The Healthy, Older Horse

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Written By Juliet M. Getty, Ph.D.

Let me tell you about Bugsy. He was an Appendix Quarter Horse I rescued a few years ago. When he came to me, he was significantly underweight, suffered from an old stifle injury, and had a distrustful attitude. A few months later, he’d filled out, was running up and down hills with ease, and showed the curiosity and warmth of a youngster. How old was he? 25. Not old by today’s standards and yet, definitely up there. What made the difference? Nutrition played a big part in his improvement.

Continue reading The Healthy, Older Horse

Complications after colic

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Written By:Erin Malone, DVM, University of Minnesota

Most colic episodes will fully resolve with no long lasting consequences. However, if toxins are released into the abdominal cavity or bloodstream, or if colic surgery is required, the horse will be at risk for other problems.

Certain bacteria carry toxins. Many of these are found in the gut normally. If the toxin load overwhelms the usual defense mechanisms or if the gut is damaged and lets the toxins leak out, the horse can become ill. These horses may become shocky (poor blood flow causing an elevated heart rate and cool limbs), have reddened or purplish gums or red lines around the teeth, and may seem very depressed. Continue reading Complications after colic

Colic Examinations

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Written By: Erin Malone, DVM, University of Minnesota

When your veterinarian arrives to examine a colic, she/he will try to determine the severity and the general type of colic. It is very unusual to be able to diagnose the exact cause of colic, but she/he may be able to determine if it is more likely to be an impaction or gas colic, or if it may involve damaged bowel or toxemia. A routine physical examination will help determine the horse’s cardiovascular status and identify signs of shock or toxemia. If the horse is very uncomfortable, the veterinarian may give a short acting analgesic/tranquilizer to aid in performing the examination. Depending upon the situation, the veterinarian may then pass a nasogastric tube (from the nostril to the stomach), perform a rectal examination and/or evaluate the abdominal fluid by doing a “belly tap”. The nasogastric tube is passed to make sure there is no fluid build-up in the stomach. If there is fluid, this can be a life-saving measure (to prevent rupture of the stomach). If there is minimal fluid, the tube can be used to give mineral oil to the horse to lubricate any impaction. It may also be used to give water to the horse if it seems to be dehydrated. This has the added benefit of stimulating gut motility. A rectal examination allows the veterinarian to palpate structures in the caudal half of the abdomen. Sometimes an impaction can actually be felt. A rectal examination is always somewhat risky, because of the potential for tearing the rectum. Finally, if your veterinarian is concerned about infection in the abdominal cavity or about damage to the intestines, she/he may stick a needle in the abdomen and try to collect fluid for analysis. This test is most useful for determining if the horse needs surgery and is often not performed unless there is a problem getting the horse to a referral institution or if the colic persists. If you have taken your horse to an equine hospital, other bloodwork and tests (such as ultrasound and radiographs) may also be performed. Continue reading Colic Examinations

Omega Fields Announces Pat Parelli’s Endorsement of New Omega SureGut Probiotic/Prebiotic Digestive Health Product

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Newton, Wisconsin – Omega Fields, Inc. is proud to announce Pat Parelli’s (www.parelli.com) endorsement of its new probiotic product “Omega SureGut” (https://www.omegafields.com/equine-products/omega-suregut.html). Pat Parelli was experiencing intestinal difficulties with a horse named “Freckles”, here is what Pat has to say about Omega SureGut; “Freckles came to Pat’s Performance Barn from a neighboring ranch in Colorado. He was 10 years old then and had been used as a ranch gelding. Freckles is a very well bred horse, he is by CD Olena (NCHA Futurity Champion, NCHA Horse of the Year, $14mio Sire) and out of a daughter of Freckles Playboy. When he first arrived at Pat’s Performance Barn, he smelled badly from his gut and had loose stool. After experimenting with several different supplements and feeds, we finally found a supplement that supports Freckles’ digestive system the best. Feeding SUREGUT has improved not only Freckles’ stool and has gotten rid of the bad smell but has also helped his overall condition and well-being. Over the past 2 years, Pat and his team developed Freckles through the Parelli Program and trained him for Cutting. Since then, Freckles has carried Pat and his protégée Elli to many successes in the cutting pen, earning $12,000 and playing a major role in Elli’s journey into the Top 15 of the NCHA 2,000 Limit Rider class.” We are thrilled to see these types of results from horses all over the country and especially from someone with the extensive horsemanship experience as Pat Parelli” said Moriarty – Omega Fields President.

About Omega Fields
Omega Fields® is recognized as a minority-owned business. Its mission is to offer the finest quality, most nutritious products at fair prices, and to provide outstanding customer service. Omega Fields wants its customers to have exceptional experiences with their products, staff, websites and retailers.

