“Winterizing” for Horses

Winter is one of my favorite seasons when it comes to horses. I know that may be an unpopular opinion, everybody reading this is thinking “but it’s so cold and soggy, you have to break ice on water buckets, the ground is hard, and yuck it is actually snowing!” But what winter brings to mind for me is the best feeling of swinging into a cold saddle on a fresh horse, the blessing of the hounds on the opening day of foxhunting season, and let’s not forget dressing horses up for Christmas parades! Whatever your feeling on horses in winter, we always get a few questions that I thought I would address. How to minimize risk of colic, what is the “right” blanketing strategy, and do we need to be concerned about our horse’s feet when it snows?

1. Colic: A horse can colic at any time of the year but we definitely tend to see a few more in the winter, this is often attributed to horses not drinking enough water which sets them up for impactions (obstructions of the GI tract). Horses also often aren’t moving around as much or are stalled for longer periods of time.

To encourage horses to drink more water, water trough heaters are always a great idea. Make sure to get the correct kind for your trough, but these are great for keeping water at a comfortable temperature. If it gets cold enough for ice to form be sure to break and remove the ice chunks from the top. Some horses are willing to make their own holes in the water but others aren’t and we don’t want to give them any more excuses than they already have in the winter for not drinking. For my own horses I also include a dose of equine specific electrolytes once daily in their feed, again to encourage water consumption. This will help keep everything moving smoothly.

And lastly, even though it’s cold, keeping your horse moving will keep their GI tract moving as well. So remember to give them as much turnout as possible, or if they are being stalled for long periods take them out for a couple 15 minutes hand walks per day.

 

2. Blanketing: A topic which I’m sure has started a few wars in the past. I think the right answer, as with so many things in the horse world, there is no one right answer. Individual horses have different responses to the cold. My family has a draft horse that was raised in Iowa who could care less when it is 20 degrees outside, but we also have a half Arabian and I swear if it drops below 40 she better have a blanket on or you will walk out in the morning and the pasture will be full of freshly dug holes as punishment, her go to response for being chilled.

There are many helpful charts online to use as a guideline. A general rule of thumb is if your horse has  full winter coat and is in good body condition I wouldn’t even start considering a blanket until it is 25 degrees or below on a clear day.  If they are calling for precipitation then start considering blankets at 35 degrees. Old, thin, or clipped horses require blankets at warmer temperatures since they don’t have their natural defense system. Always remember to apply blankets to clean, dry horses.

 

3. The dreaded “S” word – Snow: Whether you love it or hate it snow always adds a little extra work to our daily routine for our hooved friends. Trudging through snow to feed has always been fun for me….for about 5 minutes, then it loses the appeal and I realize my feet are cold, the pastures will be a mess, and now we have to worry about somebody turning their ankle on a snow ball attached to the bottom of their foot. This last part tends to be just a concern for horses in shoes, so if you don’t ride during the winter, your horse has good feet, and no lameness issues that require a shoe to be on constantly then consider letting your horse go barefoot during the time of year that we expect there to be the most snow. Otherwise here are some tips to keep the snowballs to a minimum.

Ask your farrier about anti-snowball pads to be applied in conjunction with your horse’s shoes. These are pads which help push snow out of the hoof area with each step. The only caveat to these is you must be diligent about keeping your horse’s feet and environment clean as pads, which can encourage a wet warmer environment, can predispose your horse to developing thrush.

The only other remedy I have had any luck with is applying Vaseline to the bottom of the hoof, ideally done at least twice daily and not as effective as the pads, but it still should help limit the build-up of snow/ice balls. You can also plan to stall your horse during a snow storm or run out and pick out their feet several times a day. Sorry there is no easy answer to this one! Pick which solution works best for your farm and stick with it!

 

I hope these tips will help you enjoy winter with your horse as much as I do with mine! Happy Holidays!

