Tuesdays with Tony-2016: The Year in Colics

Tuesdays with Tony-2016: The Year in Colics

Colics. We see a heck of a lot of them. Now a decent amount of those colics can be attributed to the fairly ridiculous design of the equine GI tract. I mean, honestly, who thought that was a good idea? However, I spent my weekend pouring through the computer to look at colics the Docs saw last year. That’s right, I spend my weekend working. What’s a cat to do when it’s far too windy for civilized folk to be outside but sleep in the sun and play on the computer?

I would like a drum roll here to acknowledge my hard work, so please play one in your head now….

Our Docs saw 318 colics last year. Of those colics, three went to surgery. That’s right, three. Four others needed surgery, but for a variety of very good reasons their owners weren’t able to take them to surgery. I did remove one very specific type of colic from those numbers, but I will explain why later. I’m going to start with the moral of story: Most colics don’t need surgery. There you go. You have the punchline. Now, let’s move on to some helpful guidelines to avoid seeing Dr. Lacher and Dr. Vurgason for… umm… ‘unscheduled opportunities’ to spend money on your horse.

Alfalfa (or peanut). I’m not talking about the bad hair day or the comic strip. I’m talking hay. Feeding coastal hay is very, very strongly associated with an emergency visit from one of my Docs after hours. Coastal hay in a round roll virtually guarantees you will see my Docs for an emergency. If you run out of round bale hay, cold weather moves in, and you put out a new round bale, make sure you throw plenty of alfalfa or peanut hay alongside.  Feeding a minimum of 4-6 pounds of alfalfa or peanut hay daily will go a long way towards preventing this cause.

Be obsessive-compulsive about water.  The old adage “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink,” exists because it’s so true.  If you even have a doubt about how much water your horse is drinking, get water into them.  How, you ask? Watch this handy video about how to make colic soup for your horse.  Besides colic soup, adding a bit of molasses to the water, or giving them a small amount of salt slurry will entice some to drink up.  Each horse is different; work with your horse to figure out what works best.

Manage your horse’s environment. If your horse is in a sandy area, keeping plenty of roughage going through the system is a great way to prevent sand build-up. Psyllium is also an option here for the horse who needs fewer calories, but hay works better than anything else. For the Fall season, be aware of acorns. Acorns are like cute little field mice for cats: bite size morsels of deliciousness. Too many can lead to gas, and we all know gas can be painful. Acorns are tough to avoid, but our Docs have used muzzles and creative electrical fence configurations to help.

Finally, let me go back to that one particular colic: lipomas.  Lipomas are a fatty tumor that grows in the area of the small intestine in older horses.  It happens in skinny horses and fat horses alike.  Lipomas are associated with age.  They are not because of nutrition, bad or good, management, or any other factor you can control. These tumors are wicked.  They wrap up a section of small intestine much like the bolos used by Gauchos, and strangle it until it dies.  If a small amount of intestine is trapped, and the colic is caught early, surgery can be very successful.  Unfortunately, many of these horses aren’t found for a few hours and by then surgery is very risky, with laminitis a very real risk about 72 hours post surgery.

Colic sucks. There’s no other way to put it. A little work on the diet and a dash of environmental management, and it will suck less. Want help with a diet plan? Contact my trusty minion Beth. She’s super smart when it comes to everything equine nutrition! And now I’m off to supervise the Clinic.


Tuesdays with Tony – See Tony Event

Tuesdays with Tony – See Tony Event

Tuesdays with Teannie – Eyes

OK, I have had enough of Tony this and Tony that.  I’m taking over this week.  Welcome to Tuesdays with Teannie.  That’s right, I’m the cuter and smarter cat at Springhill Equine, and this week I’m writing about eyes.  I should point out I don’t have any, but that story is what makes me qualified to write this week’s blog.

I started life with two normal eyes.  Along the way I got infected with a Herpes virus.   Herpes is the same virus that causes rhinopneumonitis in horses.  In horses and cats this usually presents as a bit of a cold.  Sometimes it goes elsewhere and causes all kinds of problems.  In horses, it can also cause abortions in pregnant mares and a neurologic disease.  In cats, it can cause the immune system to attack the eyes.  This is what happened to me.  It took years and years, and Dr. Lacher tried pretty much every treatment available, but eventually they couldn’t save my eyes.  Along the way I have become an expert in eyes.

