Foal Abnormalities

Foal Abnormalities

Tuesdays with Tony

Boy oh boy, or maybe I should say girl oh girl… Nope that’s not it either. Foal oh foal, that’s it! I swear it’s been raining foals at the clinic. We’ve had at least one foal a week in and out of the clinic, and that doesn’t count the ones that are just here with their dam while the dam is getting re-bred. It also doesn’t include the ones we have seen on the farm. It’s been foal madness. And we love foals! They remind me of my kitten days when I was full of life, bouncing around all the time, causing trouble for everyone. Gosh, those were the good old days. Foals, as you all know, are usually feisty little boogers with the energy we all wish we had. However, as always with horses, foals have their own set of problems that can end up in life-long issues and may even be life threatening if not addressed quickly.

Angular Limb Deformity

Angular Limb Deformity (ALD) in foals is a relatively common problem that occurs within the first few months after birth. ALD causes a foal’s leg or legs to deviate from midline. They may angle in or out, or in some cases, both in and out. Most frequently affected joints are the carpus (knee), fetlock, and hock joints.

ALD is most commonly caused by incomplete ossification of the cuboidal bones of these joints. This means the small bones that make up the joints have not developed completely prior to birth. Incomplete ossification can be caused by placentitis, colic, metabolic disease, and/or premature birth. Similarly, after birth, if a foal has tendon and/or ligament laxity, they are prone to developing ALD.

I’m sure you’ve seen your fair share of fancy performance horses with crooked legs, and trust me, so have I. However, it’s important to address ALD in a foal while the opportunity exists. There’s a small window of time that ALD can be addressed and potentially fixed, resulting in “normal” limb conformation. This is extremely important because any deviation from “normal” conformation can result in a lifetime of joint pain and arthritis, starting at a very young age.

Mild ALD can be managed early on with bandaging, corrective shoeing, exercise, or in some cases, restricted exercise. Each case is different, and your veterinarian will definitely want to assess the foal and take radiographs to determine the best course of action. If conservative treatment is not effective, it’s possible that surgical intervention may be necessary. Surgery is not without risk, and it’s essential that you, your veterinarian, and your farrier are all working together on your foal. Really, that 3-way team should exist for every horse all the time, but that’s a different blog.

Once ALD has been diagnosed and treatment started, frequent check-ups from your veterinarian will be imperative. It can be a long, tiring, expensive road, but it’s worth it to end up with an as close to “normal” foal as possible.

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Wry Nose

Wry nose, what a funny term! What the heck is a wry nose? Basically, wry nose is the most extreme deviated septum you’ve ever seen, and multiply that times about a million, and then put it on a horse’s face. Horses are born with wry nose; it’s not something that develops over time, or shows up later in life. It’s a rare condition, and the cause of wry nose is unknown.

Cases of wry nose can be mild to severe. Mild cases in foals typically do okay, but may struggle to nurse, and occasionally these can grow out of it. Severe cases risk the inability to nurse at all, difficulty breathing (these can both be fatal), and failure to thrive. It’s recommended that foals be examined within the first 24 hours after birth. During this examination the veterinarian will be able to establish if a foal has a wry nose and what the best course of action will be to fix it. They will also be able to ensure the foal is nursing well and received appropriate colostrum after birth.

If you want to read more about wry nose, and see some crazy cool pictures and radiographs of the malformed bone structures, check out this paper

Mouth

When your veterinarian comes out to examine your new foal, they’ll stick their fingers in the foal’s mouth. This is important, as it allows your veterinarian to recognize any abnormalities with the foal’s mouth. Occasionally a foal will develop a cleft lip or cleft palate during embryonic development. It’s necessary for your veterinarian to find this as it can cause difficulty nursing.

A cleft palate is dangerous in foals, as it allows for an open passage from the mouth to the nostrils which puts the foal at risk of inhaling milk as it nurses. Inhaled milk will result in aspiration pneumonia which is life threatening to the foal. Mild cases of cleft palate and lip can be managed with surgical correction, but severe cases do not do well with or without surgery and humane euthanasia should be considered.

Cases of parrot mouth and sow mouth are seen more frequently in ponies and miniature horses than in regular horses. That being said, both parrot mouth and sow mouth can and do occur in horses of all breeds and sizes. A horse with a parrot mouth has a lower jaw that is shorter than the upper jaw and is known as brachygnathia. Correction can be attempted when the foal is young. Whether the abnormality is corrected or not, a horse with parrot mouth will absolutely require regular dental care by your veterinarian.

Similarly, a horse with sow mouth will need frequent dental assessments and treatments by your veterinarian throughout its entire life. Sow mouth, or prognathia, is an undershot jaw. This is commonly seen in dwarf miniature horses and Arabians. It can lead to severe dental problems if left unaddressed. Foals can have difficulty nursing, and as horses get older they can have difficulty grazing. However, with appropriate supportive care, foals with either parrot mouth or sow mouth can go on to live very normal healthy lives.

If I’ve learned nothing else, I’ve learned that foals are delicate little flowers and require immediate attention if anything appears to be abnormal. Skeletal abnormalities such as we have discussed just barely scrapes the surface of problems that foals can have or develop. Here is my friendly reminder to always have a good relationship with your veterinarian, and rely on them for directions on what is best for your mare and foal.

Until next week,

~Tony

P.S. Now that you’ve absorbed my cat wisdoms for this week, take a minute to poke around the rest of my website. Aside from my amazing blog, there’s a lot of other really useful stuff on here. Videos, the podcast, books, our Wellness Plans, all kinds of good stuff. This is my gift to you.

 

Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!

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Fitness for Horses

Fitness for Horses

Tuesdays with Tony

Fitness. By far, not my favorite topic to discuss. My idea of fitness is moving from inside the clinic to outside, and maybe jumping up on the bench to sleep. This is acceptable for me since I’m a cat, rather than a horse who has a human imposing work expectations upon them. I would never bow to external pressures to do something like work. Those external pressures are important to understand if you’re asking your horse to do a job. The number one place injuries happen is at the point of fatigue. This week, let’s talk about how you know you’ve got your horse fit enough.

Start Slow!

This is a statement I can really get behind. If the fitness journey is just beginning, or if you are trying to assess where your horse is on the fitness scale, going slow is never the wrong answer. Slow can mean two things. 

First: literally slow. Add walking to your horse’s schedule. Thirty minutes of walking builds fitness without pounding on tendons, ligaments, and joints. Now, when I say walking, I mean walking like me heading to the food bowl, not me heading to my spot under the bush in front of the clinic to take a siesta. There’s a difference between ambling and walking with a purpose.

Second: add things slowly. There’s two ways to add stuff. You can add time, and you can add skills. Always add one at a time. For example, add a 3-minute trot set for two weeks before saying, “Ya know, starting piaffe this week sounds great.” 

How Do I Know It’s Going Okay?

As the saying goes with you humans, that’s the $64,000 question. Though with adjustment to current pricing from 1955 levels, it’s a $686,576.72 question. That is an appropriate use of Google, by the way. Way better than asking Google what you should do with your colicky horse. 