Dr. Rebecca Bacon

A Verklempt Moment

It’s funny the things that impress you when you’re young, or at least uninitiated.  I was a barn rat in middle school and high school and I especially loved to be at the stable when the veterinarian was there. Over the years, I watched veterinarians draw blood, administer vaccines, float teeth, and perform pregnancy checks. I watched them treat colicky foals and suture up lacerations. I marveled at the veterinarian’s calm and confident manner as she came and went from her well-supplied vet truck, discussed cases with my trainer, and wrote prescriptions in her neat handwriting. But, somehow, the skill that really awed me was my vet’s ability to firmly and easily stick her forefinger and thumb into the creases of my pony’s eyelids and hold that eye wide open for evaluation and treatment. I couldn’t for the life of me imagine being able to do that myself.

Cut to the present day, sometime around this past Thanksgiving. I am alone in the practice’s vet truck, driving back from a barn. It is dusk and the scene is beautiful, with muted greens and blues and purples spread across the fields and the sky. Christmas music plays on the radio. I am returning from a call to see a horse that had come in from the field with one of his eyes swollen shut. During the appointment, I had done a complete physical exam, then diagnosed a painful scratch on the horse’s eyeball and prescribed treatment.

Driving along, humming to the music, and savoring the view, I suddenly become teary-eyed as a strong current of emotion runs through me.  I think about my middle school self, watching the vet work on my pony, and I think about what I just did for my own equine patient: I firmly and easily stuck my forefinger and thumb into the creases of the horse’s eyelids and held that eye wide open for evaluation and treatment. Not only that – I then discussed my treatment plan with the owner, calmly and confidently climbed into my well-supplied vet truck, and drove away into the sunset.  As I drive, the emotions that are tugging at me are a mixture of nostalgia, contentment, and gratitude. I think about how lucky I am to have become the person that I once dreamed of being.

If only middle school me could see me now.

Dr. Katie Spillane

Six degrees of separation: what okra and worms have in common

It was meant to be an idyllic vacation in sunny southwest Florida. We – husband and I, left pets and the Pennsylvania winter behind for a week of fishing the mangrove flats.  Days and nights were all blissfully the same.  Days consisted of breakfast (coffee, grits) and fishing all day (the fish gods were with us, plentiful redfish, snook and perch).  Evenings started with cocktail hour (pickled okra and tonic drinks), and finished off with a delectable filet of that day’s catch.  The weather was sunny, humid and breezy, the smells of Florida such a welcome change to concrete rooms and exhaust fumes.  The stresses of vet school and living in the busy city quickly faded to a dim memory.

Until……

One morning the husband seemed pretty blue.  Didn’t even finish his grits.  It was unnerving.  Before I could ask- whatsa matta with ya? He leaned across the table and softly whispered words no one could imagine:

“Lizzie, I think I have worms”

WORMS??

A miserable semester of parasitology came barging back from my altered reality.  What kind of worms?  Nematodes? Flukes?  We had been eating fish, maybe we didn’t cook it enough.  I asked all the questions an enthusiastic over-achieving doctor should ask: does it itch?  Burn? What do they look like? Are they wiggling or egg like? Flat or round?  I continued to describe every type of internal parasite I could remember. I even got to say “maybe you have macrocantharincus hirudinacious,” which I knew was impossible because it is a pig worm, but I just love to say the word and I wanted to sound smart and scary.

The husband was not impressed and wondered if he should go to the doctor.

“You mean not go fishing today??” I squealed and wailed.

That was not ok with me. Leave it to the husband to ruin a perfectly good vacation by getting worms. Now it was time to think rationally and save the day.

“It’s a weekend and there is no way we are going to get this fixed today. You have no symptoms, so let’s go fishing and worry about this next week”.  Reluctantly he acquiesced.

In a few hours our worries were forgotten in the summer sun and sparkling blue water.  The okra and tonic drinks were delicious. Maybe it was a bad dream.

Until the next morning.

As a scientist, I have insatiable curiosity….

I wonder if I have worms too?  Won’t hurt to check…….

The litany of cuss words from the bathroom could be heard next door.

#**¥*#. “I have the worms too!”  ##%**€#

The husband tried to calm me, but this was serious. And all his fault. He got them first. So we did what any parasite infested person on vacation would do: went fishing.

 

Cocktail hour arrived too soon. I was afraid to go to the bathroom. So far no serious symptoms. Maybe the tonic drinks would kill the interlopers…

The husband took a bite of his umpteenth pickled okra. The broad smile on his face and chortle shocked me. “What do you have to be so happy about?”