Omega Fields is the first manufacturer in the animal health industry to use human-grade, non-GMO stabilized ground flaxseed, rich in fiber and antioxidants, and containing the optimum ratio of the full spectrum of Omega 3, 6, and 9 Fatty Acids for equine, goat, canine, poultry and human nutrition. The innovative use of flaxseed milled with a unique stabilization technology ensures long shelf life and superior quality for Omega Fields’ products.

Contact: Allison Kuhl _ Director of Business Development, Omega Fields, Inc. • (920) 550-4061 ext. 119 • Allison.kuhl@omegafields.com, www.omegafields.com
Vicki_Gaebe_OG

Prebiotics in Horses

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Written By Dr. Kris Hiney

Last month we discussed the use of probiotics in horses, including the definition and types of probiotics, their effectiveness, and when their use might be warranted.  This month we will address a closely related and often misunderstood topic: prebiotics.  The use of both of these feed additives may work synergistically to promote digestion in your horse, keep his immune system in top shape and allow him to face the various stressors which may be present in his life.

As opposed to probiotics, prebiotics are not live organisms.  Rather, they are chains of specific types of carbohydrates which promote the growth of organisms which are beneficial to the well-being of the host.  Prebiotics are derived from a variety of products, including milk, fruit, vegetables and fermentation byproducts.  These are typically short chains of fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS), which are a mix of fructose and glucose, mannose oligo-saccharides (MOS) or galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS).  Simply stated, oligosaccharides are shorter chains of carbohydrates or saccharides (sugars) as compared to polysaccharides such as starch, glycogen of cellulose.  For a review of carbohydrate terminology, please see: Equine Carbohydrate Disorders Part 1. Because of the type of bonds joining the carbohydrates together, prebiotics are not able to be enzymatically digested in the stomach and small intestine.  Instead they provide substrates for fermentation of a specific group of bacteria and thus allow them to flourish.  It may be helpful to think about prebiotics as providing food for the good types of bacteria, rather than feeding your horse.   In ruminant animals such as cattle, sheep and goats, they have a direct effect on the rumen microflora, while in monogastrics and hind gut fermenters such as the horse, prebiotics pass to the hindgut where they exert part of their beneficial effect.   Horses also have a substantial microbial population in the foregut as well.  While the use of prebiotics in gastric health of the horse has not been explored, it does appear promising as a potential tool in maintaining stomach health.

So why would you have to feed the bacteria?  Certainly a horse on a high forage diet would have adequate nutrient delivery to those microbes, correct?  Well, different types of organisms utilize different substrates for food.  If there is more food available for one type, they will be more successful and reproduce at a higher rate.  Cellulytic bacteria are responsible for fermentation of the fibrous portion of a horse’s feed and are typically associated with a higher pH in the gut.   However, amylotic bacteria prefer substrates such as sugars and starches. When we over feed concentrate to our horse or forages containing more rapidly fermentable sugars, these amylotic bacteria flourish and can produce negative by products for the horse.  Prebiotics typically provide substrate for more beneficial strains of bacteria including bifidobacteria (found more in humans), lactobacillus and lactate utilizing bacteria.  The use of prebiotics has shown to be effective in preventing the rapid and detrimental shift in bacterial population which occurs when horses are overfed concentrates. Now certainly it would never be advisable to subject our horses to a rapid increase in carbohydrates.  However, we could think of supplementation of prebiotics during periods of dietary adaptation, shifting to a new feed source or when starting to graze in the spring as a potential way to modulate gut microflora. However, supplementation of prebiotics would not be an alternative to slow controlled adaptation to new diets.

Prebiotics may have more benefits than just helping to increase fermentation or stabilize the population of the hindgut.  While not digested in the small intestine, prebiotics help prevent the colonization of pathogenic bacteria such as Salmonella and E coli.  Doing so improves the overall health status of the animal.  They do so by binding to the carbohydrate receptor sites on the bacteria which are used to bind to intestinal epithelial cells. By “tricking” bacteria into binding to these oligosaccharides, they are prevented from binding to epithelial cells and proliferating. Promoting the growth of the beneficial bacteria may even limit the growth of pathogenic bacteria.  Bifidocacteria and lactobacillus possess their own bactericidal/anti-microbial effects against harmful bacteria. The “good” type of bacteria may also release enzymes which destroy the toxins produced by pathogenic bacteria.  Clearly it is easy to see why the feeding of prebiotics has gained much attention in feeding production species as an alternative to antibiotics.

In addition to these direct effects on bacteria, immune-stimulatory effects of prebiotics have been observed in a variety of subjects. These appear to be not only in response to viral or bacterial challenge, but even with allergen stimulated immune responses. Human infants supplemented with prebiotics which mimic those found in breast milk developed fewer infections compared to those not receiving prebiotics.  There is also some evidence that intestinal epithelial cells may be able to transport prebiotic oligosaccharides, putting them in direct contact with cells of the immune system.  In an in vitro equine study, peripheral blood mononuclear cells (lymphocytes, macrophages) showed an increased immune response when these cells were cultured in the presence of GOS and FOS. When these same cells were challenged with LPS, the effect was even more pronounced in cells cultured with FOS and GOS.  The use of prebiotics may be a tool in helping to develop the immune system of neonatal foals, as has been proposed in other species.    Finally, prebiotics may serve as natural anti-oxidants themselves. In part this could help explain their immunomodulatory effects as well.  Therefore, consider using prebiotics when the animal might be undergoing periods of stress, as stress typically weakens the immune system.