The answer is, there are several ways to know your fitness program is progressing. First, how does your horse feel when doing their job, and at the end of doing their job? For example, you had noticed Spot was really tired at the end of a weekend showing Dressage. That last day took all you had to get impulsion, relaxation, and all those other things Dressage judges go on about. With your new fitness program, how is that last day feeling? This is the ultimate test of a fitness program. Does your horse feel good doing what you wanted? If not, back to the drawing board to increase the work. 

A great way to determine fitness level is heart rate. This can be done with all sorts of fancy gadgets these days. However, it can also be done with a cheap stethoscope! Ask your horse to do the job you’re asking. If you’re a show jumper, ask them to jump an entire course, maybe even add in a fake jump-off. Don’t skimp. Do the level you are looking for! Immediately upon finishing, take a heart rate. Now wait 2 minutes and take the heart rate again. The heart rate should have dropped below 100 beats per minute (bpm), and should be below 60 bpm after 10 minutes. 

Temperature. This isn’t a straight-up indicator of fitness, but it can be important. There are lots of factors that go into a horse’s temperature. Fitness and the ability of the cardiovascular system to get rid of heat are a component. However, the temperature outside is also a really important factor. The important thing about temperature is to monitor it. It should go down, but it may take a while. For most horses, it should be back down to the 101F range by an hour after intense work. Racehorses may take longer, and I thought this was an interesting horse thing, their temperature may go up after they are done racing. Weird.

If you want to get super scientific, measuring blood lactate is a really, really great way to measure fitness. Lactate meters are very easy to use, and only a small amount of blood is needed to test. It’s kind of like my glucose measuring device for my diabetes. If you want to get super into fitness, talk with my Docs about lactate monitoring. 

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Sport-Specific Tasks

Every discipline with horses asks different fitness questions. It’s incredibly important to modify your horse’s fitness routine to answer those questions. If your reiner needs to collect, and extend, and hold their shape in a stop, then you’ve got to work on that. Dressage horses, especially at the upper levels, need so much core strength. You better work on that! Not to mention all that collection puts stresses on tendons and ligaments. They need to be ready for that stress, and not just thrown into it. This is where great trainers, riders, and veterinarians can help you. Having them help you identify sport-specific tasks and exercises to build strength and endurance is vital!

Don’t Forget the Human

Remember, you have to be fit to do the job, too! An unbalanced rider asking a horse to stop, turn, collect, jump, or any of the other things you ask puts that horse at a huge injury risk. Horses try hard to be good to you humans. Trying to lay down a slide while you’re hanging off the side puts extra stress on all the parts involved. Do your part. Work on your fitness, too! 

Fitness is hard. It’s designed that way. Need help evaluating your horse’s fitness? Want help designing a fitness plan? Call my Docs. From heart rate monitoring to lactate levels to soundness and competition readiness, they’re here to help you and your horse.

Until next week,

~Tony

P.S. My docs have some great fitness exercises over on our YouTube Channel. If you aren’t subscribed to that, you are missing out on some excellent video content! New videos come out all the time, so make sure you’re plugged in.

Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!

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Bugs and Horses

Bugs and Horses

Tuesdays with Tony

Before I get started, I have to share a distressing interaction I had last weekend. A client was at the clinic with an emergency, and while the doc was working on her horse, the client asked me if I was still writing my blog, because she hasn’t seen it on Facebook lately. I’ll tell you the same thing I told her: Stop right now, scroll down to the purple box at the bottom of the page, and put your email address in there so you’ll get my blog every Monday. Facebook doesn’t employ a single cat, so they can’t be trusted to deliver important things like this blog. Or anything else, really. Over 3,000 people read my cat wisdoms every week, but only about 650 of you are subscribed. That’s reckless living, if you ask me. I’ll stop writing for a minute so you can go subscribe without missing anything.

Okay, on to other business. 

Dr. Lacher recently became a published academic author with the book, Pests and parasites of horses. She’s pretty much famous now. Well, she already was, what with the podcast and the YouTube videos, but now it’s a trifecta. I asked if she would autograph my copy and she said yes, so that made for a good day. I’m not sure how, as a cat, I’m going to read the book, but it will make a nice place to nap. Since it’s getting warm out, and the bugs are moving from low-level annoying to full-on Florida crazy, I thought I’d take this opportunity to chat with you humans about bug facts, fiction, myths, and legends.

What Bug Do You Have?

This seems like an easy question. For example, flies. We have flies, the black kind, you know the ones that are around horses, and every picnic basket. Not so fast! Even with your average-looking fly, there are a bunch of options! To start with, there are stable flies, house flies, and lesser house flies. Then add latrine flies, horn flies, canyon flies, and face flies. 

They all basically look the same, but if you want to get rid of them, you’re going to need different things to attract and catch them. If you have a pest bugging you, catch it. Don’t eat it like I do. Save it. No matter the type of bug, this will allow you, or your friendly neighborhood bug expert, to identify the critter so you’re targeting the right thing.

Where Does It Live and Breed?

Now that you know what kind of bug you have, you can target where more of that bug is made. Maybe. We’ll get to that. Targeting where bugs breed is the best way to manage numbers since adult bugs don’t live very long, no matter what they are. If there aren’t any babies, there aren’t any replacements, and adult numbers will go down fast! This works well for things like stable and house flies. These guys live near manure, or wet areas with lots of organic debris (think end of the wash rack). 

Identifying these locations and targeting them for treatment will make your fly problem go down in a hurry. However, this isn’t always possible. Sometimes it’s the neighbor sending bugs your way, or for some bugs, it’s simply impossible to control where they breed. For example, horn flies (see picture) need cow manure to breed, but they can then fly 5 miles to get to your horse and annoy them. You won’t be able to manage their breeding grounds unless you can control where the cows poop in a 5-mile radius around your farm. 

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Gnats, those tiny bugs that everyone HATES, are also the worst when it comes to breeding ground management. Gnats like “sandy soil with an organic component.” In other words, any horse farm where horses poop, or eat hay, or generally add organic things to the soil. I will refer back to the previous section again. Start with, what bug do you have? so you know where to start.

Straight-Up Killing Them

Okay, you’ve got something like gnats where you can’t manage breeding grounds, so death to the bugs is the route to take. Once again, let’s start with what bug do you have? Let’s go horse flies and other big ol’ biting flies like deer flies. Knowing that the bug you’re combatting is horse flies or deer flies helps you know how to attract them to their death. These kinds of bugs like dark things that move a bit if possible. This means those dark beach ball-looking things with a net around them (see picture of one you can buy from Horse-Fly-Trap.com) will sway in the breeze, attracting the bugs who will then fly into a catch container and die. This doesn’t work for mosquitos, gnats, or bot flies. This is why you always have to start with, What bug do I have?

Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic

Don’t Touch Me!

So, we can kill the breeding grounds, and we can kill the adults, but what if neither of those works well? For example, with mosquitos and gnats, there’s just too many of the things, and they can breed just about anywhere! You simply can’t kill them all. This is where you have to go with repelling and avoiding. 

