Using Your Thumb for a Digital Pulse


Recently I posted How To Find a Digital Pulse on My Stable Life. And it came to my attention that some readers were opposed to the way we showed you how to find a digital pulse in a horse, since the pictures illustrated using a person’s thumb to do so.

“Rule one: Don’t use your thumb, it has it’s own pulse,” as one reader responded, when we posted the blog entry to Facebook.

“Ok…. But your doing it wrong,” said another.

And finally, “WITH A THUMB????” wrote a third person.

It was at this point that I became compelled to respond <smile>. Having penned this article with one of Canada’s most respected veterinarians, Dr. Dennis Rach, I knew he knew what he was talking about. And it is Dr. Rach’s hands that are actually featured in the pictures.

Dr. Rach is a partner and President of Moore Equine Veterinary Centre (near Balzac, AB). He has been with the clinic since 1970, then called Moore & Sturm. As an equine chiropractor and equine acupuncturist, and member of both the American Association of Veterinary Chiropractors and International Veterinary Acupuncture Society, Dr. Rach offers a range of approaches for the treatment of lameness in the performance horse.



Here is what Dr. Rach had to say on the subject:

“A horse’s pulse is entirely different from that of a human. If you had a measuring device such as an oscilloscope (which are used in hospitals to measure EKGs), a human’s pulse would go straight up and straight down – just like a drill bit sticks up in the air.”

Human-pulse“With a horse, the pulse is square. It’s what we call a full pulse. It goes up and across, like a rectangle.”

A full (square) pulse.

A full (square) pulse.

“Therefore when you are taking a horse’s digital pulse you can’t confuse it with your own pulse, because it feels completely different.

“A human pulse hits you like a ‘zing.’

“But a horse’s digital pulse will push your finger out and back in. On an oscilloscope, the line will go up, across and down – it’s a full pulse. What you are feeling is the blood rising up against the wall of the artery. Then when it’s gone, you feel nothing. In a horse, the pulse is a bigger, slower push.

“How can you confuse a full pulse with a spike? They’re entirely different so you can’t confuse them. A horse’s heart goes dalub-dub – so the wave looks and feels longer.  A human pulse is a quick ‘zing.’

“If someone tells you you can’t feel a digital pulse with your thumb, that is nonsense. Go ahead and use your thumb.” – Dr. Dennis Rach.

How-To Find a Digital Pulse


There are many reasons why a veterinarian or horse owner would want to check a horse’s pulse or heart rate. Obviously, these reasons include checking for illness in the animal however, a pulse can also be used to determine if a horse is improving from illness or injury or for pre-purchase exams. At this time of year when the grass is starting to come in so nicely, knowing how to check for a digital pulse may also help you prevent laminitis in your horses (managed time on pasture is additionally paramount and a completely different topic not touched upon in this article.)

But let’s get back to the subject. There are several places on the body where a person can take a horse’s pulse and one of the most frequently checked is the digital pulse. Once you are familiar with the feel of a normal digital pulse, understanding what a “bounding” digital pulse feels like is an excellent horse husbandry skill to possess. An increased digital pulse means that the heart is pumping arterial blood into the enclosed hoof capsule, which has increased pressure and resistance to the flow of blood through the foot. This happens due to inflammation in the bone and soft tissue (ligaments, digital cushion, etc.) of the hoof capsule. An increased digital pulse is often a tell-tale sign of laminitis.

While all horses have a digital pulse, sometimes it can be difficult to find as it is taken on the posterior (palmar) digital artery on the pastern between the coronary band and fetlock. In this article, Dr. Dennis Rach of Moore Equine Center near Balzac, Alberta explains step-by-step how to locate the digital pulse.

Locate the flexor tendon.

#1 – Locate the flexor tendon.

#1 – The tough fibrous tissues that can be found at the back of a horse’s legs are called the superficial and deep digital flexor tendons. They are responsible for flexing the joints of the horse’s lower leg, they precent the fetlock from overextending and they help with weight bearing. Using your thumb, locate the flexor tendons at the back of the leg.