I’m going to start with the obvious.  If there is redness, swelling, or a lot of tears, call Springhill Equine.  These are pretty good indicators of a problem, and the earlier a problem is addressed, the better the outcome (I lived on the streets for a while just trying to keep a roof over my head, so don’t judge me that I didn’t get proper care).  To start, our Docs are going to use a special device called an ophthalmoscope to look in the eye.  They claim this is to get good light and magnification.  Personally, I think they like shining a bright light in my eye to torture me.  I get back at them by standing in front of computer screens and stepping on keyboards.  Next a special stain called flourescein is put in the eye.  This stain shows if any of the surface layer of cells is gone.  You want a negative flourescein result.  Negative here means all is good.  Positive means you have long nights and days, or your horse has an all-expense-paid trip to Springhill Equine.

With their big bug eyes set on the side of their heads and their propensity to stick their heads where they don’t belong and then get scared, horses are very prone to ulcers.  So that’s problem number one with horse eyes.  Next, we live in Florida and we grow fungus here.  Put bug eyes and fungus together and chaos follows.  This is why if you call with a question about an eye, our Docs freak out a little bit and move the Earth to get you on the schedule that day.  All eyes get treated like they have a bacterial and fungal infection, no matter what.  They also get a wee bit obsessive-compulsive about rechecking the eye to make sure it’s going to the right direction.   Treatments are sometimes done every hour!

Sometimes horses, and let’s be honest, cats, are… umm…  difficult to treat.  Eye treatments sting! The Docs have a few tricks up their sleeves to help.  They always give horses (and this cat) treats with EVERY eye medication.  They also have a device called a sub-palpebral lavage system.  Using a really, really big needle, they put a long tube through the eyelid which lets you stand at the withers to inject medications which are then delivered to the eye.

If the worst happens and the eye can’t be saved, then a procedure called an enucleation is performed.  This is the fancy word our Docs use for taking the eye out.  Here’s where my experience comes in.  Please do not worry about your horse missing an eye.  I lost my left eye first and certainly didn’t miss it a lick.  In fact, without the constant pain, I was loving life.  I would run around and attack Tony, chase my tail, and knock papers off the desk.  When my right eye began hurting, I was back to moping around the clinic.  Dr. Lacher decided to let me slowly go fully blind so I could better adjust to life with no eyes.  Once they removed my right eye, I was right back to running this joint.  I still stalk Tony, I still stand directly in front of the computer screen, I know exactly where the escape key is on the keyboard, and I am loving life as the smart cat at Springhill Equine.  Moral of this story:  if you think something is wrong with your horse’s eye, call Springhill Equine!

Tuesdays with Tony-Groundhog Day 2016

If I weren’t a cat I would send my most profound apologies for not getting Tuesdays with Tony written on Tuesday.  Luckily, as a cat, I don’t really care.  I have my reasons.  It has been a crazy week.  First there was rain, rain, rain and a temperature drop.  I hate rain.  I love to wander around my kingdom here at Springhill Equine and monitor all the activity.  I do not love getting wet thus when it rains I’m stuck inside.  The only joy on rainy days is making people repeatedly open the door just so I can see if it is still raining.

With all the rain and weather change, Dr. Lacher and Dr. Vurgason were kept busy seeing colicky horses.  People who study these things, they like the fancy title epidemiologist, say weather changes don’t cause colic.  I suppose they are correct in some ways.  Weather changes cause horses to get off their routine and routine changes make upset horse stomachs and upset horse stomachs make Springhill Equine come out for a visit.  That’s why our Docs recommend a little salt, some added water, and some alfalfa or peanut hay during dramatic weather changes.  It also helps to chase the horses around for a few minutes to get their gut moving.  Us cats are designed to sleep 18 hours daily.  It’s a benefit to being a top of the line predator.  Horses need to move around to keep their gut going.  What do they do on a rainy day? Stand under a tree or shelter and pout.