Again, know what insect you have, so that you have the right repellant and avoidance tactic. For example, mosquitos have preferred times of the day. If these are your problem, keeping your horse inside or in a different area for certain times of the day can massively reduce their exposure. If you think that repellant didn’t last long to keep mosquitos away, you’re right. There isn’t a repellant available that keeps mosquitos away for more than a few hours. There are, however, a wide variety of fly sheets on the market, and these work well to keep all manner of pests away from your horse just by having one on. 

They have an added benefit: you can spray these with long-acting fabric permethrins and repel bugs for even longer. Fly sheets and masks have an additional added benefit of coming in a wide variety of fun colors and patterns so that your horse can be bug free and a fashionista. Win-win!

A Word on Repellants

Okay, more than a word. If you’ve often thought that fly spray doesn’t work, you’re right. It really doesn’t work for long. Fly sprays (some) work great to temporarily repel bugs while you ride, or while your veterinarian works on your horse, or the farrier does their feet. None of them work well for hours and hours. Also, some bugs, like horseflies, don’t even acknowledge the existence of a repellent because they don’t find their prey that way. 

Know what doesn’t work? Barn fly spray systems. They only cause the flies to fly away while the spray is going, and it allows them to learn how to resist the chemicals in the sprays by showing it to them multiple times per day. Oh, and also, do you want to spray chemicals in your horse’s face all day, everyday? I’m putting a link here to a fun article by the other Dr. Erika, Dr. Erika Macthinger, about fly sprays and which ones worked the best. 

If you want the too long, didn’t read answer for the study: EcoVet fly spray did way better than anything else! Pro Tip: use a tanning mitt to apply it, rather than spraying it.

And Another Word on Feed-throughs

I hear my Docs get asked about this on a regular basis. In the United States, there are a few feed-through fly control options. These can be a great way to manage flies if you simply can’t fully control the breeding grounds. Resistance can form to these products as well, so they work best in a full-on fly killing program. 

Bugs are super annoying. I like to chase the odd house fly here and there. Any more than that and I’m checking in with my minions about pest management. Speaking of my minions, my Docs, and particularly Dr. Lacher, can help you manage your Pests and Parasites of Horses problems. Give the Clinic a buzz and they’ll set you up an appointment. Then you, your horses, and, most importantly, your cats, can be happier!

Want to purchase an amazing resource for pest management? Here’s the link to buy the book.

Sources I’m close to say it’s fantastic.

Until next week,

~Tony

P.S. There’s a pretty good video over on my YouTube Channel about managing flies. As a matter of fact, there are a lot of good videos there. Make sure you subscribe to the YouTube Channel, now that you’re subscribed to my blog. All of this amazing horse knowledge will make you a better horse owner, and that makes my life as a Clinic Cat easier. Everybody wins!

Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!

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Twins: Double Trouble

Twins: Double Trouble

Tuesdays with Tony

This past week has been a busy one at the clinic for me. All my paddocks have been full, and all my stalls occupied. I’m exhausted, but it’s been very rewarding to see all the foals frolicking in the paddocks. We are well into breeding season and have been performing pregnancy check after pregnancy check. These appointments are stressful yet rewarding. As the doctors are scanning the uterus looking for one little black dot, the suspense could be cut with a knife. As a cat, I can feel it as the mare’s owner, the doctors, and the technicians wait, then I hear it: the cheers that mean that a little black dot has been found! It’s heartbreaking when the dot isn’t found. And maybe even worse than not finding the black dot is seeing two black dots.

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Twins

Double the dots does not mean double the fun. Two black dots on a pregnancy check means that there are two embryos developing, and two embryos means twins. Unlike many other animals, twins in horses is not a good thing. Fortunately, the development of two embryos is not super common, but when it happens, it’s important to know early on. That’s why my doctors always highly recommend a pregnancy check 14 days after known ovulation. There’s a very narrow window to deal with twins. Between days 14 and 20 of pregnancy is the only time that twins can be managed without major risks. We’ll talk about management of twins while in-utero and what can be done to ensure the birth of a single healthy foal, but first let’s discuss what happens when twins are not managed in-utero.

At your mare’s 14-day pregnancy check, your veterinarian will thoroughly examine your horse’s uterus and ovaries via transrectal ultrasound to find a pregnancy and ensure that only one embryo is found. If two embryos are found, the suggestion will be to “crush” or “pinch” one of the embryos. A mare’s uterus is not capable of carrying two healthy foals to term. The likelihood of a mare having twins that survive to foaling is extremely rare. If a mare does foal out twins, it’s unlikely that one or both of the twins will survive for more than a day or two.

If twins are not detected between 14 and 20 days of pregnancy, aborting the pregnancy becomes one of the options early on. To do this, a medication is administered to the mare which gets rid of the Corpus Luteum. The Corpus Luteum produces progesterone which helps maintain a pregnancy. Once the Corpus Luteum is gone, the embryos won’t be able to survive. After 150 days of pregnancy, the Corpus Luteum no longer holds the pregnancy and endometrial cups take over to provide progesterone and maintain pregnancy. If twins are not detected until after 150 days of pregnancy, aborting one or both of the fetuses becomes extremely difficult and dangerous. Transabdominal procedures are performed to abort a fetus, which puts the other fetus as risk for abortion as well.

Incomplete Ossification of Cuboidal Bones

If a mare carries twins to term and both survive, it’s likely that they won’t be developed completely. Despite being born full-term, when twins are born, they come out as premature foals. One problem that premature foals have is lack of bone development. More specifically, the small bones of the carpus (knee) and hock do not develop before birth in premature foals and in this case, twins. During the development process in-utero, the cuboidal bones in the carpus and hock start off as cartilage and turn into bone in the later stages of development.

When twins are born, their bones usually aren’t developed, and they have a significant amount of cartilage present in these joints. If foals were like human babies and laid around all day, having knees and hocks made of cartilage wouldn’t be an issue because they wouldn’t be holding up 200 pounds on cartilage alone. When the weight of a foal is placed on cartilage, it crushes the cartilage so that when bones develop, they’re misshapen and will develop arthritis before the foal is even a few months old. As you can imagine, this leads to a very painful, difficult life for the foal from day one.

Lung Development

To go along with the prematurity of twins is the lack of lung development at birth. The last thing to develop before a foal is born is their lungs. That’s why we never induce foaling unless we absolutely have to. When twins are born and have premature traits, one of the largest concerns is their lung develop (or lack thereof). When their lungs are not developed appropriately, they can’t get enough oxygen to survive. Without supplemental oxygen they will not thrive, not grow, and will be prone to illness.

Other Developmental Issues

Because twins have to share a placenta that can’t fully support them completely, they are born small and are more prone to developing illnesses. Being small in stature makes nursing difficult and increases the risk of developing aspiration pneumonia. They may require an indwelling feeding tube and being fed every few hours via the tube. The mare may not develop enough colostrum to supply both foals with enough antibodies to supply them with a strong immune system. When a twin does not get enough colostrum, they require treatment with intravenous plasma to ensure they have appropriate antibodies to fight off diseases and illnesses. Twins will require intensive treatment, they often require hospitalization, and they are not easy. Moreover, they are not cheap.

Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic

The moral of the story is, have your brood mares monitored early, monitored frequently, and appropriately cared for should twins be found on 14-day pregnancy ultrasound. While it might seem like you are getting more bang for your buck if twins are found, listen to your veterinarians and their recommendations if twins are found. It is, in fact, a life or death scenario for the foals and the mare.

Until next week,

~Tony

P.S. If you’ve ever read any of my post scripts, then you know about the Podcast and the YouTube Channel, and you’ve subscribed to both. You’ve also probably already scrolled down and subscribed to my blog. So, really, you’re plugged into all the things, and absorbing horse knowledge in every way that I have to share it. Pat yourself on the head, and give yourself a treat, becaue you are a good human.

Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!

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Coggins and You

Coggins and You

Tuesdays with Tony

From my view at the front desk, I have determined that an awful lot of you are here for something called a Coggins. I have concluded that this is a test of the ability of my minions to take a picture of a horse with its ears forward. The shenanigans that go on to try to get decent photographs of a horse amaze me. Apparently, there is also a blood test involved, but that seems to be the easy part of this process.

But I also hear a lot of you saying, “My horse doesn’t go anywhere, he doesn’t need a coggins”. I see some folks refusing the Coggins test because they think they’re always negative and the disease has been eradicated. Sometimes, I’m asked what Coggins disease is (spoiler, there’s no such thing, so read on below). Once in a while, I even hear someone say they need to get their horse that Coggins shot! There are a lot of misconceptions around this test, so read on for words of wisdom from this horse-wise cat.

What exactly is a Coggins?

A “Coggins” is a blood test that detects antibodies to the disease Equine Infectious Anemia (EIA). The EIA virus causes horses and donkeys to have fevers, low red blood cell count (anemia), swelling, weight loss, and eventually destroys the immune system. EIA is related to the virus that causes HIV in humans, although EIA doesn’t cause any disease or pose any risk to people.

Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic

The disease is spread by biting insects, usually horseflies and deer flies, something you know we have plenty of here in Florida. Horses that are infected with EIA are carriers of the disease for life, and there is unfortunately no treatment. Sometimes, a horse can be positive for the disease but appear healthy. That becomes a serious problem, because the infected horse then serves as a source of disease transmission to other horses. If we don’t run a Coggins test, we may not know he’s spreading the disease. Because EIA is spread by the bites of flies, your horse doesn’t even need to come in contact with the infected horse, just the bug that bit him. And flies travel to your farm, even if your horse never leaves the property. There’s no vaccine against EIA, so unfortunately there’s no such thing as a “Coggins shot”. 

How do you fight what you can’t find?

Prior to the late 1960s there was no way to even test for Equine Infectious Anemia. The Docs of that era (mine weren’t born yet), had no way to tell other than time. Outbreaks were tough to control because horses could be normal for so long before showing symptoms, and even then, those symptoms were the same as many other much less serious viruses. From the first report of the disease in the United States in 1888, there were frequent outbreaks. Racetracks and breeding farms were often hit hard since it took time to recognize the presence of the disease. An outbreak at a racetrack in 1947 caused the death of 77 horses before it could be brought under control!

A breakthrough in testing

So why is the EIA test called a Coggins? Because it’s named after the vet who developed a test – Dr. Leroy Coggins! Dr. Coggins was a veterinarian as well as a virus researcher in the 1960’s and 70’s. He worked out a way to test for EIA based on his research in Kenya on African Swine Fever. The Coggins test was approved by the USDA in 1973 and it’s been in use ever since. Horses could now be tested to determine if their fever was caused by EIA. The State of Florida was the first state to make a negative Coggins test mandatory for horses being sold or raced. Many of the Gulf Coast States were quick to follow, since the lovely hot, humid weather in these parts is great for the spread of EIA. It quickly became mandatory for horses traveling anywhere, for any reason.

The Coggins test has caused a massive reduction in the incidence of Equine Infectious Anemia! In 2017, there were 80 positive horses in the United States. In 1975 that number was 10,371. That’s a huge difference, so we are grateful to Dr. Coggins!

So why does your horse need a Coggins test?

While it’s true that the Coggins test is legally required to travel across state lines or to enter showgrounds or public trails, it’s so much more than just a travel permit or a form you need just so you can get a health certificate. Yes, most boarding facilities require it, and you’ll need it if you plan to sell your horse. And if you are ever forced to evacuate to a safer place because of a weather event like a hurricane, you’ll want to have your coggins ready to go!

But here’s the most important reason to get that Coggins test…though the numbers of positive horses have decreased since the 1970’s, EIA certainly hasn’t been eradicated. The disease remains active at low levels throughout the US horse population. It’s really important to continue testing and identify infected horses that may not be showing signs. That’s our best defense against large outbreaks happening again, so we can keep our horses protected.

Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic

In addition, federal, state, and local governments look at Coggins test numbers to estimate the number of horses in an area. This is how they help decide to spend money on local horse projects. Need an upgrade to your local State Park’s horse trails? Use Coggins numbers to show how many horses are around to use those facilities! 

There are other hidden things that happen as a result of Coggins tests. First, a veterinarian gets at least a brief look at your horse. This is so important, and I’m often appalled at the number of people who don’t value it. Having my Docs take a look and evaluate your horse yearly can help you head off major issues by addressing them when they’re minor. From teeth, to feet, to nutrition, to skin problems, the Docs can often offer quick, simple fixes in the early stages.

I know Coggins tests can be a bit of a pain. Who hasn’t been ready to go somewhere only to realize their Coggins expired yesterday? It’s always yesterday, never tomorrow. But if it means your horses get to live longer, happier lives, it’s a very small price to pay.

Until next week,

~ Tony

P.S. If you really want to get in the weeds on EIA and Coggins testing, the humans did a podcast about it, and went way more in-depth than I have the time for. Sleeping twenty hours a day is hard work. Anyway, you can find that episode and all the others over on the Podcast Page of my website. And if you don’t know about our podcast, it’s called Straight from the Horse Doctor’s Mouth and it’s the best way to become an expert on equine health as a horse owner. And it’s free. For a cat, I’m very generous.                        

Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!

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Summer Prep for your Horse

Summer Prep for your Horse

Tuesdays with Tony

You all know how much I love laying around outside basking in the sun, but the last few weeks have been a muggy mess! This past weekend gave us some relief, but that was just a tease. Winter’s gone and summer has arrived, along with all those fun Florida summer things that horses and horse owners get to deal with. Fortunately for you, I’m an expert on summer and the problems it can cause for your horse, and I’m here to help you prepare for a happy, safe summer ahead.

Heat and Humidity

You don’t have to live in Florida to be affected by the heat and humidity of summer. Horses throughout the entire world are affected every year by anhidrosis, which is the inability to sweat. The cause of anhydrosis is unknown, but humidity does seem to play a role. If you know that your horse is a non-sweater, I highly recommend getting a jump start on helping them deal with it before the heat of summer.

There is excellent data on acupuncture treatment for non-sweaters. I’ve seen it myself; a horse comes with difficulty sweating, they have a few acupuncture treatments, and while they may not be in a full-blown dripping sweat, they are indeed sweating. I’ve also noticed that non-sweaters who are treated with acupuncture really seem to handle the heat much better. It is complete voodoo magic in my opinion, but it’s voodoo magic that works.

