The prevention of certain diseases is a core component of veterinary medicine, however it can be difficult to promote. Especially in this current economical climate, it can be hard to convince that prevention really is better than cure until it is too late. This is why regular health exams for horses are so important, as with veterinary advice it is possible to intervene before serious issues arise. Many veterinary practices now offer promotions that combine vaccinations, dental exams and general health checks. These also offer the opportunity to ask your veterinarian any questions about other proactive measures that you could be taking or to resolve any concerns that you have. Therefore these yearly assessments are useful in preventing horses develop a number of clinical problems.
Tetanus vaccination is seen as a minimum level of veterinary care that every horse should undergo. Tetanus is a bacteria that lives within the soil that can easily infect wounds and then progress to clinical disease. Signs of a horse infected with disease include a stiff or rigid gait, abnormal sensitivity to touch, inability to open mouth, prolapse of the third eyelid or colic. Horses are quite susceptible to contracting tetanus due to the ease at which they obtain wounds on their limbs that are often contaminated with dirt containing the tetanus spore. If a horse develops tetanus it is highly unlikely that they will recover. The vaccination for tetanus is a relatively cheap and safe preventative measure that will protect horses, ponies and donkeys against developing the disease. The normal course of vaccination consists of two primary vaccines 4-6 weeks apart and then booster vaccines given regularly after. These are normally given every two years but will depend on the vaccine manufacturer. Pregnant mares can also be given a booster 4-6 weeks before foaling as this will help the foal receive sufficient antibodies in the mare’s colostrum. If an unvaccinated horse sustains a wound then anti-toxin should be administered. This is only a temporary measure and a vaccination program should also be started at the same time.
Equine influenza is less likely to be as fatal as tetanus however can cause severe enough illness to prevent horses from being worked for long periods of time. Although influenza is very contagious between horses and can spread very quickly within yards. Therefore vaccination is another important intervention in the containment of this disease. Clinical signs of the disease include a dry cough, high temperature, discharge from the nostrils and decreased appetite. Vaccination can be combined with tetanus that is given 4-6 weeks apart followed by a third vaccination given six months later. Annual boosters consist of alternative vaccinations of influenza and influenza combined with tetanus. The exact protocol may differ again depending on the brand of vaccine used by your veterinarian. There has been some controversy on the efficacy of the current influenza vaccines available on the market. However the immunisation provided by the current vaccinations is better than none at all and hopefully new vaccines will be made available soon. Vaccination is especially recommended on yards where the movement of horse on and off the premises is frequent.
There are other vaccinations currently available for horses, such as strangles and equine herpes virus, as well as some that may be needed for overseas travel. The suitability of these for your own horse can be discussed with your veterinarian.
Horse wormers have been on the market for a number of years now and the majority of people will have tried to implement some form of worming regime for their horse. However due to the increasing resistance towards wormers shown in the UK, proper use of faecal egg counts and suitable wormers is becoming very important. There are a number of clinical signs that horses infested with parasites will show, these can include weight loss, diarrhoea and colic. A worming regime should be tailored to each individual horse based on their faecal egg count. Your veterinarian will be able to perform this for you and give you recommendations based on the result. Unfortunately this will not give information regarding pinworm burden, although there are other tests that your veterinarian can perform to aid in diagnosing this parasites. The egg count also does not detect larval encysted worms, however with a correctly implemented worming program this should not be a problem. Other management programs such as poo-picking and field rotation can also vastly decrease the worm burden that your horse is subjected to.
Tapeworms are another parasite that can potentially cause problems in horses. They are often found at the junction between the small and large intestine and if they accumulate in large enough numbers can alter the motility of the gut. This can lead to an increased risk of developing certain forms of colic such as spasmodic, impactions or intussusceptions. Unfortunately faecal egg counts will not diagnose this problem, but instead a blood test should be performed. It is suggested that horse be treated for tapeworm at the end of a grazing period, which is normally in autumn. As with other wormers, drugs that target tapeworms should be used in a targeted manner to reduce the chance of resistance occurring. Currently there are some wormers available on the market that combine two types of drugs that will target both roundworms and tapeworms.
The field of equine dentistry has vastly expanded in recent years and now dental exams and routine rasping are much more commonly carried out. Horses can often have quite severe dental disease before clinical signs such as quidding and weight loss become apparent. This is why it is recommended that dental exams are performed annually as it can help prevent issues from requiring such intense treatment in the future. Sedation is sometimes required to allow a thorough exam to be performed, however this is a relatively low risk procedure and lets your veterinarian before a much more detailed assessment. Other husbandry considerations such as shoeing and weight gain/loss can also be evaluation during a health exam as well. Weigh tapes are useful to keep an eye on your horse’s weight and reduce its chance of developing related diseases.