VMC’s Top Tips for Winter Horse Care
The risk of impaction colic increases as the temperatures drop and horses drink less. The average horse (1000lb) needs to drink 10-12 gallons of water per day. In winter we feed dried feeds such as grains and hay which are much lower in water content than grass. Because of this your horse is going to need to drink more water.
Keep horses’ water between 45- and 65-degrees F, provide salt, and keep waterer clean.
Lower temperatures mean additional dietary needs in order for horses to maintain adequate body temperature. Feeding more grain is not enough to keep your horse warm. Feeding additional hay increases fermentation and keeps your horse warm. The lower the temperature goes the more hay they need.
Without shelter horses can tolerate temperatures around 0 degrees F, with adequate shelter they can withstand temperatures as low as -40. Providing shelter such as a run in will help keep your horses warm, dry and comfortable for the winter.
Horses benefit from exercise in the winter, whether that is from riding or from adequate turn out. The important thing to note if riding in the winter is to be sure to adequately cool your horse down. Avoid riding in deep snow or in icy conditions.
- Hoof care
Horse hooves do grow slower in the winter but regular trims are still necessary. Regularly picking out feet is necessary as hooves are prone to packing “ice balls” and this can make it difficult and dangerous for horses to walk
Dr. Caitlin Hutcheson, BVMS
It is believed that between 50-90% of adult horses and 25-50% of foals may have gastric ulcers. In adults ulcers are more common in athletes, particularly racehorses and show horses; while in foals those that may be sick or are orphans and are fed less frequently than when they have access to the dam are at a higher risk for developing ulcers.
Why are ulcers so common in horses?
Athletes are usually fed large meals two to three times daily and stalled at least part of the day for management purposes or because of weather/bugs/etc. This management style may lead to ulcers for several reasons; a horse’s stomach is smaller than most other species and is designed to have an almost continuous intake of forage. Constant intake of forage helps to neutralize the acid that the stomach is continuously producing. Mechanical aspects of exercise can cause enough pressure in the abdomen such that parts of the stomach can be exposed to acid for prolonged periods of time. Transportation and chronic administration of NSAIDs such as bute or banamine also contribute to gastric ulcers.
What signs might a horse show if they have gastric ulcers?
The clinical signs associated with gastric ulcers can be quite extensive and include:
Not performing well
And many others
How will we diagnose ulcers?
The only way that we can diagnose gastric ulcers definitively is by performing a gastroscopy, which involves passing an endoscope into the horse’s stomach and evaluating the stomachs lining. This procedure is not invasive and is relatively easily done.
Preventing and treating ulcers
It is unlikely that the majority of us will stop riding, hauling and competing, but there are certainly steps that we can take to prevent ulcers. Free choice hay or pasture is a great way to buffer stomach acid. Reduce the amount of grain your horse is being fed and increase the forage if possible or break grain feedings into more small meals and increase the forage at each meal. Alfalfa can help reduce the risk of ulcers for those horses that may have it. Also try to limit the use of NSAIDS. There are several products on the market that may help to prevent gastric ulcers these include Purina Outlast and SmartPak SmartGut Ultra to name a few.
There is only one FDA approved treatment for gastric ulcers and that is Gastrogard, which you can get from your veterinarian after having your horse evaluated for ulcers.
In the coming weeks we will be posting articles on our Facebook page that will further delve into equine gastric ulcer syndrome.
Caitlin Hutcheson BVMS
More in depth information is available here:
They say “you should never look a gift horse in the mouth,” but you should definitely have your vet take a look. There is a lot of valuable information that you can gain about a horse from looking at its teeth and the inside of its mouth.
Why worry about dental care for my horse?
It is important to have your veterinarian be involved in your horse’s dental care from the time they are young through their adult life. Horse’s teeth are hypsodont meaning that they continuously erupt throughout their life. Horses only get one set of teeth, and these days many horses are living well into their 30s, so quality dental care is extremely important. As the teeth erupt and the horse chews its food, over time the teeth can develop sharp points, teeth can become loose or fall out and other teeth can over grow or erupt incorrectly, potentially causing some major issues. Many malocclusions, or misalignment of teeth, can start when the horse is very young even as early as about two and a half years old when the horse’s permanent teeth begin erupting. This is why it is so important to have your veterinarian involved in the oral care of your horse. Over the lifetime of the horse these malocclusions can cause major problems. If we catch them when the horse is young, we are better able to correct or manage the problem.
What does “comprehensive oral exam” mean?
We start by performing a thorough physical exam on your horse to evaluate overall health and determine if it is safe to give the horse a light sedative. Sedation is used to help relax the horse and its strong jaw muscles and allows us to place a speculum in the mouth. Warm water is used to rinse the mouth to remove left over feed and hay so that we can better visualize the oral cavity. We look for signs of inflammation, ulcers, foreign bodies and wounds. Each tooth is examined and palpated to determine if there are any malocclusions, missing or loose/fractured teeth or periodontal disease.
After evaluating the horse’s mouth, your veterinarian will explain their findings and make a plan with you based on these findings and recommend future exams and the need for floating. In most cases a routine float will be performed, in other cases more advanced work will be necessary. It is even possible that no action at all needs to be taken. It is important to note that not all conditions can be corrected in one visit.
Why should I have my vet perform dental exams and floating and not an equine dentist?