Locate the suspensory ligament.

#2 – Locate the suspensory ligament.

#2 – Locate the suspensory ligament. The suspensory ligament originates below the bottom row of the knee bones between the splint bones and extends down to the fetlock. It divides into two just above the fetlock and each branch joins to a sesamoid bone, blending with a common digital extensor tendon. Its job is to support and prevent over extension of the fetlock joint.

#3 - Locate the cannon bone.

#3 – Locate the cannon bone.

#3 – Locate the cannon bone. The weight bearing bone of the lower leg that stretches from the knee joint to the fetlock joint.


#4 – Find the middle of the fetlock.

#4 – Follow the suspensory ligament down. Again using your thumb, follow the suspensory ligament all the way down until you find the middle, or most convex point of the fetlock joint.

#5 - Destination, Digital Pulse.

#5 – Destination, Digital Pulse.

#5 – Destination: Digital Pulse. From the middle of the fetlock, feel your way one finger-width back to find the digital arterial pulse.

A digital pulse can be hard to find in horses that are resting or cold. Once you can familiarize yourself with finding and feeling a normal digital pulse, it will be easy to determine the difference between a bounding pulse. In an increased digital pulse, you can feel the blood pump harder against your thumb and fingers.

Winter Skin Conditions


This time of year means there’s more to worry about under that coat besides long hairs. Pic by Jenn Webster.

As hash as winter can be on our skin, it can be just as harmful to the skin of our horses. Long periods without baths, regular grooming and under heavy blankets can lead to a plethora of problems. The moisture from rain and snow can encourage bacteria to grow and the lack of sunlight is like an open invitation to other pathogens that plague the skin. And let’s not forget about all that long winter hair there is to contend with!

Prevention is often the best medicine when it comes to winter skin conditions but should one of the following most common get a grip on your equine, here are some tips for identifying and treating them:

Rain Rot – Dermatophilus congolensis is a bacterium that normally lives on the skin with no problem, but after a rain or snow fall with humid conditions the bacteria can grow with adverse effects to the horse. As the bacteria multiplies, it irritates the hair follicles and causes hair loss and crusting. Daily grooming and removal of blankets is necessary for the healing process of rain rot. Sunshine to the horse’s coat is also helpful. It is often recommended that the crusts or scabs be gently removed via warm water and an antiseptic wash, or with mineral oil if bathing the horse is not possible. Then apply an antibiotic ointment (such as Hibitaine) on each rain rot “spot.” Speak with your veterinarian in case oral antibiotics may be required to help your horse’s specific case.

Scratches –  Scratches is a chronic, seborrheic (flaky skin) dermatitis characterized by enlargement of the skin cells and exudation (oozing) on the rear surface of the pastern and fetlock. It is often referred to as greasy heel, mud fever or pastern dermatitis. Scratches is caused by excessively wet or muddy environments, bacterial/fungal/parasitic skin infections, or a combination of both. Horses with white legs or feathered legs are also more susceptible to scratches. Severe cases of scratches are not just inconvenient, they can actually cause long durations of lameness. Treatment typically involves removing the horse from the wet environment, then clipping of the affected area and a gentle wash. The area should be cleaned with an antibacterial soap such as Betadine soap and carefully dried off. An ointment can be applied but opinions vary on what is the best to use in a scratches situation. Consult with your veterinarian for best advice.

Ringworm – This skin disease is caused by a fungus that is contagious to other animals and humans. The fungus begins in a growing hair and lesions appear in circular formations, usually within a week of the initial infection. Hair falls out or breaks off in the circular areas, giving ringworm its characteristic appearance. Ringworm can spread from horse to horses really fast so precautions should be taken to keep it from spreading. Saddle pads and grooming tools should be treated and disinfected and gloves should be worn when handling and treating the affected horse. Topical treatments may include fungicides such as chlorhexadine solution, while an oral antifungal may be obtained from your veterinarian. Sunlight and heat help to inhibit ringworm, which is unfortunate as the skin condition occurs more often in winter months.

When it comes to these winter woes, what is your best winter skin condition treatment tip?


