treat Equine Infectious Anemia?

There is no known cure for EIA and there isn’t a vaccine that has been developed either. Supportive therapy may help individual cases but that horse will forever be a risk to all other horses. The only way to control the disease after confirming the horse is positive is either humane destruction or life-long quarantine. This is why this disease is so devastating.

What control methods are there to help prevent the spread of the disease and decrease the risk of contraction and spread within the horse community?

The best way to control the disease is by testing horses, identifying positive carriers and implementing mandatory testing for imported or captured equines. Controlling insects and other mechanical vectors also help a lot in the decrease rate of contraction. To test your horse a simple blood test is done, it is referred to as a “Coggin’s test.” Many shows now require a negative Coggins result for boarding and participation and most importation/exportation require a Coggins test as well.

blood pull

How can you protect your horse?

The following has been taken from the CFIA (Canadain Food Inspection Agency) website:

Equine owners can take the following precautions to reduce the risk of infection:

  • use strict hygiene practices when vaccinating or collecting blood samples from equines;
  • use disposable needles and syringes, and do not use the same needle on more than one equine;
  • implement insect control measures;
  • test equines as per equine industry standards (i.e., race tracks, shows, events, breeding stables,etc.) and whenever equines from different sources will intermingle;
  • isolate all new equines until they have been tested forEIA;
  • do not breed EIA-positive equines;
  • abide by the national EIA??control program; and
  • consult your veterinarian if you suspect your equine may be infected with EIA.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) imposes strict regulations on the import of animals and animal products from countries where EIA is known to occur. These regulations are enforced through port-of-entry inspections done either by the Canada Border Services Agency or the CFIA. As long as a Coggins result is in hand, exportation/importation is usually not a problem.

EIA is a “reportable disease” under the??Health of Animals Act. This means that all suspected cases must be reported to the??CFIA.

In conclusion Equine Infectious Anemia is a disease prevalent in western Canada. The reason we have been unable to eradicate the disease is due to the carriers present in the wild population which from time to time infect domesticated horses. Spread normally occurs during activities where a large amount of horses will congregate such as shows, competitions and public trail riding areas. To protect your horse make sure you control biting insects as best as you can as well as never re-use medical equipment. To ensure your horse is negative, visit your local veterinarian and request a Coggins test be done.

Hope you found this article informative. If  you have further questions feel free to send a message and I’ll do my best to answer in a few days time.