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Nutrition

Sick Horses: Get Them Eating


Several conditions in adult horses can cause rapid weight loss, either because the horse is not eating enough to offset metabolic processes or because ingested material is not being digested for some reason.

Disease conditions that may cause rapid weight loss include sepsis, pleuropneumonia, and deep-seated bacterial infections such as pulmonary or abdominal abscesses. Factors involving proper function of the gastrointestinal tract include diarrhea, colic surgery involving bowel resection, and intestinal disorders characterized by protein loss and nutrient malabsorption. Severe trauma of any kind can also cause rapid weight loss. Any horse in one of these situations needs to eat voluntarily, or have nourishment provided in some other way. (The nutrition of horses immediately following colic episodes requires special management. See this article for tips specific to feeding horses after colic.)..
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Headshaking in Horses: New Therapy Gives Temporary Relief


Chronic headshaking in horses appears distressing to the horse and frustrating to the rider. Horses that display violent headshaking can’t be ridden or driven and in some cases are dangerous to handle. Various causes and treatments have been suggested, but no therapy has proved effective in all affected horses.

Irritation and oversensitivity of the trigeminal nerves are thought to be responsible for some cases of headshaking. These nerves run down both sides of the horse’s face just below the skin...
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Infection Can Prevent Pregnancy or Cause Fetal Loss in Mares

Many horse owners have thought about breeding one of their mares, but this seemingly simple goal may not be as easy and problem-free as it first appears. The best chance for conception requires that a mare be healthy, well-nourished, and free of uterine infection or inflammation. Uterine inflammation can prevent pregnancy, and infection of the placenta later in the pregnancy can cause the mare to abort the fetus before it is fully developed...
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Botulism: Keep Your Horses Safe

Botulism can kill your horse in 24 hours. That’s the bad news. The good news is that you can take simple steps to lower the risk of botulism for your horses, and even if a horse is affected, early treatment is often successful.
Clostridium botulinum bacteria are widespread in soil, bird droppings, and decaying animal carcasses. Spores can remain inactive for long periods of time, but with the proper conditions of moisture and minimal oxygen levels, they can activate to a dangerous state. Horses that eat from large round hay bales may ingest these bacteria if moisture in the center of the bale has provided the right environment for proliferation. Keeping hay off the ground, feeding only dry hay, discarding any damp or moldy hay, and avoiding the use of round bales are ways to decrease the risk for horses...
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Feeding Horses After Colic Episodes

In general terms, colic refers to pain or discomfort in a horse’s abdominal region. Most horsemen are aware of the common signs of colic which may include feed refusal, pawing, rolling, straining, sweating, kicking at the abdomen, and looking at the flanks. Pain may be mild or intense, and some cases may quickly resolve without treatment while others require aggressive measures that may include surgery.
Because many instances of abdominal pain are related to something the horse has eaten or problems with how the gastrointestinal tract in functioning, it’s important to avoid causing a recurrence by feeding too soon after the episode or by offering the wrong type or amount of grain or forage. Feed management after a simple colic case is quite different from the protocol if a horse is recovering from colic surgery...
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Obese Horses Likely to Be More Dominant

According to a team of British researchers*, the more dominant a horse, the more likely it is to have a higher body condition score or struggle with obesity.

This finding was determined by observing 203 outdoor-living domestic horses in 42 separate herds in the United Kingdom during a feeding trial test. The test involved offering individual servings of hay or grain one horse length apart to all horses in the paddock at the same time and counting the number of “displacements” that occurred from the food. Dominance rank was then calculated based on those displacements (i.e., the number of times an individual was displaced from a feeder vs. the number of times they displaced another horse). Age, height, and body condition scores (BCS) of each horse were measured...
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Bone Growth in Young Horses: The Importance of Vitamin K


Probably best known for its blood-clotting properties, vitamin K serves other functions in the horse’s body.