He showed me the guts of his okra: it had worms too!!!

 

Vets are People Too!

Hello everyone! I am so happy to have joined such a great practice and I am enjoying living on the Bay with my husband and our dog Chief, a lab mix who is the perfect dog; as long as you don’t leave bread on the counter, a full trash can, let him socialize (read fight) with other dogs…OK he’s not perfect but we love him anyway! We’ve wandered the Eastern Shore, eaten crab cakes and even have some Old Bay in our pantry. Chief had his own plans of welcoming us to the area however. Just a few short weeks after moving we woke up at 4 o clock in the morning to him suddenly being so congested that he could not breathe through his nose and was opening his mouth with every breath. All I had on hand was some allergy medication and a pain medication which helped him some but he was still quite miserable a few hours later, necessitating a trip to VMC, on one of my first days off since starting work of course!

As anybody who lives with a veterinarian can attest to, we love our work and can do so many different types of procedures on many species, but ask us to do a physical exam on our own dogs and we absolutely quiver with fear! Our own Dr. Bruce was kind enough to fit us into her busy schedule and worked with us over the next few weeks as we tried to get Chief sorted out. We tried stronger allergy medicine, stronger pain medicine, two different antibiotics but nothing helped. We finally came down to the decision of having to pursue further diagnostics under general anesthesia, a fact which I had been trying to avoid.

All of the same questions run through our heads as it would yours. Do I want to accept the risks of general anesthesia? Do I want to know if there is cancer present? What if we go through all this and it doesn’t work, if he doesn’t feel better? Then what? But, as happens most of the time, my worries were laid to rest. We were as prepared as we could be. Clean pre-operative bloodwork, clean pre-operative chest x-rays and an excellent team in place. Dr. Bruce and our wonderful technical staff babied Chief as if they were his own, and kicked me out of the surgery suite so I couldn’t stand there and worry. His x-rays came back clean, he had his nasal passages flushed,  had a mass removed and, as a  bonus, got his teeth cleaned. He has been feeling and breathing great ever since! He must have just wanted me to get familiar with the hospital and the excellent team that works here.

I wanted to share this story so that everyone would know, just because we have this knowledge, these skills, and the white coat does not mean we don’t share your fears and know exactly how you feel when we ask you to trust us with your beloved pets. Don’t be afraid to tell us you are worried. Don’t be afraid to ask for more information. We will do everything we can to make you comfortable and make sure your pet is as prepared as they can be for their road ahead in hopes of the best outcome possible! I look forward to meeting everyone and their pets and becoming a part of this wonderful community!

Rebecca Bacon, DVM

Equine Coronavirus

What is Equine Coronavirus?

Equine coronavirus (ECoV) is well known as a cause of gastrointestinal disease in foals.  However, recently this virus has been linked with intestinal diseases in adults.

What are the clinical signs of ECoV?

Infected horses tend to develop high fevers (>103oF), inappetance, dullness, and lethargy that may last two to four days with minimal treatment.  Some horses may experience soft manure to diarrhea with mild colic signs such as flank watching and/or lying down.  In rare cases, ECoV may lead to translocation of bacteria from the intestinal tract and lead to serious complication like septicemia, endotoxemia, and encephalopathy.

How is ECoV transmitted?

ECoV is spread horse to horse by manure-to-mouth. Both symptomatic and non-symptomatic horses can transmit the virus in their manure for three to four weeks that may lead to clinical disease.  Research is ongoing to assess sources of outbreaks.  The disease is highly infectious and appropriate biosecurity measures are essential during an outbreak.  Although many horses may become infected (high morbidity) overall mortality is low.  The virus is suspected to live in the environment for up to 72 hours.

How is ECoV diagnosed?

Gold standard for diagnosis of ECoV is submission of manure sample for PCR testing for presence of the virus genetic code.  Such testing may take several days to perform thus treatment is started prior to confirmed diagnosis in many cases.

How is ECoV treated?

Main goal of treatment of ECoV is supportive care for the clinical signs displayed such as IV fluids to avoid dehydration, medication to reduce fever such as Banamine®, and gastrointestinal/anti-ulcer protectant medications such as BioSponge® and Gastroguard®.  Close monitoring for laminitis and preventative measure of deep bedding and/or hoof padding is recommended.