Even beyond their ability to affect the population of micro-organisms in the hindgut or stimulate the immune system, prebiotics may also help with insulin sensitivity.  This has been shown in dogs, veal calves, rodents and humans.   The effect is believed to be due to the alteration of fermentation in the hindgut, resulting in a shift in the ratio of volatile fatty acids which are produced. In obese horses supplemented with short chain FOS, a modest improvement in insulin sensitivity was observed after 6 weeks.  Prebiotics may serve as an aid to restoring insulin sensitivity, but certainly should not replace diet modifications or a sound weight loss program.

Certainly the addition of prebiotics to the human food supply is increasing, and a number of products designed for use in pet foods and production animals point to the value of this natural foodstuff in promoting the health for all. There do not appear to be any risks associated with feeding prebiotics, and the number of proven health benefits is quite expansive.  The evidence for their effectiveness in improving the health and well-being is so many species of animals is substantial.  So if your horse needs help with digestion, stress, his immune system or even insulin resistance, consider a prebiotic.

Digestive Aids in Horses

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Written By Dr. Kris Hiney

This month we will explore the use of digestive aids in horses, in particular probiotic usage. Probiotics are increasingly used in human medicine, production animal species, and of course in horses.  More owners are looking for safe and effective alternatives to pharmacological methods for promoting the well-being of their horses.   In this article we will discuss what type of organisms fall under the probiotic umbrella, the form in which they may be fed, their effectiveness and when their use might be warranted.

In general, probiotics are live organisms which are fed with the intention of their survival within the gastrointestinal tract.  The original concept behind the use of probiotics was to provide a beneficial type of microorganism which can alter the fermentation process in the hindgut, or to shift the microbial population away from more negative types of organisms.  Typically these organisms promote digestion and alter the types of volatile fatty acids that are produced.  This was typically referred to as a competitive exclusion effect.  However, it is becoming more widely understand that probiotics may have farther reaching effects than just simply outnumbering undesirable bacteria.  This differs from when organisms are fed for their nutritive value, such as often done with yeasts.

Horse owners have many options when selecting probiotics, including powders, pills, pastes, feeds, live culture yogurt or even innoculations of fecal microflora from healthy horses.  The key feature for a probiotic to be effective is that it is able to survive exposure to acid, bile and enzymes in the foregut of the horse and reach the hindgut alive.   In addition it must remain viable during processing and storage of the product. Further, microorganisms must be present in sufficient quantities to have an effect.   From extrapolations in human studies, it is suggested that foals be provided with a minimum of 10 to 20 billion colony forming units or CFUs with some studies suggesting an increase of 10 fold in adults.  Therefore concentrated forms of probiotics are often the most effective, rather than just a feed with added probiotics which may contain insufficient organisms.  It is highly recommended that horse owners read product labels carefully in choosing a digestive aid for their horse to ensure the product contains living organisms at sufficient numbers.  Unfortunately many commercial products may not actually even contain the amount of microorganisms listed on the label.  In a study from 2002, products contained as little as 2% of the CFUs claimed on the label.    In addition, some claims may be misleading and actually only contain fermentation products, which are not live cultures and therefore not probiotics.

Beyond viability and amount of probiotics, the type of organism contained in the probiotic is key.  The most common classes of probiotics are the lactate utilizing bacteria including lactobacilli, bifidobacteria and enterococci. These bacteria are those that convert lactate to propionate in the gut which may help stabilize colonic pH.   Live yeast cultures have also been used, in particular Saccharomyces cervisiae.  This differs from the use of yeast products which may be fed in order to supply vitamins or protein from the process of digestion of the yeast itself.  When looking for a yeast supplement intended to be a probiotic, be sure that it actually contains live yeast   Most species of organisms in probiotics are not typically found inhabiting the gut of the horse. Thus they fail to form permanent stable colonies in the gut, and will no longer be present after administration has been ceased.  Therefore continual supplementation may be necessary depending on the desired outcome.

Live yeast and bacteria supplementation may have beneficial effects beyond that of just supplying a different microorganism with fermentative capabilities.  Some yeasts may release enzymes which digest the toxic by-products of pathogenic bacteria.  It is also believed that yeasts and lactate using bacteria may have immunostimulatory effects, stimulating the gut associated lymphoid tissue.  This enhances the immune system of the horse and may make them more capable of handling exposure to pathogens. Other pathogenic bacteria such as Salmonella and E coli may bind to the yeasts rather than the epithelial tissue of the gut, thus preventing their colonization. Supplementation of live yeast has also been shown to improve digestibility of fiber and increase the amount of lactobacillus in the hind gut which again may be protective against acidotic conditions in the hindgut.