Another important role of vitamin K involves bone metabolism. Osteocalcin, a blood-clotting protein also involved in bone mineralization, may be more sensitive to low vitamin K activity than other blood-clotting proteins. The liver is capable of efficiently extracting the required amount of vitamin K from the bloodstream, even when circulating concentrations of vitamin K are low. This explains why it may be possible for a horse’s bone tissue to be deficient in vitamin K, while the level is adequate for clotting of blood. Osteocalcin may therefore be a far more sensitive marker for vitamin K status than are the blood coagulation factors...
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Horses Need Protection from Sunburn


As the hours of sunlight increase in spring and summer, pastured horses are exposed to long periods of sunshine. While it isn’t a problem for most equines, strong sun could be a mixed blessing for horses with light-colored coats, as increased exposure to ultraviolet light can cause painful sunburn on spots with minimal hair cover. Muzzles, eyelids, and legs are most likely to burn, as are areas of pink skin under white patches and markings.

There are a number of ways to protect horses from sunburn. Using a lightweight turnout sheet, leg covers, and a fly mask with an extension that covers the muzzle are simple steps. Providing a shady spot in the pasture, such as trees, a run-in shed, or a roofed shelter without walls, will give horses a place to get out of the sun’s heat and light. Keeping horses stabled during the hours of most intense sunlight will also help to avoid problems. Various sunscreen creams are available; owners should choose a type designed for horses...
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Free-Choice Salt for Lactating Broodmares and Growing Horses


The microminerals sodium, chloride, and potassium are important in the development and function of many body systems. Though some foals begin to eat small amounts of solid feed within the first one to two weeks of life, many do not drink any water, relying completely on the mare’s milk as the only source of fluids. Thus, the lactating mare can sustain substantial losses of both fluid and electrolytes.

Foals can consume upwards of 25% of their body weight in fluid each day, so a foal weighing between 80 and 100 kg (175 and 220 lb) could rely on its dam for as much as 20 to 25 liters (45 to 55 lb) of milk each day. Assuming sodium and potassium concentrations in milk of around 0.17 and 0.51 g/liter, respectively, the demands of the foal could result in the requirement for an additional 3 to 4 g of sodium and 10 to 12 g of potassium for the lactating mare...
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Performance Enhancers for Horses


Imagine two racehorses with identical genetic makeup and physiological ability, ridden by jockeys with equal riding style and skill, being raced against each other. If all factors are equal, the two horses should finish at exactly the same time. But what if one of the horses were given a hypothetical ergogenic aid, “Formula X,” to improve its performance, enabling it to defeat the other horse?  

The term “ergogenic” comes from the Greek words “ergon,” meaning work, and “genic,” meaning producing. An ergogenic aid can therefore be any factor that improves work production by increasing speed, strength, or endurance. Generally, an ergogenic aid is considered to be something above and beyond proven nutritional supplements such as vitamins, minerals, and digestive aids that may improve health and well-being but are not perceived as giving horses a measurable advantage in competition.  ..
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Foal Pneumonia: Effects on Future Racing Performance


One of the most common illnesses in foals under the age of six months is pneumonia caused by Rhodococcus equi, a pathogen found in soil. Foals are usually exposed to the infection by inhalation of dust particles contaminated with the bacteria.

The disease may not be identified in its earliest stages when the foal shows few signs. Handlers may notice a slight increase in respiratory rate when newly infected foals are excited or stressed. A mild fever is one of the first signs, and this is followed by increasingly labored breathing, loss of appetite, lethargy, and coughing. Nasal discharge may or may not be seen. Ultrasound can show lung abscesses as the pneumonia develops. In some foals, the infection also causes abdominal abscesses, joint swelling, and inflammation of eye tissues. In rare cases, abscesses also develop in the kidneys, liver, sinuses, guttural pouches, or brain. Diagnosis is by bacteriologic culture...
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Maintaining Joint Health in Horses


Performance horses put a lot of strain on their legs as they run, jump, spin, pull carriages, or perform sliding stops from a full gallop. Even the most placid trail-riding horses are asked to carry a saddle and rider for several hours. Though they may never go faster than a slow jog, this extra weight produces wear and tear on joint structures over the years.  

To keep your horse’s joints in the best condition for a long riding career, follow these tips to preserve health and prevent discomfort or lameness...
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Weaning Horses: Which Way is Best?


Foals grow up with their dams always present, a constant source of protection, companionship, and milk. Weaning time comes when foals are about four to eight months old, and the separation can be quite stressful. Though most weanlings recover within a few days from the shock of being taken from their dams, it is not uncommon for these young horses to suffer a growth slump after they are weaned.