Many equine dentists do have a degree of training; however, they are not licensed veterinarians so they are unfortunately not held to the same standard of care or of liability. If there are any concerns from the owner about what was done, the quality of the work or the outcome, there may be little recourse as there are no governing bodies for lay dentists at this time. Legally, only veterinarians can administer sedation, diagnose, create a treatment plan and oversee it. It is important for horse owners to be educated on this issue to make the best decisions on who you choose to have work with you and your horse in all aspects of their health care.
Dr. Caitlin Hutcheson, BVMS
For more detailed information please visit
Photo credit: Kirsten Jackson of Dental Vet
Photo Credit: Caitlin Hutcheson, BVMS, of Veterinary Medical Center
Aged horses are becoming a larger portion of our country’s equine population; many of these horses are still being used for riding, showing or as companion animals. Our standard of veterinary care for this population, especially regarding vaccines, is changing due to recent research.
Just as we see with elderly people, horses experience aged related changes in immune function. This decline in immune function is known as “immunosenescence.” This population of horses is less able to resist infection and may not respond as well to vaccines. This is because immune cells in the horse may be blunted or dysregulated leaving them vulnerable to disease. We don’t know exactly why immunosenescence occurs but studies suggest that some of the immune cells become exhausted from exposure throughout the horses life, they stop replicating, and become less responsive over time. Other factors that can contribute to an impaired immune response are chronic disease, age associated inflammation, stress and nutritional status. These factors decrease the ability of the immune system to respond appropriately to vaccination, which can lead to increased incidence of disease in this age group.
So what does this mean for vaccinating older horses?
Some studies have shown that the response to some vaccines in aged horses is less robust than seen in younger horses. Vaccines are only effective if the horse’s immune system is competent and vaccine strategies may change as a horse ages and their risks change.
At VMC we want to tailor each patient’s vaccines to their individual needs using their age, exposure and other co-factors. A study published in the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science found that using a combined vaccine for West Nile and EWT (Eastern/Western Equine Encephalitis/Tetanus) caused a decreased immune response to both the West Nile vaccine as well as the EWT vaccine. Due to this research we currently recommend splitting the West Nile and EWT vaccines into two separate injections for geriatric horses rather than vaccinating with the combination West Nile/EWT vaccine.
Please don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions.
Caitlin Hutcheson, BVMS
I see a lot of horses, and I see a lot of owners who want to make sure their horses are being fed well. However, I also see a lot of confusion as to what my horse SHOULD be eating, and a lot of incorrect assumptions. For this reason, I will be presenting a series of blogs on equine feeding. If you have questions please email me at email@example.com.
How do I pick the right feed company?
Selecting the right feeds for your horses can be a time consuming and often confusing task. There are multiple options – low starch, high performance, mare and foal, ration balancer, high fat… It makes your head spin! And the manufacturers, the list seems endless…
To help to narrow down your choices, here is a checklist you can use to help find companies that make high quality, safe, and consistent horse feeds.
Horse dedicated manufacturer
Only a handful of feed manufacturers run a horse dedicated mill. Being horse dedicated means that the risk of anything that could be harmful or even deadly to horses like ionophores (monensin), or antibiotics is eliminated. IF a feed isn’t coming out of a horse dedicated manufacturing facility it is immediately put onto my ‘no’ list. There have been catastrophic mix ups in mixed species mills that have resulted in the deaths of many horses over the years so it just isn’t worth the risk. Choose ones that have dedicated mills.
Set recipes for feeds
There are two main ways a feed can be formulated and made. These are:
- Least cost mixing, where the energy, protein, vitamin and mineral levels of the feed are set but the manufacturer can choose from any number of ingredients at hand to make up the feed at least cost to them; or
- The use of set recipes where the energy, protein, vitamin and mineral levels AND the exact ingredients used are never changed.
To work out which method your feeds are currently being made by look at the ingredients list. Feeds made by least cost will have a statement something like ‘Ingredients selected from’ or ‘contains grains including…’ or they will list obscure ingredients like ‘vegetable protein meals’ which can be anything. Because of the way they are made, least cost feeds can have widely varying protein quality and starch contents from batch to batch which is not ideal for horses.
Choosing products from companies that make feeds using set recipes guarantees you a more consistent, higher quality product.
Protein quality and quantity
The quality of protein used in a feed is a major determinant of how well a horse does on that feed. Look for feeds that list high quality protein sources in the ingredients with soybean meal and full fat soybean being the most desirable followed by cottonseed meal, linseed meal (not linseed oil), brewers grains, distillers grains, alfalfa, and corn gluten. When choosing feeds, ask your manufacturer if they run any sort of testing for protein and what their protocol is for ingredients and feeds that don’t make the grade.
Independent laboratory testing
A company can write anything they like on their feed label with regards to the analysis of the feed. While most companies do a good job of this, some don’t, so it is a good idea to ask if the company regularly has its feeds tested by an independent laboratory to verify the contents of its horse feed. These results should also be made readily available to you on request if you wish to see them.
Further, horse feeds contain a high percentage of mineral ingredients including limestone, calcium phosphates and trace mineral premixes. These raw materials can be contaminated with heavy metals like lead, cadmium and mercury so it is also worth asking whether your feed manufacturer tests raw materials and their finished feeds for heavy metals. Their answer should be yes and they should have strict guidelines controlling their maximum allowed heavy metal levels.
While there are many other considerations when selecting horse feeds including cost, level of customer service and how well a feed fits your purpose, using the four criteria discussed above will help to narrow down your choices from 60+ companies to just a handful. Once you have your shortlist you can then move on to the finer points for the final selection of feeds for your horses.
That will be in our next blog… Stay tuned!
Dr. Elizabeth Callahan
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
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.
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”
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!!!
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
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)
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!!