Probiotics are frequently administered when there is believed to be a disruption in normal gut microflora, such as during bouts of diarrhea, following anti-biotic administration or other gastric upsets.  This can include any stressful period for the horse such as travel, new environments, or alteration in diets. Horses supplemented with yeast and subjected to transport had greater biological diversity of bacterial species in the hindgut, and an increase concentration of lactate using bacteria and cellulytic bacteria.  Thus these horses maintained a healthier hindgut population compared to non-supplemented controls.  Supplementation of live boulardii yeast, a sub species of Saccharomyces cervisiae resulted in a shortened period of diarrhea and a quicker return to normal feces in horses suffering from enterocolitis compared to a placebo group.  Horses in this study had a broad range of causative factors for the diarrhea.  Thus probiotic administration may be an additional therapeutic tool in managing colitis or diarrhea in horses.    Probiotics may also reduce the detrimental effects of a high starch diet on the microbial population.  Typically high starch diets promote the growth of amylotic bacteria and decrease the population of cellulytic bacteria, thus suppressing fiber fermentation.  In addition, the by-products of amylotic bacteria are responsible for lowering the pH of the hind gut.  If probiotics are used in conjunction with higher concentrate diets, the overall health of the gut may be improved.

So when is a probiotic right for you?  Certainly during periods of digestive upsets, probiotics can help return the microbiology of the gut of the horse to a healthier state.  They may also assist a horse during times of stress, not only preserving the health of the GI tract, but also the health of the horse itself.  Probiotics promote a stable pH in the gut and can assist in fermentation in the gut.  There a very few negative indicators for probiotic usage, rather just be sure that you choose an effective product.

Colic Prevention Part 2

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Written By Dr. Kris Hiney

This month we will finish our discussion of common causes of colic in the equine, and what you might do to prevent them. Previously we discussed the importance of having a thorough emergency plan in place in order to make a potential colic less stressful for you. We followed that with a discussion of the most common management practices which will help minimize your horse’s risk of colic. These included quality and consistency of the diet, proper hydration and parasite control to name a few. This month we will focus on some of the less common reasons horses may colic. Although less common, they are no less important for the owner to be aware of these possibilities.

The sex of your horse may increase its likelihood of colic. Remember that colic just refers to general abdominal pain. Some mares experience discomfort relative to their estrous cycle. If your mare routinely shows mild colic at three week intervals, her ovaries may be the culprit. Normally cycling mares will ovulate every 21 to 23 days and this event can be associated with discomfort. Having a reproductive exam can also rule out if she has an ovarian dysfunction exacerbating her discomfort. If you choose to breed your mare, you must also be aware of the possibilities of colic associated with pregnancy. During gestation, the mare may experience colicky symptoms due to movement of the fetus. That does not mean that colic signs during gestation should be discounted. Follow your normal procedures of a thorough exam and consult with your veterinarian. Finally, mares are often crampy after foaling, as the uterus continues to contract in order to expel the placenta. Additionally there is a greater potential for twisted bowels post foaling due to the extra “room” in the abdominal tract. Typically these mares will experience very severe pain. As I have personally had to suffer the loss of a mare with a new foal at her side, realize that these are very real possibilities. Monitoring mares closely in the post foaling period may allow you to catch symptoms early and perhaps save her life. All in all, realize that there are risks one has to assume when choosing to breed horses.

The lifestyle of your horse may also cause it to colic. Some horses experience far more stress due to competition or travel than other horses. Some horses dislike horse shows or competitions so intensely that they work themselves into spasmodic colic. If this is true, you really need to closely examine why your horse is experiencing stress. Are you asking too much of them? Do you warm-up or ask the horse to perform at a different level than at which you train? Is the change in environment or the close proximity of other horses too much? Try to acclimate the horse gradually to stressful scenarios. Be reasonable in your expectations of your horse. Consider how nervous or anxious you may be at shows. Isn’t it likely that your horse may also experience anxiety (albeit for perhaps different reasons)? Ultimately, it may be possible that that type of career may not be a great fit for your horse. Consider a less stressful type of competition or even re-homing the horse where it may be more comfortable. After all, competitions and events serve as recreation for most horse owners. Is it really fun if your partner is miserable?

When traveling to events, also consider how long the horse is in the trailer. Hauling in a horse trailer for long periods of time is actually fairly tiring for the horse. Ideally you should let the horse rest every 5-6 hours. Coupling that with a change in a horse’s normal feeding schedule and reduced access to water, can set the horse up for colic. At rest stops, consider offering your horse flavored water to ensure he maintains his water intake. Begin to accustom him to the flavoring at home to ensure he actually likes it. This is especially critical in hot weather, when the temperature in the trailer can exceed the external temperature. Horses may lose a substantial amount of water through sweating that they may not have the opportunity to replenish. Horses may also be more likely to develop respiratory issues while confined in a trailer as well. While we often try to help the horse by keeping hay in front of them, open windows or sides can force dust and particulate matter into the horse’s airways. This can cause the horse to develop pleuritis, which is inflammation of the lungs. While it is a respiratory issue, the horse may still show colic-like symptoms. All in all, plan your travel with your horse’s comfort and health in mind.