Merck Animal Health Announces Co-Promotion

Merck Animal Health

Merck Animal Health Canada gets 2014 off to a running start with the announcement of key appointments in its equine division, and the forging of a strategic alliance that has resulted in the co-promotion of two partner products that complement the company’s extensive line of equine vaccines and pharmaceuticals.


“In keeping with our long-standing commitment to supporting those who share our passion for equine health and well-being, we are extremely pleased to announce the appointment of Patrick Meyers, DVM, as Equine Technical Services Consultant and Key Account Manager,” says Kevin Ryan, Business Unit Director at Merck Animal Health. “Respected equine practitioner, board-certified theriogenologist, ORC official veterinarian, lecturer, teacher, author and industry consultant, Dr. Meyers brings to his new position a wealth of knowledge and experience that will undoubtedly be of great value to the equine community.”

“Our entire equine team, led by newly-appointed Senior Product Manager, Simon Grudzien, is more focused than ever on making sure equine practitioners and horse owners have access to the safe, effective and reliable products and services they need, and have come to expect from Merck Animal Health,” adds Ryan.


In an effort to leverage available resources and deliver the leading-edge tools the equine community needs, Merck Animal Health has forged a strategic alliance with Modern Veterinary Therapeutics, a pharmaceutical company dedicated to the research and development of innovative veterinary pharmaceuticals, biologics and diagnostics.

As a result of this co-marketing agreement, Merck Animal Health now delivers extra value to equine practitioners through the co-promotion of two modern veterinary therapeutics products.

• RESPIPULMINTM (clenbuterol hydrochloride syrup) is a bronchodilator syrup for oral use in horses only. It is recommended as an aid for the treatment of respiratory disease in horses, where it is considered that airway obstruction is due to bronchospasms. Clenbuterol, its active ingredient, has been shown to have intense bronchodilating properties with minimum effect on the cardiovascular system.

• CEPESEDANTM (detomidine hydrochloride injection) is a synthetic alpha-2 adrenoceptor agonist that produces sedation, and superficial and visceral analgesia. The chemical restraint and pain relief it provides help facilitate the handling of fractious animals, and aid in the conduct of uncomfortable diagnostic and/or therapeutic procedures.

“RESPIPULMINTM and CEPESEDANTM are ideal complements to our equine portfolio, providing clients with an even wider selection of practical tools that meet their needs – not to mention our rigorous quality standards… and theirs,” says Simon Grudzien, Senior Product Manager responsible for Merck Animal Health equine products.


According to Grudzien, “partnership has its privileges” – a point that is driven home by a special introductory offer on RESPIPULMINTM and CEPESEDANTM, that is being offered to veterinarians who purchase Merck Animal Health equine products between now and April 30, 2014.

Grudzien recommends that interested veterinarians register for the program without delay, adding: “Since purchases are tabulated monthly, the sooner clients sign up, the more time they’ll have to reap rewards!”

Veterinarians who would like to find out more about this promotion, and/or about RESPIPULMINTM, CEPESEDANTM and Merck Animal Health equine products, are invited to contact their local representative.

Horse Breeders & Owners Conference Recap


Dr. Katharina Lohmann discusses the many elements of Heaves at the recent Alberta Horse Breeders and Owners Conference.

For the first weekend in many years, the mercury was in the positive range for the annual Horse Breeders and Owners Conference. Around 490 horse enthusiasts left their sunny farms to attend the 32nd Annual Horse Breeders and Owners Conference in Red Deer for a weekend filled with fun and education. Delegates came from all over BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and New Brunswick. The exhibit hall hosted over 50 booths sponsored by equine businesses and organizations.

The weekend started off with the 8th annual Stable Owners’ Seminar on Friday afternoon and included four sessions specifically designed for stable owners. Topics on taxation, attaining and retaining staff and a panel on getting youth involved were presented to a crowd of over 100 people. The last session was a Town Hall Meeting where the formation of a stables association was discussed.

