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Vet Tip of the Month

January 6, 2006     E-mail this page to a friend!

Equine Health Care
Bayer "Your Horse's Health"

The Bayer Vet Tip of the Month presents a new equine health tip each month from Dr. Kenton Morgan, Bayer Veterinary Services. The information presented here is intended to provide guidelines and basic information on equine health care topics and is not a substitute for advice from your own veterinarian. For the best care of your horse, follow the recommendation of your own veterinarian.

January, 2006

Warning Signs

This time of the year many of us spent much less time with our horses. This is normal and is usually attributed to the colder weather, shorter day length and other activities competing for our time. Though our horses are typically doing less and enjoying a well deserved winter break—it is important we take the time to properly observe them everyday.

The following are “common sense” to most of us but are still worth reviewing. Horses, like our children, are pretty good about telling us when something is bothering them, by changes in their behavior. Some of these common signs include:

• Decrease or change in appetite: Any time a horse quits eating or abruptly decreases their feed intake—this should be investigated. If your horse is in the barn and does not begin to eat immediately after feed is offered (unless the horse has a history of being a “slow” or “finicky” eater), this merits your attention. This is also true for horses in a pen or pasture that are fed hay. If they do not come up to eat in their “normal” or reasonable time—we need to find out why.
This could be an early sign of a number of medical problems. This certainly does not mean a life threatening ailment is at hand but a good horse owner will try to determine if there is a problem.

• Change in water intake: depending on the source of water for your horses, you may or may not be able to determine the amount of water your horse consumes. In a pasture with several horses this may be impossible. But certainly in a stall or barn setting it is easy to observe the water intake. Again any abrupt change in the amount of consumption could indicate there is a problem. Typically we are most concerned if a horse decreases its water intake but an abrupt increase in water consumption can also indicate something is wrong.

• Horse separates itself from the others in a group: Horses are herd animals and if a horse isolates itself from herdmates, which can indicate there is a problem.
Your horse is sweating for no apparent reason: Not a common occurrence, but definitely a cause for concern.

• Horse seems to be laying down more than normal: Horses spend the majority of their time on their feet. If your horse frequently lies down or lies for long periods of time—you should check it out. The two most common reasons for a horse to spend more time laying down are, colic or painful lameness such as laminitis.

• Change in the stool: If the stool is very dry, this could indicate the horse is not drinking enough. If the stool is quite loose or watery, this can indicate a problem with the digestive tract, particularly the large intestines.

• Obvious changes in attitude: General depression may be the most common sign that your horse is not feeling well. If you go to the barn or pasture and your horse doesn’t display its “normal” personality, check it out.

Other signs are more obvious and should of course be investigated such as; reluctance to move, obvious pain when they do move, kicking at their belly, looking at their flanks, holding “up” a leg or foot, drainage from the nose or eyes, or any type of bleeding.

If you suspect a problem with your horse, get them up and look them over carefully. Take their temperature; every horse owner should have a rectal thermometer. The normal temp for a horse should be around 99 to 101.5 degrees. Listen to the horse breath and record their respiration rate, which normally should be 10 – 16 breaths per minute. Be sure to take the heart rate also, which in the resting adult horse is typically 28 – 40 beats per minute. Look at the eyes and roll up the lip and look the color of the gums. The gums should be moist and pink. Push on the gum with your finger, hold for a second and then release. The area under your finger will be pale and then should return to a pink color in less than two seconds.

If any of these parameters are outside of normal, it is time to call your veterinarian. Be ready to relay these vital signs and any other observations to them. He or she can then determine if a visit is warranted and what you can do until they arrive.

In summary, any change in the normal routine, attitude or appearance of your horse should be investigated.