Saddle Up This Spring with a Horse That’s Healthy
A handful of tips to ensure your horse is happy and healthy this spring
DULUTH, Ga. — As the weather warms, it’s tempting to get back in the saddle as soon as possible. It’s been a long winter and horse owners are eager to ride on their favorite trails. But, horses require seasonal care that shouldn’t be overlooked. Dr. Scott Hancock, DVM, Equine Professional Services Veterinarian at Boehringer Ingelheim sheds light on a few key insights for spring care.
Here are four tips to keep in mind as you prepare your horse for spring activities:
Vaccinate and Evaluate
As many regions in the U.S. are approaching mosquito season, spring is the ideal time to vaccinate against mosquito-borne diseases, including Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE), Western Equine Encephalitis (WEE) and West Nile Virus (WNV). Other vaccines such as Equine Influenza, rhinopneumonitis, strangles, rabies and tetanus should be included as directed by your veterinarian.
Communication with your veterinarian regarding the use of relevant, updated vaccines is a key component in optimum equine herd health management. Routine oral exams for dental problems as well as fecal exams for parasites should be considered as a part of a spring health evaluation.
Watch for Late Shedding
"Longer days in the spring often influence coat shedding," says Dr. Hancock. Horses that are slower to shed, compared to their herd mates, may warrant a physical exam performed by a veterinarian and lab work. A lack of shedding may indicate a clinical sign of pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID), formerly referred to as equine Cushing’s disease, an endocrine disorder that affects the horse’s pituitary gland. PPID is one of the most common diseases of the endocrine system that can affect horses.1
A full list of the clinical signs of PPID can be found at http://idppid.com/.
Keep an Eye on the Weather
April showers bring May flowers, but they can pose a serious health risk to your horse. A tree struck by lightning or damaged by heavy winds during a spring storm can easily lose a limb. With certain species of trees, as the leaves start to wilt, they can become toxic to horses. Trees such as Wild Cherry or Red Maple, among others, bear leaves that can wilt and become a threat. It’s important to be familiar with the trees and plants on your farm and if they are toxic to horses or other animals. Ask your veterinarian, based on your region, what plants to watch for.
Spring grasses can cause problems for your horse; such as the onset of laminitis, equine metabolic syndrome, or even excessive weight gain. A spring diet that is high in non-structural carbohydrates may be a drastic change from a stalled diet of hay. A spring health checkup poses an opportunity to consider a grazing program with your veterinarian and even discuss forage, both hay and pasture, and practical ways to balance the diet to assure adequate nutrients, minerals and calories, if needed.
Equine practitioners often stress the need for active management on the intake of lush spring grasses. "I’ve conducted spring checkups for more than 20 years, and nearly every week it seemed that we would see a case of founder resulting from unmanaged intake of lush spring grasses," says Dr. Hancock. "When spring showers begin and lush grass starts growing, it can result in lots of problems." Dr. Hancock recommends using caution in the amount of time your horse can graze. Sometimes horse owners will mow the pasture to reduce the amount of lush grass that is available, or use grazing muzzles to reduce the intake.
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