Friday night’s “Open Barn” Welcome Reception was hosted by Zoetis. Delegates and the public were welcome to get their first look at the trade show and treated to a spread of cheese and crackers and drinks. Early bird draw prizes were distributed to the lucky winners and delegates entered additional bucket draw prizes.

In Saturday's opening session, Gary Carpenter shared some of his visions for the future of the equine industry.

In Saturday’s opening session, Gary Carpenter shared some of his visions for the future of the equine industry.

Saturday’s sessions began with Gary Carpenter, who spoke about where the horse industry is going, sponsored by Alberta Equestrian Federation. After the coffee break, which was sponsored by SciencePure Nutraceuticals, delegates had the choice of attending a session on osteoarthritis given by Dr. Mike Scott, Dr. Nancy Loving on starting and conditioning or Dr. Claudia Klein educating about reproduction and the problem mare. Thank you to break-out session sponsor Alberta Veterinary Labs, who sponsored Dr. Scott’s session.

Dr. Mike Scott spoke about the management of osteoarthritis in horses.

Dr. Mike Scott spoke about the management of osteoarthritis in horses.

After the lunch break, Clay Maier shared his knowledge about driving horses, Jochen Schleese spoke on saddle fit for male and female riders, and Dr. Katharina Lohmann spoke on heaves. Twenty minutes later, the fourth round of sessions began with Lauren Barwick speaking about the pursuit of equine excellence, Dr. Stephen O’Grady, who spoke to a standing room only crowd about barefoot vs. shoeing, and Dr. Lori Warren presented on environmentally-friendly feeding. The last coffee break of the afternoon was generously sponsored by Western Horse Review.

The News Hour is the last session of the day on Saturday, and offers information on current issues in the horse industry. Dr. Kelsey Brandon from Claresholm Veterinary Services shared her experiences treating horses with Pigeon Fever in her area, Paul Ryneveld from Century Casinos gave an update on the Balzac racetrack, Dr. Ron Clarke spoke about a national biosecurity program and Dr. Larry Frischke from Zoetis updated delegates on West Nile in the province.

Saturday night, sponsored by Horse Racing Alberta, offered live music by local Lacombe singer/songstress Randi Boulton, a host wine bar and dessert, and an equine sporting event which brought laughter to all.

Dr. Nancy Loving took the stage again on Sunday morning and presented on colic. Running concurrent to Dr. Loving’s session was Curt Pate on Ranch Horsemanship and Dr. Stephen O’Grady educating about the equine hoof. Clay Maier took the stage again and presented on long lining benefits, Tammy Pate shared her experience with yoga and horsemanship and Dr. Lori Warren returned to the stage to speak about how feed can modify behaviour.

The very important Alberta SPCA Fred Pearce Memorial Lecture, dedicated to the welfare of the horse, was presented this year by Dr. Camie Heleski who spoke on stereotypies such as weaving and cribbing. She offered many suggestions to help understand and manage stereotypies as well as identified areas for further research.

The draw for the equine treatment stocks, generously donated by True Heart Horses and 2W Livestock, were drawn in the final session. The lucky winner was Glenda Wagar from Dawson Creek, BC.

The Horse Industry Association of Alberta thanks everyone who attended and sponsored the event as well as the 22 presenters who brought their expertise and experience to Red Deer, Alberta.

Watering Horses In Winter


With parts of Alberta hitting record lows and wind chills beyond belief this past week, we’ve had time to do some internet surfing. If you’re of the mindset that believes horses can survive winter on snow as a water source, here is some food for thought. In this video, Dr. Bettina Bobsien, who represented the BC SPCA on the Equine Code Development Committee, recently spoke about the new horse code requirements for water in winter in Canada.

As always, we welcome your feedback.

Pigeon Fever Alert

The AAEP has published Pigeon Fever Guidelines For Veterinarians And Horse Owners, available at The guide summarizes clinical signs, diagnostic methods for various clinical forms of the disease, treatments, and approaches to biosecurity and control.

More than 10 horses in southern Alberta have been diagnosed with pigeon fever this fall, an illness so-named for the common symptom of swellings in the chest.