How to limit spread during an outbreak?

Strict biosecurity measures must be established.  Affected horses must be kept separate from unaffected horses. Separate barn equipment must be used when handling/treating sick horses.  It is recommended to handle sick horses last and limit the overall traffic occurring in/out of barn during an outbreak.  Veterinarian grade disinfectants are required to inactivate the virus.

Denise Newsome, BVSc, MRCVS, DABVP(equine)

Food is Love, but so is Quality Time

by Dr Maddie Scofield

As the air becomes crisper and the holidays creep around the corner I become increasingly excited about many things associated with season changes.  Most important for me is food.  I’d be lying if I told you Halloween candy has not constituted over 80% of several meals earlier this November!  As I think back on delicious memories of previous holidays, my throat tightens as my belt loosens at the thought of those extra 5-10 lbs. I will gain during these times of love and food.   Which bring me to my main topic of discussion, the concept of food as love.   Food is given and shared as a gift of friendship, fellowship and sympathy during all types of celebrations, family events, and holidays.  Food is love for us as humans to humans but also as humans to our beloved four legged companions.

I would be lying to you if I told you I never give food (i.e. people food) to my animals.  I fondly remember sharing a soft serve ice cream cone between me and my dogs in the Mc Donald’s parking lot one afternoon.  It was a happy moment in a sad time, as it was just after our Labrador “Abbie” had her chemo treatment for cancer.  In the middle of our gastronomic bliss I hear following words emanating from the car parked next to us: “I bet your veterinarian wouldn’t approve of you feeding your dogs that ice cream!”  These were words coming from a concerned busybody in the neighboring car.   I couldn’t help but bellow a response: “Well…..I am my dogs’ veterinarian.  Besides, they ran 3 miles today and this one is dying of cancer…. but thank you for caring!”  The interloper immediately rolled up their window and resumed eating the not so healthy junk food.

I understand the concern that you may have feeding your dog “people food”.  There is the likelihood your veterinarians at VMC are going to chastise you for feeding your dog anything but pet food and pet treats.  But what joy and happiness we feel giving them something they love!  Feeding homemade snacks from the farmers market…….watching that reward center of the brain light up as they smack peanut butter from the roof of their mouth, or eat meat drippings on their dry kibble.  There is no doubt that food helps bond us to our pets and patients.

Unfortunately, all these extra treats can bring problems.  There is the ever increasing concern for weight gain, and with this obesity can come other health problems which can severely impact the quality of our pet’s lives and their longevity.  That’s why this year I’m promising myself to try to light up the reward center in a more healthy way!  I’m sure we will indulge in snacking, but this year I plan to pursue moderation in the indulgence!  The same will go for my beloved 4-legged friends, and I encourage you to do the same.  Your dog can have a tiny taste, but remember they don’t need a huge portion.  A taste will often satisfy your need to give in and share as well as avoid the food coma or overload lethargy from a true gorge of indulgent calories (i.e. “Thanksgiving”).  It will also help prevent the inevitable gastrointestinal ailments we see in dogs after the holidays.

I’m going to put effort towards another, perhaps more rewarding way to bond with my pets this holiday season: we are exercising together!  This exercise will induce natural endorphins and give us the quality time we need together.  Our companions get the most reward from just being with us, especially when we are active with them.  A 10-15 min sojourn around the block will not only help slim our waist lines and invigorate our mental health, it will also strengthen our human-animal bond.  My challenge for all of us is this: for every extra snack or treat we eat, we must be more active, and take our pets out for a “sniff” walk or game of catch, while we enjoy this beautiful time of year.  I’m hopeful that this holiday season is magical, and that you and your pets will enjoy this time together even more with more activity and exercise!  If you have any questions about breaking the rules…you know where to find me, just don’t tell your veterinarian!

p.s. – I’ve made it to the gym 3 times in the past week!!

“H-O-R-S-E”

To most of us, spelling that word is not a huge accomplishment however, to a four-year old boy learning the alphabet saying that word aloud was very significant; certainly, worthy of a treat after school.