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You may not know if your horse is a non-sweater yet, and that’s okay! At the first sign that your horse is shutting down and not sweating, call your veterinarian. They can talk to you about treatments, products, and lifestyle changes that may make your horse’s life as a non-sweater easier.

Horses that don’t sweat aren’t the only ones that struggle with the heat, and it can be exhausting. That’s why it’s so important to be aware of the appropriate times to work your horse. Early in the morning and late in the evening tend to be the coolest. It can also be beneficial to hose your horse down prior to exercising. An extended warm up and cool down will ensure your horse recovers well after exercise, thus preventing problems associated with heat stress.

An overheated horse is prone to colic from dehydration. They can also collapse from overheating. Believe it or not, horses can overheat even if they are not doing any type of exercise. That means a horse could be standing out in his favorite pasture and get overheated. Ensuring there is fresh cool water available, ample shade, and if possible, fans, can be extremely useful in preventing a horse from overheating. I’ve even heard stories about horse owners setting up sprinkler systems for their horses to stand in during the day, and those silly horses do, and LOVE it. Whatever floats your boat, I suppose.

Bugs

I know how much you all just love the bugs. Flies and mosquitos are just great, aren’t they? How about gnats? And oh, my goodness, it’s literally been raining caterpillars recently. Flies and mosquitos are a year-round thing down here in Florida and are enough to drive any horse and horse owner bananas.

If you’ve ever had a horse that’s had a summer sore, you know what I mean when I say they are a pain in the rear end. Preventing summer sores is key. I highly recommend your horse wear a fly mask, if not 24/7, at least during the day when the flies are most busy. Feed-through fly supplements such as Solitude IGR or Simplifly reduce the number of flies present on a farm. The trouble with these supplements is they have to be fed to every horse on the property and if there are horses nearby on surrounding properties, they should also be on it. It has to be a collective effort from the horse owners in the area.

Fly predators are one type of bug that I really like. These little bugs are so useful in reducing the fly population. Most struggles with fly control stem from damp organic material being left unattended. Damp organic material such as wet shavings, poop bits, and old hay and grain that is swept out of the barn but left at the end of the aisle is the fly’s favorite breeding grounds. Simply raking up debris will help reduce the fly population. For more tips and tricks about fly control, give me a call, I have all kinds of suggestions up my sleeve.

Three hundred sixty-five days a year, mosquitos are present. Unlike flies, there’s not a lot that can be done to reduce the number of mosquitos. However, getting rid of stagnant water is definitely useful. More importantly is making sure your horse is protected against mosquito-borne illnesses such as eastern and western encephalitis and west nile virus. These illnesses are life-threatening. Having your horse properly vaccinated is extremely important for prevention. This means having your veterinarian vaccinate your horse with properly stored vaccines at least twice a year. Did you know that if a box of vaccines is left out on the loading dock at your feed store, they might not be effective? And there’s no way to tell. Vaccines have to be kept at a very specific temperature, which your veterinarian knows, but the guy at the feed store might not. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Now, who do I talk to about these darn caterpillars? I swear I can’t get any rest without one of those things falling on me. Most of the time I wouldn’t care about the caterpillars, but recently the ones I have been encountering have been extra spicy. Have you noticed the ones with all the hairs poking up? Those are the spiciest of all.

Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic

Caterpillars usually aren’t much of a nuisance to horses, but these hairy ones certainly can be. I’ve seen horses stick their nose in their feed buckets take a bite of feed and then run away and refuse to go back to it. I always like to inspect things, so be sure to check your horse’s feed and water buckets for these pesky critters. And use caution when removing them to avoid getting stung yourself!

Wet

The rain is coming. We might need a little bit of rain right now but halfway into summer, I can already hear the complaints about the rain. With rain comes a myriad of feet problems. From abscess to mushy foot to thrush. Wetness can cause your horse to come up lame at just the wrong time. Planning to go to a show? Trust me, your horse is probably going to get an abscess or develop mushy foot and be foot sore. I’ve seen it a million times.

Prevention is key. Have your farrier out on a regular schedule, usually every 4-6 weeks. Apply topical hoof care as directed by your veterinarian and farrier. And do not allow your horse to stand in mud, muck, and water all day long. This will damage your horse’s feet, and while I love seeing you all, I really do, I hate hearing that your horse’s feet hurt.

With rain and wetness comes the dreaded rain rot. No, rain rot isn’t a fungus, it’s a bacteria that infects your horse’s hair follicles and causes that nasty, greasy, gunk on their back and legs. Making sure your horse has ample time to dry after a wet spell, reducing hair length, and frequent bathing with CK shampoo will help reduce the occurrence and severity of rain rot. My docs know all the best products to combat rain-rot. Just call them, they won’t steer you wrong.

It’s not all bad

Summer isn’t all bad! The days are longer, which means you get more time with your horses, and who doesn’t love that? If you want to have a long, enjoyable summer of time in the saddle with your horse, prevention is key. Regular veterinary exams and being prepared before summer hits are essential to both your happiness as well as your horse’s happiness and comfort.

Until next week,

~Tony

P.S. Want more? Check out my YouTube Channel! I’ve got seminars on rain rot, foot care, flies, and a lot of other topics. I’ve got how-to videos on all kinds of things. I mean, who takes care of you better than this cat? You can show me some love by subscribing to my blog, or my YouTube Channel, or my Facebook page, or to the Podcast that the humans do. I even have an Instagram and a Tik-Tok, if you can believe that. Just click on any of those blue words to go check it out.

 

Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!

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Seniors, Horses and Human

Seniors, Horses and Human

Tuesdays with Tony

Time keeps on ticking no matter how you humans feel about it. Your horses get older, and, gasp! so do you! There are some things you should consider about older horses and some things you should definitely be thinking about for adult you. Not all of it is fun or easy to talk about, but it’s necessary, and as your great cat guide to life, I’m here for you.

Retirement (the horse kind)

Enjoying horse sport is great! You feel the wind whipping, you spend hours practicing timing, balance, and all the horse things. Your horse learns your language and you learn theirs. In my extensive cat experience this goes great as long as that horse is doing some level of horse activity. Maybe they go from running barrels every weekend to trail riding lightly, or they drop down from a more competitive version of a sport to something easier. 

What happens when none of that is possible any more? Often a lot of the care for these horses stops as well. I get it. It’s not on purpose, it just sort of happens. When the humans don’t open the door for me when I’m asking, I start asking a lot louder until they can’t ignore me. This isn’t how horses operate, though. They continue grazing and doing horse things, even though their feet haven’t been trimmed or their vaccinations haven’t been given, or their teeth haven’t been checked, until one day they can’t do it anymore. 

Retirement for these guys should mean less work, but not less care. My docs will often discuss what care may no longer be necessary now that your horse isn’t traveling or working. However, the basics like good hoof care, and routine health care are still incredibly important! In fact, these things will allow your retired horse to live a longer, healthier life AND cost you less while doing it. Regular dental care allows older horses to keep their teeth functioning, which means they can eat normal hay and grain longer, which means lower feed bills. Regular foot care means helping them move around better, and catching problems like laminitis early so they can be managed before they’re a big deal.