Dr. Kelsey Brandon of Claresholm Veterinary Service said the clinic has treated several animals and it has also been diagnosed in horses from the Fort Macleod and Lethbridge areas.

“We give (the horses) pain medications while they have the abscesses and they’re maturing,” said Brandon. Ultrasound tests reveal the proper time for lancing and treatment, which is done under sedation.Dr. Kelsey Brandon of Claresholm Veterinary Service said the clinic has treated several animals and it has also been diagnosed in horses from the Fort Macleod and Lethbridge areas. Though not usually fatal, the fever results in abscesses that have to mature before they can be lanced, drained and regularly flushed while healing.More than 10 horses in southern Alberta have been diagnosed with pigeon fever this fall, an illness so-named for the common symptom of swellings in the chest.

Pigeon fever is caused by a bacterium spread by flies. When the flies bite horses, they can transmit the illness.Horse to horse spread is possible but rare because it involves direct transfer of pus or exudate from one horse to an open sore of another. Early swelling can be confused with results from bruising. Symptoms can appear on one or both sides of the chest, with swelling also common on the belly, neck and head.

“Some horses do get sick from it and some do get internal abscesses. About eight percent of the horses that get external abscesses get internal abscesses and of those eight percent that get internal abscesses, 30 to 40 percent of those are fatal,” Brandon said.

This year was considered a bad fly year for livestock. Brandon said she recalls a few cases in the region several years ago but the illness is far more common in the southern and western United States. Prairie winters tend to limit survival of the bacteria and current risk has been reduced by cooler weather.

“It’s usually a late summer, early fall thing when there’s lots of flies and its dryer out.”

Prevention involves fly control, use of fly spray, masks and sheets on horses, and wearing gloves when handling horses with draining abscesses.

For more information on new disease control guidelines, please read “Drought might have contributed to upswing in pigeon fever in horses in the United States” on the American Quarter Horse Association web site.

~ with files from Equine Canada and the Western Producer

Weanling Woes

photo by Jenn Webster.


Avoid fretting, but be aware of what scenarios are cause for concern in the weanling. Laid out here, are eight issues commonly seen in weanling horses, along with explanations to help you tell if you need to worry or not.

1. Not eating feed

It is not at all uncommon for young horses, especially those that have just been weaned, to be hesitant to eat new sources of food. Like little children, they like what they know, and any new food – whether it be hay, grain or apples or anything else – is likely to be suspect. They may be curious enough to taste new things but then spit them out, even treats that adult horses would turn somersaults for. Rest assured that in most cases, they will soon get used to new feeds, usually within a few days to a week. Also keep in mind the fact that small horses have small stomachs, so they tend to get full on much less than an adult horse would, which can sometimes make us think that they aren’t eating enough.

Don’t worry as long as the youngster is eating some hay and/or grass and seems bright and energetic. As Michael Peron, DVM, of Surrey, BC says, “If there is a change of feed and they are reluctant to eat a particular new feed stuff, I wouldn’t be concerned. Fussiness and unfamiliarity will usually give way to curiosity and hunger soon enough.” Feed good quality hay and small amounts of pellets or grain rations as directed by your veterinarian or equine nutritionist, and baby should come around. Try adding a drizzle of molasses over feed to make it especially tempting.

Consult your veterinarian if the youngster won’t eat anything at all for more than a day, seems dull and listless, or if it exhibits signs of colic or other illness. “When a horse doesn’t want to eat at all,” says Dr. Peron, “my concern is that this could be a sign that they are developing some kind of disease, and going off their feed is just the tip of the iceberg.” Not eating for many hours at a time can also lead to ulcers, and conversely, ulcers can cause a horse to go off its feed, so it is good to be familiar with the signs associated with this ailment.