I used to practice that word every day as my father drove me to school in his old black 4×4 GMC. We would drive past the different horse farms in Elkton, MD pointing out the many color variations.

I was so proud when I actually spelled “HORSE”. And since that time, horses were an important part of my life. I remember my first pony, Buttercup. He was a little miniature Shetland pony that I eventually outgrew. Then I took riding lessons in Fair Hill. I never did any shows or competitions outside of trail riding, however I simply loved everything horse!

My parents and family encouraged this love buying numerous books, games and figurines. In fact, I remember (and my mother recalls this tale well) my first toy horse.

We were on a family vacation at Disney Land in Orlando Florida. I don’t remember much of it; however, I do remember having to wear a leash on my wrist so my parents could find me (I was a very active child) and sitting in my blue stroller when I got tired.

One afternoon, we visited the Budweiser horses. I remember the powerful animals sitting calmly there in their stalls letting numerous people walk by and stroke their flaxen manes.

Of course, I asked my mother, father and aunt if I could have a horse. And they said “Why, YES! Of course I could have a horse!!!” So, they all took me to the gift shop and bought me my first horse; a plastic horse that is. And boy, did I love my horse! I carried him with every day that vacation until the second to last day, when I couldn’t find him.

I was beside myself! As my parents recall vividly, I cried and cried until my face was beat red then I cried some more until I couldn’t cry. My parents tried to get me numerous replacements that day! They offered me cotton candy, ice cream, a trip to Mickey Mouse and even another stuffed horse; however, nothing worked.

As they tell the story, after they saw my sobs sinking into depression, they had to go all the way back to the gift shop across the park to buy me an exact replica of my Clydesdale horse that I had carried around with me for the whole week. This time, my parents decided to buy two horses,  just in case something ever happened to one on the ride home.

Finally, I could sleep at night having my horse.

After that time period, I always knew I wanted to be a veterinarian, and for all kinds of animals too.  My experience with my own pets has helped me be a better vet.   When I was in high school, I got a Chesapeake Bay Retriever who had a variety of different aliments; everything from hypothyroidism to a torn ACL.   I also had a cat with kidney failure that was a handful to manage.  While in veterinary school, I leased a horse, Spud, so I could expose myself to problems horse owners dealt with on a regular basis.

A career in veterinary medicine was always in my future, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Robert Campbell, DVM

 

Horse People are Born, not Made

I remember the day well.  Four years old, my first pony ride at the zoo, it was the most fun ever!  I had to wait two long years until my first real riding lesson.  It was at a heads up heels down riding academy, George Morris style.  I worked hard the next 12 years for every ribbon, and tried hard to try to get to know and understand horses.  What are they thinking?  Why do they do what they do?  How can I communicate better?  Eventually I figured out if I was honest with them and explained what I was doing, I was able to fabric a sort of communication with horses, though Buck Brannaman I was not.  So I rode horses and treated sick horses and was feeling somewhat like I had arrived.

For almost ten years the husband put up with this horse infatuation.  I would try to get him involved, with no luck. “Overgrown dogs” he called them.  “Nothing but money pits”.  But it was uncanny when one of the students or interns called about a sick or colicky horse. “How much reflux?” He would ask.  Or “did you walk it and give banamine?”

On occasion he would stroll through the barn full of sick horses and sneer, “What good are they, nothing but hayburners!  I wouldn’t give a nickel for one of these beasts” he brayed, until he saw Ada.  She was a gorgeous Belgian mule, smart and trained to the nines.  When her owner whispered “whoa Ada,” she planted all four feet and didn’t move a muscle, let alone flick her tail.

This mule?  Why a mule?  Sure, she was cool and well trained, but why would he choose her as his favorite equid?  Why not of one of the lovely paints, quarter horses or warmbloods?  It was inconceivable and totally beyond me.  Then he proceeded to tell me why mules were far superior to horses; he knew all about their attributes and sturdiness.   I never knew he even thought about mules….  “If I had an equine, it would be a mule!” He claimed. I was shocked.