What breed your horse is may also pre-dispose him to certain gastrointestinal disorders. Arabians and Arabian crosses are more likely to develop enteroliths than other breeds of horses. Enteroliths are essentially an accumulation of mineral within the intestine which forms a rock-like object. This can range in size from very small to the size of a softball or larger. While the reason is not yet known, this risk increases when these horses are fed alfalfa. This is especially true in the California and in other parts of the Southwest. However, this does not mean that a Quarter Horse in Iowa can’t develop an enterolith, they are just less likely to do so. High alfalfa diets are thought to cause enteroliths due to the high level of magnesium and protein combining to form crystals which make up the enteroliths. Diets higher in wheat bran have high levels of phosphorous which also contribute to enterolith formation. It is also possible that feeding highly digestible, lower fiber feeds like alfalfa may reduce gastric motility, allowing crystals to form more easily. Other lifestyle factors which lower gastric motility, such as lack of exercise or low frequency of feeding, increase the risk factor of enteroliths. Even the type of bedding chosen to be used can affect a horse’s risk of developing enteroliths. Horses on straw bedding, which allows an opportunity to nibble on high fiber feedstuffs, experience less enteroliths. While many believe that adding vinegar to the horse’s diet to lower colon pH may prevent enterolith formation, this has not been proven. Ideally, lower the amount of alfalfa in the horse’s diet, feed frequently and allow ample exercise are the best management choices.

While we can never completely ensure that our horses will never colic, following practical management strategies can lower these risks. Informed horse owners are those whose horses usually experience less health issues. Hopefully if you follow these tips from our last series you can have a colic free 2014! Until next month, enjoy some winter riding!

Strategies to Reduce your Horse’s Chance of Colic

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Written By Dr. Kris Hiney

Last month I encouraged all horse owner’s to develop a preparedness plan in the event their horse colics.  This month we will discuss strategies that will hopefully minimize the chance that you will need that plan.  We will discuss feeding strategies as well as other important management techniques that will help keep your horse happy and healthy.

Feeding your horse properly is one of the easiest ways to help prevent episodes of colic.  Remember  the digestive anatomy of the horse, with its small stomach and large hindgut for digesting forage does not often fit well with  modern management practices.   The horse is designed to forage continuously throughout the day, typically for almost 18 hours.  This provides a continuous input of material to the hindgut without overwhelming the stomach.

1.Maximize intake of good quality forage.

To mimic nature, ideally a horse should consume 2% of its body weight in high quality forage per day.  This allows the best match to the horse’s normal feeding strategies.  Remember high quality forage does not necessarily mean rich or high energy forages which can lead to obesity.   Simply put, high quality hays do not contain molds, potentially toxic weeds or insects, or are not excessively coarse and stemmy.  Of course, toxins and molds can easily cause digestive upsets or result in feed refusals.

2.Avoid very coarse hay or staw as feed.

Excessively coarse hay may be harder for the horse to masticate and may lead to impactions.

3.Prolong feeding/chewing  time.

If your horse needs to consume less than 2% of its body weight due to the need to maintain proper body condition, using a slow feeding hay net will help prolong the horse’s feeding time.  As we increase the amount of time the horse spends chewing, more saliva will enter the stomach and buffer the acid that is continually secreted.  As horses only salivate with oral stimulation, this increase in chew time is extremely important.  This helps to maintain a healthy stomach and avoid ulcer formation.

4.Split up concentrate meals to smaller portions.

If the horse needs substantial amounts of concentrates in order to maintain body condition or support athletic performance, be sure to spread feedings into smaller amounts.  High volumes of concentrate may overwhelm the horse’s ability to digest it properly in the small intestine.  When concentrates escape to the hindgut they are fermented by a type of bacteria which produces organic acids and lowers the pH of the horse’s gut.  By lowering the volume fed at one time, this will avoid fluctuations in pH of the horse’s tract and promote a healthier population of microflora.

5.Slowly introduce new feeds.

If new types of feeds are to be introduced to the horse’s diet, be sure to do so gradually to allow time for bacteria to adjust.   Due to the ability of bacteria to either proliferate or reduce in population with changes in substrate offered to them, a change in the horse’s diet can wreak havoc in bacterial populations. Often this is what results in the overproduction of gas, a frequent cause of colic.