2. Runny nose

Young horses, like little kids, do not have the fully developed immune system of an adult, which leaves them more susceptible to common respiratory infections. Giving a flu/rhino vaccination might seem like a logical way to prevent this, but it is not recommended in most instances. “Generally,” explains Dr. Peron, “we don’t vaccinate weanlings for flu until they are nine or even 12-months-old because the research indicates that they’re not really immunologically able to respond to the flu vaccine before then, and there may actually be some contraindications for giving those vaccines too early.” On its own, a runny nose is not cause for undue alarm. Antibiotics are not usually called for, and most of the time, an otherwise healthy weanling will fight off a minor upper respiratory infection. Allowing it to do so is actually beneficial in helping the young horse to develop its natural immunity. However, a horse with a runny nose should definitely be checked for fever and watched for any other symptoms such as lethargy, coughing or loss of appetite, all of which could indicate a more serious situation.

Don’t worry about a runny nose as long as the weanling is eating well and seems otherwise normal, but do watch to see if it is resolving or not. An ongoing runny nose can indicate a sinus infection or some other kind of problem. A runny nose accompanied by a slightly elevated temperature (normal for weanlings is generally about 101°F, a bit higher than adult horses) is not cause for panic, but you would definitely want to monitor the horse closely.

Consult your veterinarian if the horse develops a high fever (103°F or more), or if a lower grade fever does not resolve within a few days. Also contact your vet if the youngster develops a cough, shallow breathing or other symptoms, or if the nasal discharge is foul smelling. Such symptoms are especially concerning if the horse has been recently shipped, as youngsters are particularly vulnerable to “shipping fever” (pleuropnemonia), which can be very serious. aSays Dr. Peron, “It’s a good idea with any horse that’s been shipped to take its temperature soon after it arrives and continue to monitor it for a few days, just to stay on top of any possibility of shipping fever.”


Most warts clear up on their own within a few months.

3. Warts

Equine warts (viral papillomatosis) are small bumps on the skin caused by the equine papilloma virus. They are most often found on the muzzle and lower part of the head, and they are extremely common in horses aged six months to three years. Though not pretty, they are almost never more than a cosmetic problem and will generally go away without treatment in three to four months. Because they are viral in origin, the warts are highly contagious to other horses who have not been exposed to the virus (most have been by age five), but they are not contagious to humans.

Don’t worry in general about these warts. Though they share some physical characteristics with verucous sarcoids (and it is easy enough to confuse the two), a young horse is far more likely to have warts than sarcoids. “On your list of things to be concerned about, warts should be at the very bottom,” says Dr. Peron.

Consult your veterinarian only if the warts appear to be causing pain, look like they are becoming infected, or show no signs of abating after four or five months.

4. Ulcers

Stomach ulcers are common in weanlings, with estimates putting the numbers at up to 50 per cent. The stress of weaning itself, along with changes in diet and transportation, can lead to ulcers in these youngsters. Since most of the symptoms of ulcers can be associated with other problems as well, it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what is going on without a veterinary examination. “Mild but persistent colic, teeth grinding (bruxia), poor appetite and depression are what I see most commonly associated with ulcers in weanlings,” says Dr. Peron, “but you can also see diarrhea, excess salivation, poor condition or a pot belly appearance”.

Don’t worry if you see mild symptoms off and on for up to a week, especially if the foal has just been weaned, changed feed, or has had to adjust to a new situation. Mild ulcers brought on by such stresses will usually resolve fairly quickly without intervention once the youngster settles into its new routine.

Consult your veterinarian if symptoms are marked, persistent, or continue for longer than a week. “Most ulcers are not terribly serious if they don’t go on for too long,” explains Dr. Peron, “but it is a potentially life-threatening condition. Ulcers by their very nature cause bleeding, and while an older horse can handle that to a certain extent, a young horse can more easily become extremely depressed, run down and anemic.”

5. Hoof changes

The bodies of young horses change and grow at an astonishing rate, and their hooves are no different. In fact, the hooves of a weanling are extremely “plastic”, meaning they can change their shape quite easily in response to external and internal forces. This can be a positive thing if you are trying to correct a problem, but the flip side is that a nice-looking hoof can distort faster than you might think if allowed to become imbalanced. For this reason, states Dr. Peron, “I am a strong advocate of early and frequent hoof care in foals and weanlings.” Young horses also need movement (and lots of it!) to allow the internal structures of their feet to develop properly, preferably on firm or varied terrain. Even if they have that, it is important to keep a close eye on young feet, and get your farrier in there sooner rather than later if you start to see any problems.