Two years later we were living in rural Georgia.  Free time after work and weekends was spent trail riding with friends.   The husband sees what a great time we are having and feels a bit left out.  One morning over breakfast came the ultimatum: “I want to start riding.  It looks like fun.”   “What?  How? You don’t know how to ride!” I reminded him.  He was completely nonplussed. “Not a problem.  It doesn’t look that hard.”  So before I knew it he had borrowed Beau for the summer, a 14 hand blonde coonhunting mule, tack and all.

And…. off we go trail riding. I tried to give helpful tips about his seat; I reminded him to keep his heels down….but he would emphatically tell me to shut it.  “I need to figure this out on my own!”  Funny though, I never needed to say a word about his hands.  Most beginners bounce all over the place, and their hands bounce with them. Not his; they were always quiet and low. He was frequently heard cooing to Beau. It was uncanny and annoying. What were they talking about?  How can he communicate with him so well?  What had taken me years to master he picks up in a week.

We all knew there was no doubt about his gift the evening we were out on the trail too late.  The sun sank behind the lake, we were all enjoying the dusk, when suddenly it got pitch dark. I mean so dark you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. We were an easy mile from the trailers through a narrow woodland trail.  We all started to panic- how to find our way home?

“Never fear!” shouts the husband.  “Beau and I will get you all home safely!  Follow us!  Put your hands on their withers,  give ‘em their heads, and let’s go!”  Before we knew it we were crashing through brush and back on the trail.  We did as we were told, and made it to the trailer all safe and sound.  No one ever told said husband how to ride again, or questioned his knowledge and ability.  I guess horsemen are born not made. As it turns out, his grandfather ran a thoroughbred horse farm in upstate New York.  The husband never met his grandfather Matthew Linn, but I reckon he did inherit those horseman genes……

Dr. Elizabeth Bruce

10 Reasons Why I Still Love Veterinary Medicine

2015 is the 30th anniversary of my graduation for veterinary school.   I am one of the luckiest people in the world to be able to practice my passion every day.  After 30 years, I am surprised and delighted by my profession.  So today, here are ten things that still amaze and delight me every time I see them (not necessarily in any order…)

  1. Every year brings a new technique, knowledge, or procedure that improves my ability to care for animals. We can offer so much more now than I did 30 years ago.  I love learning.
  2. Seeing a newborn foal and still being amazed on how it ever fit in the mare and how it can straighten out legs that have been bent for 6 months…
  3. Watching cows run in a field- they always look like they are having so much fun – even if they aren’t true athletes!
  4. The people I work with all share the same compassion and commitment to improving animal’s lives. I am such a lucky person to have the staff I do.
  5. How fast sheep can move when you are trying to catch them – who knew?
  6. The amazing healing powers of cats – the old  veterinary saying that you can put the two ends of a bone in the same room and a cat will heal is really  true.
  7. How ferrets “flow” instead of run. They almost slither.
  8. The fact that newborn guinea pigs look just like tiny adults and can eat solid food as soon as they are born.
  9. The ability I have to end suffering and relieve pain, painful as it is, is a gift that I am privileged to share.
  10. And finally, the love and devotion that people share with their animals is truly humbling. I know how I feel about my pets, and I get to work every day with people who share that.

Here’s to the next 30 years!

Elizabeth H. Bruce, VMD, DACVIM

Spring is Here!

It has been a long and dreary winter that has seemingly had no end. I for one am ready for spring. The sweet smell of fresh cut grass, the chorus of peepers singing in the night, and the sense of wonder watching the bluebirds return to their birdhouse to raise their next brood; it is all just around the corner.

However, it is predictable how the seasons bring back unwelcome problems in our pets as well. The return of seasonal allergies is as anticipated and expected in many pets as the first blossom of forsythia. Many pets will start to display symptoms at the exact same time each year.  There are quite a few options available to relieve allergy suffering in pets. Dogs will often manifest seasonal allergies, also called atopy, with itching. Very often licking, biting and chewing of the feet marks the beginning of signs. Redness, inflammation and irritation between the toes can lead to painful infections and continued self trauma leading to lameness and lethargy. Identifying the symptoms early and talking with your veterinarian about what treatment options would be best for your pet will help prevent this condition from escalating to a vicious cycle of constant chewing and scratching, chronic swelling and inflammation, and help to relieve the suffering of this unwelcome springtime guest.

Dr. Dean Tyson