Speaking of retirement: Plan on retiring that horse of yours. Don’t look for the free to a good home option as a way for you to get rid of them. Provide a happy, safe place for your older horses. They worked for you for a long time. They deserve it. My Docs could tell you about numerous horses who have been given away to people who didn’t know enough about senior care. These horses ended up skinny, and in horrible circumstances. And don’t get me started on the cheap auction side of things. You’ll see this cat on a soap box real quick.

Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic

Wills, trusts, and paperwork in general

Alright, we covered the horse, now let’s talk about you humans. No one is getting out of here alive. Having a plan to take care of your animals should something really bad happen to you is pretty important. I get it. No one wants to think about, deal with, blah, blah, blah. You have to! There’s some important stuff to think about. 

First, get an attorney to help you with the paperwork. There are some do-it-yourself options available, but the advice of a lawyer who specializes in wills and trusts will help you avoid some common pitfalls. Remember, they do this all the time, and they’ve seen many of the ways it can go very, very wrong, and the ways it can go right.

Second, it may be necessary to have different plans for different critters. You know you have more than just a horse. There’s usually a dog or cat or chicken or all of the above in the mix. This likely means you have a plan for the smaller critters, and a different plan for the bigger critters. 

Third, make sure there is money to help your plan stay in place. You know horses are expensive. Also, cats like me prefer a high standard of living. I’m not one to settle for any old cat bed. I will also require a butler to open the door, then close it, then open it again. Anyway, funds. This is where a lawyer can prove their value. Setting up trusts so that your animals have a funding source will ensure they continue to live the life to which they have become accustomed thanks to your excellent care. Lawyers can also help set this up so that money goes to the animals and not the humans involved in the care. 

It’s not fun to think about one’s own demise, but the wise cat plans for it. It makes life much easier for those left behind, both animal and human.

It’s also no fun to think about growing older in general. Spend some time basking in the sun on a warm day, and think about how you would like the plan to look. Then write down an outline of a plan for you, and your horses, and all your other critters you know you have. Think about a long term plan for your current horses when they’re no longer performance horses. Where will they live? Do you have space? A little thinking time goes a long way. And if you need some guidance, ask my Docs. Their mission is to make the world a better place for horses, after all. 

Until next week,

~Tony

Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!

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Breeding Older Mares

Breeding Older Mares

Tuesdays with Tony

Getting older is really tough. Every day it seems like some other body part is aching or something else is sagging. I’ve heard the humans talking about it forever and now, unfortunately, I’m starting to feel it myself. Since we’re in the midst of breeding season, I thought it would be appropriate to discuss the senior mare you wish to breed. Quick reminder, breeding is not for the faint of heart, even when everything goes absolutely perfectly. Which is basically never.

Age

Think about people for a second. Yes, I know, people are gross, but indulge me. What is “peak breeding age” for people? Twenties to early thirties, right? This does NOT mean twenty to thirty is the peak breeding age for your mare. Horses have a much shorter life expectancy than people and reach sexual maturity much earlier. We can talk about the thoroughbred racing industry another time, but I do find it a very good example for when to breed a mare. Most thoroughbred racehorses have completed their career by the time they are 5-6 years old. Then, if they are a mare, they go to the breeding shed. This is when they are most fertile, most likely to conceive, most likely to carry a foal to term, and most likely to have the fewest complications while foaling. 

A young mare, 3-8 years old, is in her prime for breeding. I know what you all are saying, “but Tony, I’m still riding my mare, I can’t breed her yet.” Totally fair statement. However, there are options which we will get into in just a bit.

A young mare has a pregnancy rate of 55% which means they have a 55% chance of becoming pregnant, maintaining a pregnancy and foaling normally. It can often take three tries to get even the youngest, most fertile mare in foal. That’s the full breeding expense times three, with no guarantee.

As your mare ages, her uterus also ages. A 9–13-year-old mare who is in her prime competition/riding age only has a 30% pregnancy rate. In 14–18-year-old mares that rate decreases to 10%, and if the mare is over 18 years old, we are looking a 2% pregnancy rate. Age is more than just a number when it comes to breeding your mare.

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Uterus

Your mare’s uterus is an extremely important player in her ability to get pregnant and maintain pregnancy. The uterus becomes the foal’s waterbed for at least 11 months, sometimes longer. A safe, healthy uterus is essential to having a safe, healthy foal. Back to this whole, body parts like to start sagging as we age thing. The uterus in mares is no different. As they age, the stretchy connective tissues of the uterus and body lose some of that elasticity. 

During your mare’s reproductive examination, you may hear my docs mention that a mare has a “dependent” uterus. This means that it sags. Instead of being up in pelvic region, the uterus dips down into the abdomen. As a uterus and its connective tissues loose elasticity, strain is placed on nearby blood vessels. When an older mare becomes pregnant the weight of the foal puts tension on the tissues and blood vessels. This makes her significantly more prone to blood vessel rupture and uterine torsion during the foaling process. Both of these scenarios are life-threatening to your mare and the foal.

Older mares also tend to develop cysts within their uterus. These cysts are fluid-filled sacs that extend from the endometrial tissue into the lumen of the uterus. Cysts often contribute to fertility issues. The presence of cyst affects the mare’s uterine biopsy grade, suggesting that mares with cysts are less likely to become pregnant and maintain pregnancy to term.

It’s not uncommon for my docs to see a mare with a few small cysts present in their uterus. They take care to document these cysts as often they can look like embryos. Knowing that your mare has cysts allows you and the docs to discuss the likelihood of pregnancy. Mares with multiple, large cysts throughout their uterus have an even lower chance of pregnancy and it is almost always recommended to not breed these mares.

A uterine biopsy is highly recommended when there is the desire to breed an older mare. The biopsy gives the veterinarian an inside look at the uterus and its ability to carry a foal to term. It looks at the tissue of the uterus on a microscopic level. Inflammation, infection, and fibrosis, or lack of stretchiness, is evaluated. As the mare ages her uterine biopsy score increases. We do not want high uterine biopsy score. A biopsy grade of 1 indicates a greater than 80% chance of pregnancy to term. Grade 2a gives the mare a 50-80% chance of pregnancy to term. Grade 2b, we’re at a 10-50% chance and a Grade 3 uterus has less than 10% chance of becoming pregnant and carrying the foal to term. The numbers don’t lie, and it can be extremely difficult to make a decision on what to do when you want to breed your older mare.

Ovaries

Fortunately, unlike people, mares continue to cycle their whole lives. A mare is born with every immature egg she will ever have. That means that if you’re trying to breed your 25-year-old mare, the egg she ovulates is also 25 years old. A 25-year-old egg has been sitting there, waiting to do its thing. During that time, there is a chance that the egg will suffer some kind of damage, thus, reducing its fertility.

Think about it this way: how many scars does a 5-year-old horse have compared to a 25-year-old? Same with the 5-year-old eggs. They’re bright, happy, full of life, and have yet to be beaten down by the world, whereas a 25-year-old egg has been around the block and seen some stuff and is maybe thinking it would rather retire and just relax than make a baby. This doesn’t mean a 25-year-old egg can’t be fertile, it just means it’ll probably take multiple 25-year-old eggs before one decides it wants to be a baby.