Don’t worry if you see jagged edges or snags along the bottom of the hoof wall. This is nature’s way of trimming away excess material, and usually causes no problem for the horse. It is also worth remembering that foals are born with quite “tubular” hooves that may also appear slightly more upright than a normal adult horse’s feet. You should see the more adult “cone” shape starting to be evident by the time the youngster is six or seven months old.

Consult your hoof care professional or veterinarian if you start to see long toes, or very short toes with excessive heel growth (feet too upright), flaring, under-run heels, medial/lateral imbalance, or any other distortion.

6. Diarrhea

A healthy young horse should have normal looking manure – not too hard and not too mushy, but it is not at all uncommon for weanlings to have loose stool on occasion. While this is usually not serious, it can be indicative of a number of problems. It can be brought on from stress or having to adjust to new foods, but persistent diarrhea can be a symptom of a variety of ailments, including parasite infestation. It is therefore important to monitor the horse for other symptoms, keep track of how long the problem goes on, and to assess the degree of looseness.

Don’t worry if the stool is merely soft or loose, but the horse is otherwise normal. If you see this kind of manure, Dr. Peron advises that you monitor the horse’s temperature, appetite and attitude, and just ensure that the horse stays clean. “You can put some Vaseline on their rear ends so that it doesn’t stick to them,” he says, “and you should see things clear up within a few days if the horse is just reacting to a stressful event or a change in diet.”

Consult your veterinarian if there are other symptoms present or the stool is very watery and this persists for more than a day. When it comes to young horses getting the runs, less is more – meaning the less firm the manure is, the more seriously you should take it. Says Dr. Peron, “Persistent liquid manure is a concern because young horses are very susceptible to dehydration. I would also get on it if a horse is off its food, depressed or lethargic, or if there is a fever associated with the loose manure.”

7. Cuts and Scrapes

One of the greatest pleasures of having weanlings is watching them leaping, running and bucking with the irrepressible exuberance of youth. However, that same exuberance can lead to bumps, bruises, cuts and scrapes, some of which may require serious attention. Whatever age your horses are, it is always advisable to keep a well-stocked emergency kit in your barn and to know how to use it, but this is especially important with youngsters, who are definitely more accident prone than their older counterparts.

Don’t worry if you are dealing with a scrape (abrasion) that has not penetrated through the skin. Says Dr. Peron, “If it’s an abrasion, but not a laceration (all the way through the skin layers), then normal first aid – keeping it clean and such – will suffice. If it is on their lower extremities I may bandage for a day or so, but abrasions are not usually too much of a concern. The horse owner can generally take care of abrasions because there isn’t much more the vet is going to do anyway beyond just cleaning it up and keeping it clean.” Flushing an abrasion with plenty of sterile saline is the best way to clean it, as wiping can be painful and cause more irritation. Over the counter antibiotic ointments may be applied, but some experts feel it is best to just clean a scrape and leave it to heal on its own. If it is fly season, you may want to put some kind of repellent around the wound to keep the bugs away, but never put fly spray directly on a wound unless it is a product specifically designed for use on wounds.

Consult your veterinarian if you are dealing with a laceration, puncture wound, or if you are unsure if the wound is all the way through the skin or not. “It can be difficult to determine whether you are dealing with an abrasion or a laceration at times,” says Dr. Peron, “but since all but the most trivial lacerations do require veterinary care, it is better to be safe than sorry.” Your veterinarian may advise putting the horse on antibiotics, and will check to be sure there is no foreign material in the wound or damage to deeper tissues. Puncture wounds are also cause for concern, as they can often be more serious than they look and are highly prone to infection. Pay special heed to any lacerations or puncture wounds on the lower legs or abdomen.