Monday was good.  The day was pretty. I got to sleep in the sun in the middle of the driveway and have people drive around me.  I greeted a few folks as they came in to the office.  I made my rounds of the property.  I liked Monday.

Tuesday was looking good.  The weather was nice.  We have a veterinary student, Bianca, who followed directions nicely and scratched all the places I wanted scratched.  Dr. Lacher was excited because she got to do a castration.  Then the neighbor drove by with a contraption and the day went down from there.  First, Renee wouldn’t let me go supervise the neighbor while he worked on the road with what she called a backhoe.  I feel this is the exact moment when things took a turn for the worse.  Because I wasn’t supervising the human, he cut our phone line.  This led to several moments of panic from Renee and Dr. Lacher.  Dr. Vurgason was having a great time celebrating her husband’s birthday at Disney so she was immune from all this.  Moments later I learned that someone called AT&T is a source of much yelling and screaming from the humans.  I don’t know much about this AT&T but I think they may be the spawn of Satan.  Luckily we have some great local people who are affiliated with this AT&T and they were able to temporarily fix our phone lines.

Whew what a week!  As a present to myself to recover from this week I’m going to allow folks to sign up for Wellness 2016 for one more week.  That’s right you have until February 10th to sign up! You won’t find a better deal for your horse.  I really don’t understand why everyone hasn’t signed up.

You’ve got Questions.  We’ve got Answers!

You’ve got Questions. We’ve got Answers!

My older Cushings horse developed something like a nasty rain rot. Her skin was hot and it was painful to her to be brushed. Dr. Lacher’s recommended treatment (bathe with chlorhexadine, coat with baby oil, leave on overnight, bathe again) was an overnight fix. However, the problem has returned and it seems also to be occurring now, much more mildly, in some of our other horses. Is this a contagious issue? If not, why would they all be getting this–is there an environmental trigger?

What can I do to prevent this from recurring? It’s a pain to treat!

The joys of Florida! All our heat and humidity are great for creating skin funk. Let’s start with a bit of equine history.  Horses were designed to live in much colder places than Florida.  This means they have an undercoat, along with their regular coat.  An undercoat works to trap heat radiating from the body and block water coming from the environment.  Unfortunately those same properties cause the undercoat to trap heat and water vapor coming off the body in our climate.  This creates a wonderful sauna at the skin level.  What loves a sauna? Bacteria.  In particular a bacteria called Dermatopholis congolensis.  Here is a beautiful picture of D. congolensis.

rain rot

A few others sometimes join in like Staphylococcus aureus.  These bacteria are part of the normal flora of the skin.  It does seem like it is contagious but it is more a matter of all horses are exposed to the same environmental risk factors at the same time.

Treatments are aimed at killing the little buggers and then setting up an unhappy environment for them.  We start with an antibacterial shampoo like Equishield CK.  The most important thing to remember when using this shampoo is TIME.  Gently get the soap down to the level of the skin and then let it sit for 10 minutes.  Scrubbing hard removes the crusts but also damages the skin making it easier for the bacteria to invade.  After 10 minutes rinse the soap off, again, gently.  If your horse has a particularly bad case spray the worst areas with Equishield CK spray.  Equishield CK salve can used on the backs of the pasterns to treat and prevent infections in this tricky location.  In bad cases antibiotics are used.


Prevention is tricky and involves daily battles to win the war.  Prevention starts with a curry comb, and a good diet.  Regular grooming keeps the skin happy so it is better prepared to ward off invasions by bacteria.  Good nutrition keeps the immune system primed and ready to attack the moment bacteria are spotted.  So groom regularly and feed well: check.  Next, while grooming every day, check for telltale bumps and crusts on your horse’s skin and treat immediately. Silver Sox on the legs do a great job treating and preventing infections on the lower limbs. Keeping your horse as dry as possible by using waterproof sheets or blankets during the winter helps reduce the severity of infections.  Unfortunately, body clipping increases your horse’s risk of skin infections by causing tiny amounts of damage to the skin and removing the protective layer of hair making it easier for water to get all the way down to the skin.