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Options

I know what you are all saying, “but Tony, I love this mare! She’s been the best for me, she has the best personality, and she would make the best mom.” I believe you; I really do. So what are our options for having a foal from your mare that does not put your mare at risk and will also get you the baby you desire?

There is always the (less desirable) option to try, knowing the risks associated with breeding the older mare. Remember, it doesn’t always work and definitely doesn’t always work on the first try. It’s probably going to cost a lot more than you realize, it’s high-risk, and there aren’t any guarantees. If you decide this is the route you want to take, please listen to my docs when they tell you that the mare needs to foal out at the clinic where I can keep an eye on her 24/7. They may even recommend that she foal out at a referral clinic just in case a cesarian section becomes necessary. I promise, my docs know what they’re talking about and want your mare and foal to come home safe, happy and healthy. They won’t steer you wrong.

The other option is embryo transfer. Highly, highly recommended for the older mare. The foal will have the genes from your prized mare and the stallion you picked, but a surrogate mare will do the heavy lifting. The surrogate mares have been handpicked for this job. They are not a backyard mare that your neighbor said you can use. These mares live their lives to carry babies for other mares. They are monitored daily, their cycles are set to match up exactly with your mare’s cycle so that once your mare is bred, the embryo can be taken from your mare and placed directly into the recipient mare.

Embryo transfer is a complicated process, but essentially, the way it works is, your mare is bred as if she is going to get pregnant and carry the baby. However, 7-8 days after your mare ovulates, a process is performed where her uterus is flushed, and the embryo is removed. Once an embryo is located, that embryo is placed into the recipient mare who will then carry the foal to term. It also doesn’t always work and definitely doesn’t always work on the first try, however, it’s the best option for breeding an older mare without risk to her.

I’m sure you have plenty of questions about breeding your older mare. That is what the docs are here for. Feel free to call and schedule a pre-breeding examination for your mare and the docs will be happy to talk about all the ifs, ands, or buts. I’ve said it before and I will say it again: breeding is not for the faint of heart! It’s a tough job, and it can get expensive. But my docs are here for you and your mare and are arm deep in it every step of the way with you.

Until next week,

~Tony

P.S. Don’t take my word for it! Go on over to the Podcast Page and listen to some of the breeding episodes. There are 4 or 5 to pick from, although, if you’re serious about breeding, you should probably listen to all of them. And if you aren’t trying to breed (that’s a good human!) there are a lot of other episodes you’ll want to check out. It’s the easiest free education on horses you’ll ever get. You just have to listen while you drive around shopping for cat treats. It’s hard to beat that!

Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!

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Choke

Choke

Tuesdays with Tony

You’re walking through the barn doing one last check of all the horses after their evening feed when you notice one horse has stepped away from his feed bucket. You inspect the feed and notice that some has been consumed but the majority is remaining. Upon further observation you realize your horse is holding his head down with his neck stretched out and making the occasional gag-like sound.  Then you see it – feed and saliva coming out of your horse’s nose! What’s going on? Sit back, relax, and let this cat explain it all…. most likely you are dealing with a “choke”.

What is a choke?

Unlike in people (and cats, which are superior in all ways), choke in horses refers to something that is obstructing the esophagus instead of blocking the horse’s airway. Choke is most commonly caused by swallowing feed material that is too dry or course, or that isn’t properly chewed. The feed gets stuck in the esophagus instead of traveling into the stomach. Don’t worry, they can still breathe just fine.

What are the signs of choke?

I am a stickler for good hygiene, so of course, I always have my coat groomed to perfection. Unfortunately, this makes me prone to hairballs. If you’ve ever seen a cat hack up a hairball, it’s not a pretty sight, believe you me. Well, much like the retching sound cats make when hacking up a hairball, if your horse is choking you may notice that he makes a gagging, hacking, coughing sound. He may have suddenly backed away from his feed while appearing anxious or nervous. You may even start to notice salvia and feed material coming from your horse’s mouth and nostrils. Sometimes horses will extend their neck and hold their head low. The drama queen types may even throw themselves down on the ground. If the choke has gone unnoticed for a while, the horse can become dehydrated and depressed. The signs of choke can be quite alarming but keep calm and call the Springhill office so my docs can walk you through what to do next.

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What causes choke?

I see no problem with inhaling my food as fast as I possibly can. In fact, if I eat mine fast enough, I can sometimes get seconds because my minions think they forgot to feed me! For horses though, eating too quickly, or bolting their feed, is the primary cause of choke. Horses need to chew and moisten their feed thoroughly before swallowing. If they don’t, it may cause them to choke. Choke can be caused by hay or straw, grain, treats like carrots and apples, or non-food objects. Some things, such as corn on the cob, must never be fed as treats due to the risk of obstruction they present. Certain feed materials such as alfalfa cubes or beet pulp must be pre-moistened with water prior to feeding. If they are fed dry, your horse may be predisposed to choke. I recommend soaking alfalfa cubes and beet pulp in a bucket of water for at least 20 minutes prior to feeding. Your horse will get more water and be less prone to choke, another win-win.

Dental problems can also cause a horse to choke if he can’t chew his food as well as he should. If he has sharp points on his teeth or other abnormalities, he won’t be able to chew easily, and may try to swallow his food before it is adequately ground up and moistened. This is even more likely with older horses who may be missing teeth. Reason number 1 million to get your horse’s teeth floated once a year. 

Occasionally, horses may have a condition that predispose them to choke, such as diverticulum and stricture. A diverticulum is a deviation of the esophagus that forms a pouch or sac in which feed material can become trapped, resulting in a choke. Strictures are basically a scar within the esophagus and can be caused by prior choke episodes that have caused damage to the lining of the esophagus. Strictures do not allow the esophagus to expand and contract normally and therefore may cause feed material to get stuck.

Why is choking a problem?

While many chokes will resolve on their own, or with a little assistance from my docs, chokes can be very serious and lead to complications including dehydration and aspiration pneumonia. Since a horse can’t swallow when he is choked, the food material can backflow into the airway and into the lungs, causing a bacterial infection. The longer a horse is choked, the more likely these complications will arise.  So, what does that mean? It means, if you suspect that your horse is choked or may have choked recently, call my docs immediately to talk about what needs to happen.

How is choke treated?

The first thing my docs will tell you when you call is to remove your horse from any feed and water. If you are sure that the choke just started, my docs may have you keep an eye on your horse for about 30 minutes, since many chokes will resolve by themselves. But if it’s already been going on for a while, they’ll want to intervene to get it cleared. Most of the time, this can be done on your farm.

Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic

Upon arrival, my docs will perform a physical exam on your horse, check his heart rate, respiratory rate, temperature, and listen for guts sounds. They will determine if your horse is still choked and then decide how to proceed. Next, they will likely administer a little sedative and smooth muscle relaxer to help decrease the contractions of the esophagus. We have all seen a tube passed for a colic, right? Well, you’ll also see my docs pull out the tube if your horse is choked. The nasogastric tube will be passed up your horse’s nose and into his esophagus. This allows my doc to locate the blockage as well as flush out the obstruction with water.