6. Maintain a consistent feeding schedule.

If your horse does not have free choice access to hay or pasture, be sure to maintain a consistent feeding schedule.  Horses are certainly creatures of habit that do best with consistent schedules.  This will avoid periods of time with the horses’ stomach in an unnatural empty state, or overeating due to excitement of feeding.
7.Avoid feeding horses off the ground.

Ingestion of sand can lead to the development of impactions or colitis from irritation of the gut wall.  Routine feeding of psyllium can aid in sand removal from the hind gut.  Feeding off the ground will also limit the exposure to parasites which are a frequent cause of colic through either blockages or disruption of blood flow.

8. Practice strategic deworming and parasite management.

Regular parasite control is therefore key to colic prevention.  Remember from previous articles that this does not mean indiscriminate deworming of horses without knowledge of their true parasite load.  In fact, an increase in colic in young horses due to ascarid impactions may be in part due to the anthelmentic resistance occurring in these worms.   Rather, remember to follow strategic deworming practices in consultation with your veterinarian.   Follow good pasture management practices and avoid overgrazing. This will help to limit your horse’s exposure to parasites.

9. Allow adequate water intake.

As winter approaches, it is especially important to remember that proper water intake is vital to maintaining normal flow of digesta through the horse’s tract.  Normally horse’s drink about 8-12 gallons of water per day.  We often think about increasing a horse’s water intake when it is hot or the horse is heavily working, but fail to think about water intake in the winter.  Horse’s actually don’t like cold water, and will greatly reduce their water intake if not offered warmer water.  Providing a heated bucket or tank will encourage your horse to drink water at the same rate throughout winter.  Be sure that it isn’t sending off any stray shocks however!  That will easily lead to dehydration as the horse is too frightened to drink!  You can also increase a horse’s water intake by offering a mashed feed.  Don’t forget however not to rapidly alter his diet!

10. Provide regular dental care.

While all of these tips primarily refer to the feeding management of the horse, other factors can influence his risk of colic.  Providing regular teeth maintenance will allow your horse to chew his feed properly.  As mentioned previously, coarse hay or poorly chewed hay can create impactions in the horse’s tract.

11. Exercise the horse on a consistent schedule.

Regular exercise for stalled horses is equally key.  Horses naturally travel several miles per day while foraging. We have created a rather artificial, sedentary life style for most of our horses. It is up to us to help provide a form of regular exercise and stick to a schedule.  While this may be difficult owners, it truly is best for the horse.   In fact, some companies are working towards creating automatic feeders which force a horse to travel through its paddock to obtain its feed. Such systems also have the added benefit of prolonging feeding time as well.

Next month we will discuss additional management strategies that will reduce your horse’s risk of colic which are linked to your horse’s lifestyle, breed or even sex!

 

Equine Colic: Are You Prepared?

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Written By Dr. Kris Hiney

Most horse owners at one time or another have experienced that dreaded sight of finding their horse rolling or kicking at their belly in their pasture or stall.  After all, almost 1 million horses colic in the United States each year, or about 11 in every 100 horses. It really is not a matter of if, but when a horse in your care will colic.  But now is not the time to panic, but to act logically and calmly.  The keys?  Be prepared, and have a plan.  This month we will discuss what symptoms you may see, what to do, and how to create a firm plan of action.  Next month we will discuss several important strategies you may implement to decrease the likelihood of your ever needing this plan.

First of all, horses can colic for a variety of reasons. As colic just means a generic abdominal pain, any discomfort in the organs associated with the gastrointestinal tract can be described as colic.  Even other organs, such as the ovaries or uterus in mares, can causepain and thus may show symptoms of colic. So what may lead you to suspect your horse may be colicking?

My first and strongest recommendation is to know your horse. Every horse has individual quirks of behavior, appearance etc.  The key to successful outcomes in colic, or in many cases of disease or injury, is catching a change quickly.  Any change in a horse’s normal behavior or appearance should immediately trigger a thorough investigation of the horse by the owner or manager.  So what might the horse be doing differently? Colic symptoms can range from the subtle to the severe and downright alarming.  Typically the severity of the colic will mirror the severity of the symptoms, but that is not always true.  Individual horses have a greater or lesser degree of pain tolerance. It is important to know if your horse is the stoic individual that works through an injury, or the type that becomes hysterical if they stubbed their hoof on a ground pole!  Subtle signs include horses which are off feed or water, but may not yet be completely refusing to eat or drink.  A change in behavior, being more depressed, less active or having a duller appearance may be signs of colic. Horses which are restless, or perhaps laying down more than normal, or laying in an unusual position may be colicking.  Pay close attention to foals, as foals can quickly develop abdominal discomfort related to disease, diarrhea ulcers etc.  A foal lying on its back is certain to be experiencing some sort of abdominal pain.  As pain becomes more severe horses may continually look at their belly or flank, kick at their abdomen, repeatedly get up or lay down.  They may begin to roll or thrash violently and can even injure themselves.  In severe pain, horses may break out into a sweat or grind their teeth together.