8. Weight loss, pot belly, dull or rough coat

If you notice these symptoms in your youngster, either singly or together, the most likely causes are either internal parasites or a nutritional issue. Most often, a weanling exhibiting these symptoms is in need of deworming, and this can be surprising because you may see this even if you are deworming on the standard 60-day schedule. Weanlings, because of their immature immune system, high metabolism, and low energy reserves, show the effects of worm infestation much more quickly than most mature horses. Because of this, they sometimes need a more frequent, more intensive or more targeted deworming program. However, the same symptoms can show up if the horse’s diet is simply not meeting its nutritional needs. Pot bellies and poor condition are common in youngsters who are eating large amounts of low quality roughage, which basically fills the gut to its maximum capacity while depriving the horse of necessary energy and nutrients. Don’t worry if all you are seeing is a bit of “ribbiness”, but the horse otherwise looks healthy. In fact, says Dr. Peron, “Weanlings, in my opinion, should be somewhat ‘ribby’. Particularly during periods of rapid growth, they will often look like they are losing weight. Sometimes they’ll go through a growth spurt and suddenly they’ll look quite ribby because they’ve basically thinned down because they’re shooting up. That’s pretty normal. I think people get a little over-concerned about that and tend to overfeed, if anything. Considering all the problems we have with developmental bone disease, OCD, and so on, a little ribby is actually quite healthy.”

Consult your veterinarian if you see persistent weight loss over a period of weeks, often noticeable as a loss of muscle along the topline, or if your horse has a pot belly or rough-looking coat despite regular deworming. Your veterinarian may want to take a deeper look at the parasite situation, check for some other type of problem such as ulcers, or you may need to make some nutritional changes that he/she can advise you on. “If you’ve ruled out parasites and disease,” says Dr. Peron, “you would have to consider your feeding program – is the horse getting enough to eat, and appropriate feed. I would actually like to see more people weighing their feed in order to better calculate what their horses are actually getting. Feeding by flake or by can or whatever is kind of meaningless unless you know how much that actually weighs, and what the energy and nutrient value is per pound of what you are feeding.”

Published in the March 2008, edition of the Western Horse Review.

Fecal Collection 101

Fecal Egg Count Equine Guelph

Photo by Deanna Buschert

Equine Guelph has launched a new two and a half minute video to help horse owners with parasite management. When a growing resistance to dewormers is cited as a major issue concerning horse owners today, a fecal exam to see if your parasite control program is working makes sense. Collecting a manure sample is easy, but it must be done properly to ensure accurate test results.

How to Collect Manure for a Fecal Egg Count (FEC)
1) Write the date and horse’s name on the front part of this zip-lock bag.
2) Take another zip-lock bag and turn it inside-out over your hand.
3) With your hand inside the bag, pick up a fresh fecal mass.
4) Use your other hand to pull the zip-lock bag over your hand, turning the bag right side out. Squeeze out as much air as possible. The feces are now in the bag.
5) Zip up the bag. Place the bag into the labelled bag.
6) Store in a cool place, such as a refrigerator but not in the freezer.
7) Deliver your fecal sample to the vet within 48 hours!

Do not place the sample in the freezer or leave it in your car.
Extreme cold or heat can kill parasites, defeating the purpose of collecting a sample.

Be sure to request feces are examined for a strongyle egg count in horses aged 2 years and up.

Rotate or rest?

That is a very good question when it comes to the use of deworming products. Ontario Veterinary College researcher Dr. Andrew Peregrine says, “Less than three percent of horse owners perform fecal exams and to date this is the only way to find out if your horse is carrying an unhealthy parasite burden.” He recommends all horse owners get in the habit of performing a fecal at least once a year. Peregrine advises horse owners to discuss the right parasite control program with their vet to be sure they are following an individual program that is right for their horse. Rotation of deworming products (not just switching brands but switching drug classes) should not be the only point of conversation. Environment and stage of life plays a key role in determining what measures can be taken to keep the parasite population in check. And of course, the starting point is a fecal exam to learn if the egg count warrants action. If the fecal egg count is high – another exam two weeks after deworming will let the horse owner know if what they are doing is working.

~ Information provided by Equine Guelph

Equine Guelph thanks Vétoquinol for sponsoring this new video.