Sometimes if the obstruction is a stubborn one, you may see my docs doing something kind of wild – pouring Coca Cola down the tube to get it to break apart! And you know what? It works! One of my docs even published a paper on it!

Now I hope I don’t even have to mention this, but under no circumstances should you stick a hose up your horse’s nose or throat yourself. Or try to make him drink water or cola! Remember, my docs are highly trained professionals, and these procedures should only be performed by licensed veterinarians. There is a very specific technique to getting the tube into the esophagus and not into the lungs and doing it wrong could injure or kill your horse. But I know you would never try something silly like that.

What is the aftercare for choke?

Fortunately, most of the time, chokes are easily resolved, and aftercare is minimal. You might need to withhold certain foods for several days. You should monitor your horse’s temperature for a few days after a choke, since a fever can be a sign of pneumonia, and keep an eye out for coughing, nasal discharge, or fast breathing.

If your horse has been choked for several hours or the choke was difficult to resolve, my docs will likely put your horse on a course of antibiotics to help combat the development of aspiration pneumonia. If your horse seems dehydrated or has signs of infection, the docs may recommend he come to the clinic for intravenous fluids, antibiotics, and careful monitoring.

To avoid future chokes, my docs may recommend that you feed your horse grain or hay that has been wetted down before feeding and advise you on strategies to slow down his eating. Some people put large smooth rocks in their horse’s feed bucket to make it harder for him to grab big mouthfuls. And remember to schedule that dental exam since tooth problems are a common cause. When in doubt, give my docs a call!

Until next week,

~ Tony

P.S. This is the written form of my wisdom. I also have a podcast and a video library. Well, my humans do that stuff, but it’s still mine. Anyway, if you want to watch videos, click here. If you want to listen to interesting conversations about horse things, click here. And if you want to keep reading my amazing cat blog, just scroll down a bit. See, I’ve got you covered!

Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!

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FES Functional Electrical Stimulation

FES Functional Electrical Stimulation

Tuesdays with Tony

Functional Electrical Stimulation

Almost everyone experiences some back pain now and again. Unless you’re a cat who gets to rest 23 hours a day like I do, I bet your muscles get sore sometimes. Horses also frequently experience muscle pain, especially in their backs and necks. Today I’m going to introduce you to a cool treatment my docs use to help keep your horse’s back comfortable – Functional Electrical Stimulation. Since I’m a pretty lazy cat, we’ll just call it FES from now on.

Think about the work horses do – running, jumping, carrying the weight of a rider and saddle. Even a trail horse is an athlete. Do you ride perfectly balanced and never sit crooked on your horse’s back? Unless you’re an Olympic level rider, chances are you don’t, so your horse’s back sometimes has to carry an uneven load. Chronic joint pain commonly causes sore muscles due to compensation and ill-fitting saddles are another source of back pain. All of these things can cause the muscles along your horse’s spine to spasm. You may feel this as his back being tight or “locked up” and he may be tender when you run your hand down the muscles on either side of his spine.

What is FES?

FES is a treatment in which a mild electrical stimulus is applied to a muscle to help relax spasm, relieve pain, and build better quality muscle. The electrical impulse mimics the signal the brain sends to a muscle to cause a contraction, just as if the brain itself had asked the muscle to move.

FES has been used extensively in the human medical field for several decades to treat muscle wasting and restore normal function to injured tissue, most often during rehabilitation for spinal cord injury patients. We use FES in equine veterinary medicine to improve muscle function and rehabilitate injuries. FES can treat both muscle spasm and muscle wasting and research has shown that significant improvements in the size and symmetry of the muscles that support the horse’s spine.

Sound a little scary? Don’t worry, it’s nothing like getting an electrical shock! FES is really gentle and horses rarely even need sedation. It actually feels like a deep tissue massage.

What are the benefits?

When muscles are injured, they can spasm and get tight and they can also weaken and become smaller (atrophy). FES can work on both of these abnormalities. Healthy muscle function requires equal amounts of contraction and relaxation of the muscle fibers. Muscles that have been over-contracted for an extended time (spasm) often need help returning to normal function. Sometimes, nerve damage or a neurologic disease can cause muscle wasting or weakness. My docs will want to examine your horse to make sure the underlying cause that led to problem has been corrected. Then, FES can be used to build better quality muscle and prevent recurrence of injury. Here are the ways FES helps.

  • Relieves chronic muscle tension
  • Pain relief by reducing muscle spasticity
  • Reverses muscle wasting
  • Improves range of motion and joint mobility
  • Improves muscle function to help prevent re-injury
  • Maintains muscle mass and topline when the horse is out of work
  • Improves muscle strength and control
  • Decreases swelling related to muscle injuries
  • Improves muscle strength after nerve damage or neurologic disease
  • Allows stimulation of injured tissue without the risk of exercise-induced damage
  • Maintain good condition to optimize athletic performance and prevent injury
  • Effective on deep muscle groups

Horses that need prolonged rest (especially stall rest) usually lose muscle tone and topline during the rehab period. FES is a great way to maintain muscle mass and topline while the horse is out of work, so it’s not as much of an uphill climb to regain tone once he’s recovered. It’s also a useful tool to maintain good condition in an athlete to help decrease the chance of an injury occurring.

Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic

How is FES performed?

Here’s what you’ll see when your horse has an FES session. My docs will examine your horse’s back to determine what muscles are sore and will direct the treatment in that area. Treatments are most often performed on the back, neck, or pelvis. Next, my techs will wet down your horse’s back a little and apply a gel to the skin to conduct the electrical signal. They’ll place a pad with the electrodes inside it on your horse’s back. The signal is conducted from the electrodes through the skin into the muscles. No needles or anything scary involved. Once my techs turn the FES on, you’ll see muscle contractions and you may see the whole hindquarters flexing. Sometimes, if the horse is in severe spasm, it can take a few FES sessions before good movement is achieved, but the treatment is starting to work even on the first session. Most horses stand quietly during the treatment and very rarely require sedation. Since the voltage is low, the treatment isn’t painful and feels like a massage. Each FES treatment usually takes about 30 minutes. Horses can usually stay in their normal riding routine and can be ridden a few hours after FES is performed. FES is portable and can easily be performed at your farm.

How many sessions my docs will recommend will depend on what’s going on with your horse. After the initial treatment, my docs will recommend a schedule with a gradually increasing interval between treatments, according to the response to therapy.

FES is great as a stand-alone therapy but we especially like it combined with other treatments such as chiropractic and acupuncture. FES helps chiropractic adjustments last longer because the muscles are functioning more normally to keep the bones in place. In fact, we offer Springhill “Spa days” that include all three treatments at a discounted package price!

Give my clinic a call if you have questions about FES. My docs are always there to talk about what’s right for your horse!

Until next week,

~Tony

P.S. I’m sure you’re subscribed to my blog, so I won’t waste your time by telling you about the big purple box below. But are you subscribed to my YouTube Channel? It’s got everything you could ask for: horse how-to’s, seminars, injury repairs, and (just to illustrate my humility) even a video of me falling into a tub of ice water. Every horse owner should be watching my videos! Alright, I’m going back to my nap.

Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!

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