Depending on the severity of the colic, your next step is to step in and gather some information.  Obviously, if your horse is in uncontrollable pain, call the veterinarian immediately.  Otherwise, if you can safely evaluate your horse, perform a physical exam on your horse.  That will help your veterinarian know how soon they may need to arrive.  Record your horse’s heart rate, respiration rate and temperature.  It is important that you practice these techniques before you need them!  A horse’s heart rate can be detected in a number of locations, near their eye, under their jaw, on their pastern etc.  Make sure that you have a working thermometer. Now is not the time to discover a dead battery in your thermometer.  Listen to your horse’s abdomen to hear if there is the normal gurgle of healthy gut movement.  An absence of sound indicated gut motility may have ceased.  If you horse is stalled, check his manure. Is there as much as there should be?  What consistency is it? Is it drier or harder than it should be?  How much feed has the horse eaten since his last feeding?  Is his water consumption normal?  Finally, check your horse’s gum color and capillary refill time.  Pale white or blueish gums may mean the horse is severely dehydrated, or may be going into shock.    This information may be critical in making decisions that may save your horse’s life.

Now that you have some basic information, call your veterinarian.  It is important to have the veterinarian’s phone number readily available. Think about all cases of emergencies.  What if your cell phone has no reception or has a dead battery? Does your veterinarian make emergency farm calls? Will they be able to get here quickly enough to help you?  Discuss these issues with your veterinarian before colic strikes. They may offer some helpful advice on other colleagues they may trust when they may not be able to make the call.  Therefore you may want to post several numbers of veterinarians near your horse.
You also need to do some hard thinking about the financial reality of colic cases. Some colics can only be resolved surgically.  Are you prepared for this?  Can you financially afford colic surgery?  Realize that is possible for colic surgeries to cost nearly $10,000.  Looking into an insurance plan for your horse can help cover major medical costs.  Do your research and see which plan may be best for you and your horses.  You may also need to at least consider that the outcome of surgery may not be positive.  Discussing these scenarios with family and your veterinarian before your horseever colics is critical.    It will make this emergency scenario much easier on you and allow you to make decisions more quickly.

If you have made the decision that surgery is a viable option for you, add more details to your plan.  Do you have ready access to a truck and trailer? If you do not own your own, you need to have numbers of individuals absolutely willing to help, and located nearby, close at hand. The last thing you want at this point in time, is knowing your horse needs to get to a clinic, but you can’t find transportation.  Finally, know where the nearest veterinary hospital with surgical capabilities is located.  How long will it take to get the horse there?  This may affect your decision on when to load your horse on the trailer. Should you wait for your veterinarian to arrive at the farm, or should the horse immediately go to the clinic. Know where the clinic is located.  Now is not the time to be looking for directions or get lost in the middle of the night.  Practice!  The more that you have mentally and physically prepared yourself for these emergencies, the better the outcome for both you and your horse!
 

Ouch, My Stomach Hurts

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Written By Walt Friedrich

Horses are grazers. We all know that. They would spend 24 hours out of every day, doing just that if they could. It’s quite natural, and the wild ones actually do that because their lifestyles allow it. Domestics – not so much.

Oh, they would if they could, but only the lucky ones get to spend much time on pasture. A large percentage of domestics are routinely stalled overnight as well as part of the day, effectively removing them from graze for more than half of their lives!

And that’s unfortunate for a number of reasons. Here’s a big one: ulcers.

See, their Creator had a beautiful plan in mind when She designed them. Let them nibble all the time, always have something in their stomachs, always ready for anything climate and weather throws their way. Because of that constant eating-machine design, She caused digestive stomach acid to be secreted constantly, always available to deal with food. And because the horse was constantly grazing, She made saliva quite potent and copious, helping to mediate all that stomach acid. She even coated the bottom half of the stomach with a mucous lining to protect it from that acid.

It’s a brilliant design; constant stomach acid available to handle constant intake of grass, and plenty saliva to help control that powerful acid. It’s so slick that as long as the horse lives as She intended – wild – there was little need for anything more.

Ah, but then came domestication, and everything changed – that is, for those we put to work for us. Those endless miles of wild-growing grass are no longer available to them. Instead of grazing 24/7, they get to eat hay, not steadily, but rather in one or two large “feedings” per day, along with a pound or two of grain – and maybe some pasture grass grazing in between, if they’re lucky.

So, what does that altered eating cycle do to their stomachs? Well, since it’s empty much of the time but the acid keeps coming, they get to feeling like you and I do, when we get an acid stomach – but they have to live with it, on  a regular basis. They don’t have Prilosec or even Tums to help with that burning. But it doesn’t stop there – that acid that’s continuously pumped into the stomach whose upper half has no protective “armor plating”, freely attacks that surface, eventually eating holes into it, creating a nasty situation that results in – gasp – ulcers! And not just in the stomach – that stomach acid passes down into the digestive tract, where it can cause even more ulcers to form.

