A common problem in performance horses is gastric (stomach) ulcers. Some studies have shown that up to 90% of race horses in training have ulcers, and it is believed a large percentage of other types of performance horses also have ulcers. There are two portions of the equine stomach; one portion is protected from ulceration but the other portion is not. In horses who are resting, the unprotected portion of the stomach is rarely affected by stomach acid; but when the horse exercises, abdominal pressure decreases the stomach size and more of the unprotected portion of the stomach is exposed to acid, thereby causing ulcers to develop.
Another thing that has been related to ulcer formation is a horse’s diet. A recent study was performed at Texas A&M to determine if there was a difference in gastric ulcers in horses fed alfalfa hay versus horses fed Bermuda grass hay. The study involved 24 quarter horse yearlings that were fed alfalfa hay and a grain concentrate for 28 days and later were fed coastal Bermuda and the same grain concentrate for another 28 days. Horses were housed in dry lots and were exercised 3 days per week. Results indicated that horses fed alfalfa hay had significantly less stomach ulcers than horses fed coastal hay. So if you have a horse that has had problems with stomach ulcers, or a performance horse in whom you want to prevent ulcers, consider feeding alfalfa hay instead of a grass hay like coastal or Bermuda.
Other causes of decreased stomach pH (leading to gastric ulcers) include intermittent feeding, stall confinement, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. It is healthier for a horse to graze than to stand in a stall; for stalled horses, continuous feeding of hay is the best way to prevent the decrease of gastric pH. NSAIDs can decrease the protection of the stomach, which is why you should only give phenylbutazone (bute) or banamine at the dosage and for the length of time prescribed by your veterinarian.
Common symptoms of stomach ulcers include intermittent colic, decreased appetite, poor performance, and stretching out to urinate. Diagnosis of ulcers requires an endoscope to be placed in the stomach to visualize the ulcers, and there is a new blood test that is apparently accurate. Although there are numerous products available in the horse magazines claiming to treat and prevent stomach ulcers, only Gastrogard is actually FDA-approved for this purpose and can be used once daily for the condition.
Of all the domestic species, it seems that the horse is the most sensitive to diseases of the cornea (the outer layer of the eyeball). Dogs and cats commonly scratch their cornea, and in general these lesions seem to heal well. Cattle frequently develop infections with pink eye and although some vision may be lost, they rarely lose the eye. On the other hand, a tiny scratch that causes a corneal ulcer on a horse’s eye can lead to blindness and possibly require removal of the eye. For this reason, it is imperative that you call a veterinarian immediately if your horse is squinting an eye.
You should not use any mediation in the horse’s eye until it has been examined by a veterinarian. Many ophthalmic medications contain cortisone, a corticosteroid that can make the horse’s eye susceptible to infection, especially a fungal infection. Also, the incorrect use of antibiotics in a horse’s eye can increase the risk of fungal infections, which are common in horses and can lead to loss of the eye.
Scrapings and cultures of the corneal ulcer are required to make a diagnosis of corneal fungal infection. Any infection of the equine cornea is potentially serious and usually requires treatment every 4 to 6 hours, which can be a difficult problem. The eye must be dilated to prevent internal damage and relieve pain. Treatment with topical antifungals and antibiotics is required until the ulcer is healed. A tube system may need to be inserted in the eye to allow frequent treatment, since many horses greatly object to treatment. If a horse’s corneal ulcer does not heal within a week, it should be considered infected and different treatment will likely be required.
If you are considering buying a horse, one of your most important considerations is a pre-purchase examination. There is an old saying that there is no such thing as a free horse, meaning that even if someone gives you a horse, the upkeep still costs a considerable amount of money. Regardless of the amount of money you pay for a horse, a pre-purchase exam is always worth the money.
An example is the pre-purchase examination that was done on a horse for which the client was considering for his daughter to learn to ride. Although the horse was selling for only $500, the pre-purchase examination revealed that the horse had caudal heel pain and possible navicular problems. If the client had purchased this horse, he would have spent much more money in corrective shoeing and treatment than he would have by paying more money for a different horse. Another example is a horse with equine metabolic syndrome that had previously foundered. Although the horse was not lame at the time of the examination, laminitis (founder) is a permanent condition that will be a problem for the rest of the horse’s life, and without a pre-purchase examination, most buyers cannot tell the horse is affected.
A pre-purchase exam can be simple or complex, and depending on the cost of the horse, does not have to be very expensive. If the intended use of the horse is for high-level performance, then hoof and leg x-rays as well as other tests may be indicated. However, a regular physical and lameness exam by a veterinarian is well worth the money prior to the purchase of a horse. If you are considering purchasing a horse, after you have ensured the horse’s suitability for you and before you write the check, call your vet for a professional, non-biased opinion.
3.5 months: first dose west nile virus (WNV); first dose tetanus (if mare is non-vaccinated); first dose eastern and western encephalitis (EEE/WEE); first dose rabies (if mare is non-vaccinated)
4.5 months: booster dose WNV; second dose tetanus (non-vaccinated mare); second dose EEE/WEE
5 months: first dose rhinopneumonitis (EHV-1 and EHV-4); first dose Potomac horse fever (PHF)
6 months: third dose WNV (because endemic area); first dose tetanus (if mare is vaccinated); third dose EEE/WEE (because endemic area); first dose influenza inactivated injectable (if mare is non-vaccinated); second dose rhinopneumonitis; first dose Strangles intranasal (with second dose Strangles three weeks after the first); first dose rabies (if mare is vaccinated); first dose equine viral arteritis (EVA) in intact colts intended for breeding
7 months: third dose rhinopneumonitis; second dose tetanus (if mare is non-vaccinated); second dose influenza inativated injectable (if mare is non-vaccinated); second dose rabies (if mare is vaccinated); second dose PHF
8 months: third dose tetanus (if mare is non-vaccinated); third dose influenza inactivated injectable (if mare is non-vaccinated)
9 months: first dose influenza inactivated injectable (if mare is vaccinated)
10 months: second dose influenza inativated injectable (if mare is vaccinated)
11 months: third dose influenza inactivated injectable (if mare is vaccinated); first dose influenza intranasal modified live virus (if mare is vaccinated)
12 months: second dose rabies (if mare is non-vaccinated); third dose rabies (if mare is vaccinated)
Over the past several years, there have been outbreaks at stables and racetracks of a nervous system disease caused by equine herpes virus. There are several herpes viruses that affect horses but equine herpes virus 1, or EHV 1, is associated with the nervous system. You may not recognize the name herpes virus, since it is commonly referred to as rhino.