Weaning methods range from the “quick and clean” approach, where the foal is completely separated from the mare in one step, to various procedures in which the weaning is more gradual. Some farms take away a few mares each day, leaving the newly weaned foals in their familiar pasture with several mature horses still present. Others move the weanlings to a different location, placing them in an unfamiliar field with or without a “babysitter” gelding or barren mare for company.    ..
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Gray Horse Melanoma Vaccine Tested


A vaccine designed to target equine melanomas has shown promise in a German study of 27 gray horses, some of which had more than one melanoma. Vaccination with a DNA-based serum induced an immunological response in some other affected species and also in healthy horses, suggesting that the same response might be effective in treating these common skin tumors.

The horses were given a series of intramuscular vaccinations on days 1, 22, and 78. One selected melanoma on each horse was also treated with an injection into the body of the tumor. After 120 days, the tumors showed a significant reduction in volume...
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Protect Horses Against Mosquito-Borne Diseases


Several equine neurologic diseases are spread by mosquitoes. These include West Nile virus, eastern equine encephalomyelitis, and western equine encephalomyelitis in North America, and Ross River virus, Kunjin virus, and Murray Valley encephalitis virus in Australia.

Horse owners can follow these management steps to reduce the risk for these diseases...
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Is Chronic Laminitis in Horses Related to Bacterial Infection?


Horses can develop laminitis as a result of inflammation triggered by consumption of starch that overwhelms digestion in the small intestine and affects fermentation and microbial balance in the hindgut. This starch overload may come from large grain meals or from consumption of lush pasture grass that contains high levels of fructans. Researchers in the Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology at Rutgers University have noted some parallels between humans with metabolic syndrome and horses that develop laminitis. They have hypothesized that pasture-induced laminitis might develop as a result of exposure to potential bacterial pathogens that are present in pasture grass and are ingested as horses graze.

The objective of the study was to determine whether horses with chronic laminitis can have undiagnosed laminar infections without an active hoof abscess. A first step was to look for bacteria in the laminar tissues of horses with chronic laminitis and also unaffected horses...
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Insulin Resistance in Horses May Have Hereditary Factor


Insulin resistance. Obesity. Cresty necks. Equine metabolic syndrome. Laminitis. Horse owners hear and read these terms in practically every article that addresses equine health management. More often than not, they come away confused about the relationships, causes, effects, and type of care that will keep their horses healthy. Does a horse get fat because he’s insulin resistant, or does he become insulin resistance because he’s obese? Should he be fed more, or less, or just something different, or is diet not as great a factor as exercise? Some owners may weigh all the facts, shrug their shoulders, and just blame their easy-keeper horses’ problems on bad luck.   

When a horse eats any feedstuff—apples, carrots, grass, hay, grain—that contains carbohydrates, the process of digestion releases glucose into the blood. Insulin is released by the pancreas to aid in the uptake of glucose by body tissues. In horses with a normal metabolism, the amount of insulin corresponds to the blood’s glucose level. If the horse produces more insulin than is necessary, the body cells may become resistant to the hormone. This reaction starts a process in which the body continues to produce more and more insulin. Another part of the reaction cues the horse to store more extra energy as fat rather than releasing it as the horse exercises. As the horse slides toward obesity, its adipose (fat) tissue causes body-wide inflammation that can trigger bouts of laminitis...
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Identifying A Dummy Foal: Know the Signs


If you’ve ever seen a severely affected dummy foal, it may be hard to believe that diagnosis is sometimes difficult. The truth is, the signs exhibited by a dummy foal can be so mild even the most seasoned breeder might initially miss them. According to Peter Huntington, B.V.Sc., M.A.C.V.Sc., director of nutrition at Kentucky Equine Research in Australia, not all foals are born dummies and there are few “classic” cases.

“Dummy foal actually refers to a condition called neonatal maladjustment syndrome, which is a catch-all term to describe foals that have behavioral and neurological abnormalities not attributable to infectious, toxic, congenital, metabolic, or developmental disorders,” explains Huntington...
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Colic in Postpartum Mares


Dehydration, overconsumption of dietary carbohydrates, and abrupt changes in feed or hay type are known to increase the risk of colic in horses. For broodmares, another high-risk time for colic is the period of several hours or days directly following delivery of a foal. Postpartum colic cases have been attributed to the decompression and movement of the mare’s internal organs or an inflammatory response to the stress of foaling, but an absolute cause has not been identified.