Could you please present the available calming supplements/medications available to owners with highly reactive, AKA “spooky” horses? It would be nice to see them described from lightest effect to the most likely to produce effects on all horses.  Cost of each would be helpful too.  Thanks!

Ever since the first human was bucked off for the first time, we have been looking for a little help at better living through chemistry.  Calming substances generally work one of two ways: they make the brain tired or they make the muscles slow to respond.

If you are looking for a reliable, consistent response pharmaceuticals are the best bet.  These include the powerful sedatives like Dormosedan, acepromazine, and Sedivet.  These also include two common long acting sedatives: reserpine and fluphenazine.  Sedatives will always work but they also are prohibited in the show ring.

Herbal or Nutraceutical options are sometimes effective, sometimes not so much.  Our general rule of thumb is if it is banned by USEF it is probably effective.  These include Valerian Root, melatonin, and high doses of tryptophan.  GABA, and its metabolites, are relatively new calming supplements that have been banned by most organizations.  If you are looking for a little bit of calm on a green horse headed out to a new experience things like valerian root can work really well.  Each horse responds differently to this class of calming agents so experimentation is key.  We also recommend assuming an herbal or nutraceutical will test for horse show purposes.

Two new options are Zylkene and ConfidenceEQ.  Both are safe for horse shows.  Zylkene works off the same principal as the “milk coma” babies experience.  It is a feed through powder that is started several days before the event.  Dr. Lacher has tried it on one of her very hot horses.  She was happy with the results which left the horse feeling well lunged without the lunging.  ConfidenceEQ is a pheromone.  Pheromones work as inhaled communications between horses.  This particular one is the “be calm” pheromone and works best on horses who experience fear or separation anxiety.

Prices for these products are highly variable with the herbals generally being the most expensive.  Each horse and each situation is very different so we recommend giving us a call or e-mail to help formulate a plan.

How accurate and successful is allergy testing and injection therapy for horses with Culicoides (gnat) allergy?

There are two types of allergy testing available: intradermal and serum.

Serum is a simple blood draw.  The blood is then tested to see what substances it reacts to.  Serum allergy testing is easy, but not very accurate.  It creates a lot of false positives.  The blood will react to something but the horse isn’t actually allergic to it.

Intradermal testing injects small amounts of the allergen in to the skin to determine if the body reacts.  The severity of the reaction is directly related to the severity of the allergy.  This information can then be used to formulate immunotherapy (allergy shots) or to alter the horse’s environment to avoid the worst allergens.

On to Culicoides allergies specifically.  Intradermal and serum testing can tell us a horse is allergic to Culicoides.  Unfortunately, immunotherapy does not work on this particular allergy.  Culicoides is very complicated as allergies go.  It involves several different parts of the allergy response system.  Immunotherapy works to dampen a small portion of the system that doesn’t play a large role for gnat allergic horses.  But….there’s always a but.  Allergies are cumulative.  That means every response your horse has to every allergen works to enhance the response to the next allergen they are exposed to.  This means allergy testing can help you identify all the great stuff your horse is allergic to. By managing as many of the allergies as you can, you decrease your horses response to allergens overall.

I’m trying to establish a daily equine routine. Is there a recommended time frame for exercising your horse? For example, waiting a certain amount of time after feeding or not directly before feeding time. I’m referring to light work and training exercises.

Horses thrive on schedule in their lives.  This means exercising them at the same time of the day is the most important thing for them.  If you can’t exercise them at the same time of the day, set up a pre-exercise routine.  Put them on the cross ties, groom them, bring out the saddle, etc.  This will allow your horse to mentally prepare for exercise.

Old wisdom dictates one hour after feeding before your horse can be ridden.  This advice is largely based on how humans feel after eating and not how horses feel.  It is also from a time when very different meals were fed to horses.  Horses once lived on lots of oats and other whole grains which required the digestive tract to work extra hard to extra nutrition and created a lot of excess gas.  Modern diets are formulated to the horse’s GI tract in a much more scientific way.  We recommend giving your horse time to eat and 10-15 minutes to empty the stomach before riding.  This rule does change if you are heading out to do trot sets or a long gallop but if you are headed out for a light to moderate ride, saddle up and go!