Because of these outbreaks, many stables and racetracks have imposed vaccination requirements for all horses. However, in most circumstances these vaccination requirements for adult horses may not be such a good idea. One reason is that most adult horses have been exposed to the herpes virus already and are carriers. Also, the neurological disease, although severe, is fairly rare when you look at the entire population of horses. The nervous system form of the disease has also been observed in horses that have been vaccinated routinely every 3 to 4 months and the current vaccines do not claim to prevent the nervous form. In fact, vaccination is believed by some to even increase the chances of the nervous system disease occurring.
EHV 1 can also cause abortion in pregnant mares and it is recommended to vaccinate pregnant mares with Pneumabort-K (Fort Dodge) or Prodigy (Intervet) for abortion prevention. These two vaccines, as well as Calvenza EHV (BI) and a modified live vaccine called Rhinomune (Pfizer) are also recommended for use in other horses that have not been exposed to the disease. It is not recommended to vaccinate exposed horses. Although vaccination with these products will not prevent the nervous system form of EHV 1, it may prevent shedding of the virus and help to protect other horses.
Several horses were diagnosed with the rare disease called piroplasmosis (also called babesiosis) in Florida in 2009. The disease is caused by the organism Babesia, which is a protozoan parasite that affects red blood cells. Symptoms of the disease include fever, malaise, and anemia. Malaise is really a human term that means a general feeling of body discomfort, so in equine terms it describes a horse that just looks like he doesn’t feel very well. Anemia is a decrease in red blood cells, which is caused by the parasite destroying the cells. Once infected, some horses may remain carriers for life even if they do not show any symptoms. The protozoan is transmitted by ticks but also can be transmitted from horse to horse by using the same needle for giving injections. This was the mode of transmission in some of the Florida cases.
The United States, Canada, Australia, Japan, England and Ireland will not allow horses that are positive for piroplasmosis on the blood test to enter their countries, but not all the tests are 100% accurate. Although there is a drug that treats infected horses, it is rare to completely clear the infection. Even though recovered horses are clinically normal, they are able to transmit the disease to other horses either through ticks or needles. This is just one reason to control ticks on your horses and to always use a new, sterile needle when giving an injection.
First, a breeding soundness exam must be performed on your mare. This includes the following:
Examination of external genitalia (visual appearance and conformation)
Vaginal speculum examination
Examination of all portions of the reproductive system: vulva, vagina, uterine cervix, uterine body and horns, and ovaries. This may include rectal palpation, per rectum ultrasound, uterine swab for microscopy and culture, uterine brushing for cytology, and hormonal analyses (if abnormalities or history suggest a need for this).
The data collected from these examinations will be evaluated to determine the apparent health of the reproductive system, and a prognosis for expected future reproductive performance will be given.
When your mare has been determined to be a good candidate for breeding, you must decide whether you will be using fresh semen, fresh chilled semen, or frozen semen. The most commonly used is fresh chilled semen. When your mare goes into season (or “heat”), a per rectum ultrasound will be performed to determine the expected timing of ovulation. Once the dominant preovulatory follicle has reached approximately 35 mm in diameter, the chilled semen will be ordered from the stallion owner. A drug may be used to promote the ovulation, and two doses of semen will most likely be instilled in your mare’s uterus.
Following the insemination, a rectal ultrasound should be perfomed on day 14-16 (to determine whether the mare conceived and to ensure that there isn’t a twin pregnancy), day 28 (to determine that the embryo is still viable and to evaluate the heart rate), and day 60 (to determine that the embryo is still viable). Rectal examinations may also be performed at 5 months, and then again if indicated.
If you choose to breed your mare with frozen semen, more frequent rectal examinations/ultrasounds must be performed, and the breeding must be followed by the uterus being flushed. Most veterinarians prefer to breed mares with frozen semen at their facilities. The cost is usually much higher than in breeding with fresh chilled semen.
If the mare shows signs of abdominal pain (colic) during gestation, if her mammary glands fill up, or if a vaginal discharge is visualized, you should call your veterinarian and have a gross examination of the mare performed in conjunction with a per rectal and/or per abdominal ultrasound. The veterinarian may also choose to run bloodwork and/or other tests.
Every horse, regardless of use (even non-riding broodmares) should have a dentistry performed yearly. Horses under high level competition should be checked at least every 6-9 months and a dentistry should be performed if needed at this time.
The only way for a dentist to properly visualize the caudal (hind) molars in the horse is by placing a dental speculum. If sedation is not used, the horse will flex his jaw muscles, creating inflammation of those muscles and of the temporomandibular (TMJ) joint. It is possible for an adequate job to be done using dental floats. However, it is extremely difficult to resolve major problems like hooks, ramps, and steps using dental floats. Motorized tools aid to a large degree in the resolution of these problems. A well-trained dentist will be able to use the motorized tools in such a manner that only the amount of tooth that needs to be removed will be removed.
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