Research results published in Equine Veterinary Journal have indicated that some postpartum mares experience a significant shift in the makeup of the bacterial colony in the hindgut. In the study, fecal samples from 221 broodmares were collected two weeks before each mare’s due date and then on days 4, 14, and 28 after foaling. Types and levels of bacteria were recorded and changes were noted for mares that did or did not experience colic after delivering their foals...
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Artificial Racetrack Surfaces Studied


Many factors have an influence on injuries to racehorses as they train and compete. The equine hoof and limb must absorb the force generated with every stride, and repeated concussion on a firm track surface stresses muscles, tendons, bones, and joint structures. The surface qualities of each track are somewhat different, and these characteristics are more easily managed than some other factors such as genetics or behavior of other horses in a race.

In a study designed to investigate the relationship between racetrack surfaces and injuries to racing horses, researchers used a track testing device to compare the dynamic properties of a dirt surface and a synthetic surface. The testing device was designed to simulate the impact of a horse’s hoof, and various velocities and angles of impact were investigated at three track locations. The effect of repeated impacts was also measured.  ..
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Help, My Horse Has Warts!


Warts are small, harmless skin tumors that often appear on the muzzles of young horses. Because owners consider them unsightly, warts are a frequent cause of veterinary consultations. Possible treatments include surgery and injections of wart-derived vaccine, but the easiest course of action is simply to wait a few months and allow the warts to go away on their own. In virtually all cases, the warts do not cause scarring or skin discoloration.

Caused by several strains of papilloma virus, warts are usually found in horses that are less than three years old. They often form on skin that has been compromised or stressed by sunburn, minor injuries, or insect bites. A horse might have one or many warts, most of which will spontaneously disappear within six to nine months after they show up. After a round of warts, most horses are immune to further wart development, though an occasional older horse is affected...
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Ovulation in Mares


Mares begin to come into estrus early in the spring, with the average estrous cycle being about 20 or 21 days. They will be receptive to breeding for about five days at the end of the cycle.

To have the best chance of getting a mare in foal, she should be bred within the 12-hour period just before ovulation. Owners who want to schedule breeding can have a veterinarian examine the mare by ultrasound or palpation to check the progress of follicles as they form and mature on the mare’s ovaries. By tracking changes in the size and shape of a follicle, the veterinarian can make a fairly accurate prediction of when the mare will ovulate (release the ovum from the follicle), allowing the owner to book a live cover or order shipped semen for artificial insemination...
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Canadian Horse Industry Developing Biosecurity Guidelines


In a cooperative project to protect horses from disease, several organizations and agencies are working to develop a biosecurity standard to be implemented at the individual farm level.

Equine Canada, Agri-Food Canada, and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency have set up an Equine Biosecurity Advisory Committee with the purpose of developing a common approach to preventing and controlling disease at horse farms and stables. The standard will be national in scope but voluntary in compliance...
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Big Ankles in Horses


As a high-motion joint, the fetlock, or ankle, is vulnerable to soundness problems. Lameness or enlargement only of the fetlock joint can occur with inflammation of the soft tissues (ligaments and tendons), cartilage, joint capsule, or bones. The flexor tendons, suspensory ligament branches, and sesamoidean ligaments are found in the rear of the ankle.

Fetlocks endure much stress during exercise. Slow-motion video of a galloping horse reveals that the fetlock drops to at least parallel with the ground and sometimes lower so it appears to touch the ground. This transmits a tremendous amount of force onto the bones, cartilage, and soft tissues of the fetlock joint. Over time and with normal wear and tear, the joint may develop osteoarthritis and lay down more bone surrounding the joint. The tendon sheaths or caudal pouch of the fetlock joint may fill with fluid, a condition called windpuffs...
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Early Marker for OCD in Foals


Levels of osteocalcin, a marker of joint metabolism, might help to identify very young foals that are at increased risk of developing skeletal problems such as osteochondritis dissecans (OCD).

Researchers drew blood from foals between 2 and 52 weeks of age and found correlations between osteocalcin levels and foals showing clinical signs of OCD at 5.5 and 11 months of age...
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