It’s been said that there are just two kinds of domestic horses – those with ulcers and those who haven’t developed them yet. And these sweet, magnificent beasts can’t even tell us, in a way that most of us understand, that it hurts. They do give us the signals, but few of us seem to recognize them for what they are, and the horse just goes through life with stomach pain.

Here are some of the signals:
Poor performance
Attitude changes
Poor coat
Poor body condition
Tucked-up appearance
Poor appetite
Colic

And more: a normally calm horse might…
Kick inside the trailer
Pin ears when being mounted for riding
Flinch, bite or kick when girth tightened
Act up in general

Thus far, we’ve described the most common cause of ulcer development – constantly allowing our horse’s stomach to cycle between empty and full. Now let’s examine another cause, one that is actually a complication of cause number one and is particularly frustrating – excessive administration of NSAIDS, especially Bute.

Bute is the most effective and most common high potency analgesic we give to our horses. It’s almost as common in treating horses as aspirin is to you and me. And it certainly is effective – but the horse pays a price, and sometimes a very heavy one, because Bute is a double-barreled remedy. Its chemical composition causes it to suppress two important enzymes. Enzyme One is responsible for the secretion of the stomach coating that protects its lower half from the destructive effect of its own stomach acid. Enzyme Two is responsible for allowing pain to be felt anywhere in the body.

To explain, let’s consider a hypothetical: our horse is laminitic. We want to eliminate the pain, and so we dose him with Bute. Bute suppresses Enzyme Two, reducing or eliminating the pain – a good thing. But Bute also suppresses Enzyme One, preventing the protective stomach layer from forming – a bad thing. Now our horse is more comfortable with his pain reduced, but he’s vulnerable to the development of stomach ulcers because the stomach wall is unprotected. An occasional one mg dose of Bute is unlikely to result in an ulcer. But one mg twice a day for an extended period – common practice for treatment of laminitis and founder, for example – greatly increases the potential for those dreaded ulcers to develop, and we’ve got us a Hobson’s Choice.

However, there is help. A large number of pharmaceuticals are available to counteract the effects of an ulcer, even to prevent its development in the first place. These include GastroGard, UlcerGard, Ranitidine, Sucralfate, Ulc-Rid, Succeed, Nutrient Buffer, among others. These preparations are effective to varying degrees, and the one thing they have in common is that they are expensive.

Fortunately, a lower-cost, highly effective, non-pharmaceutical option is also available: lecithin. Lecithin replaces that stomach-protecting layer, lost when Bute suppresses Enzyme One. Lecithin is chemically very similar to that layer, which means that by replacing what Bute destroys, it counters Bute’s negative effect. Studies have confirmed that not only does lecithin reduce stomach injury, in some cases it even eliminates existing ulceration. What’s particularly impressive, it provides this protection without modifying the effectiveness of Bute as a pain killer. And adding icing to the cake, lecithin is readily available and comparatively inexpensive!

We’re getting a little complicated, so let’s take a moment and recap the major points:

Stomach acid: for ourselves, we think of it only when it’s backing up into our esophagus and causing heartburn. But it is absolutely vital. It initiates digestion of ingested food. For the horse, it is also his defense against all those microbes that accompany every bite of grass. But it can burn holes in his unprotected stomach.

Protective stomach coating: a secreted substance known as a phospholipid. It protects the stomach wall from its own digestive acid.

Bute (et al): an analgesic, especially important to horses, with a side-effect that results in the loss of the stomach-protective coating, leaving the horse vulnerable to developing ulcers.

Commercially available ulcer medication, mostly pharmaceutical: treats and sometimes cures and prevents ulcers; expensive.

Lecithin: a naturally occurring substance abundantly found in animal and plant cell membranes. As with pharmaceutical products, lecithin can prevent development of ulcers, even eliminate them. Relatively inexpensive.

Just what is lecithin and where do we get it? Lecithin is also a phospholipid, very similar to the natural stomach protective coating, capable of supporting or replacing it. Soy beans are the primary source for commercially prepared lecithin. It is extracted from soybean oil during processing, and undergoes further processing to make it easily edible and palatable.

Lecithin granules are available on-line. Search around, you’ll find it as low as about $5 per pound. If you dose your horse with one cup per day, he’ll be getting about five ounces of lecithin granules; thus one pound will last about three days, costing about $1.65 per day. The compounded anti-ulcer medications mentioned earlier range between $5 and $50 per day.

Domestication has resulted in a fundamental change in the horse’s natural eating habits to the extent that he is much more subject to the development of gastric and intestinal ulcers. But we can counter that very negative result in two major ways. Where feasible, we can structure his daily routine to ensure he’ll have something in his stomach almost constantly. Where we can’t make that change, we can provide him regularly with effective medications to help his system fight off the development of an ulcer, and do so at  reasonable cost. Either way, we’ll be making a happier, healthier horse – and that’s a nice benefit to us, as well.