Yes we all know I’m not the most athletic critter on the planet. But heck I’m management; I don’t have to exert myself too often. When I do decide to chase off after a squirrel, I find I need to take a moment to catch my breath. After a brief respite in the sun, I am ready to chase that pesky squirrel again. It doesn’t work that way for some cats, horses, or people. Yep, I finally found something us cats have in common with horses (and people but I’m trying to ignore that part). We all get asthma and we all get it because of allergies.
Walk in the barn at feed time and listen for a cough. Horses with asthma will nearly always cough when they are eating grain, especially if it’s dry. Even the smallest amount of dust triggers their over reactive airways making them cough a dry, hacking cough. Cats experience a similar cough when they have asthma. Also there is no hairball after the cough. Another clue it’s asthma in cats anyway. I’ve never seen a horse cough up a hairball. Anyway back to asthma. Other clues your horse may have asthma are sudden poor performance for no good reason and really fast breathing after exercise that takes forever to slow down. Some horses will get so bad you can hear them wheeze when breathing without a stethoscope. On other horses you need a stethoscope to hear wheezes and crackles. Our Docs are happy to show you how to listen for lung sounds. I have never heard these sounds, since they don’t make cat stethoscopes but I have a request in to the manufacturer. How am I supposed to do a proper Cat Scan without a stethoscope?
What are we going to do about the asthma? Well I’m not going to do anything because that’s what I do. My Docs are going to treat the allergies that lead to asthma. Asthma happens when the tubes the air goes through in the lungs gets clogged with mucous. The lungs release the mucous to try to get rid of pollen and dust. So the Docs try to reduce the mucous produced in response to pollen and dust, decrease the amount of pollen/dust in the environment, and help that mucous get out. The easiest, most economical, and most effective treatment is dexamethasone. This is a steroid which is given by mouth. Dexamethasone tells the immune system to quit worrying about the dust and pollen. Unfortunately, dexamethasone can have some nasty side effects when used at high doses for a long time so we have to be careful. Other steroids can be inhaled. This minimizes side effects but can be very expensive. There are a couple treatment options to help get the mucous out, such as Ventipulmin. Our Docs usually use these early in the treatment process then slowly taper them.
Management changes are really important for horses with asthma. The only way to change the pollen is to move far away but dust is a different story. Remember how I said that coughing happens around feed time? Wetting down feed and, more importantly, soaking hay reduces this source of dust. In fact some humans did a study about hay and found a 25% reduction in symptoms just be removing dry hay from these horses diets! Bedding is another important source of dust. Using the pelleted type bedding reduces mold and frequent wetting down decreases dust. The effects of pollen can be minimized by keeping your horse in the barn with a fan on them. Sure it doesn’t work great but it’s about the only option we have here in Florida short of moving to Arizona.
Since asthma is an allergy problem identifying what your horse is allergic to is very important. Our Docs do this skin thing that helps figure out what is causing the worst response. They call it allergy testing. A small amount of a potential allergen is injected under the skin. The Docs come back in a few hours and see if there is any swelling around the allergen. Based on what causes the most swelling, they make a super special shot to help the horse learn to tolerate those things. It’s pretty cool.
Our Docs are seeing lots of horses with asthma right now. If your horse suddenly isn’t right, give them a call and see if asthma is the problem. And put our 8th Annual Open House and See Tony Event on your calendar for October 22nd. Food, fun, prizes, learning, and you get to see me in cat!
Last week me and about 60 of my closest human friends learned just about everything there is to know on the topic of skin funk! I almost wish I were a horse just so I could try out these products on myself…but I’ll stick with being a cat for the superior intelligence. Thank you to MaryLu from Kinetic Vet for her excellent talk, and the folks at HorseSox for their demonstration. They really should start making CatSox tho…less knitting.
For those of you who didn’t come out to see me on Thursday: ouch. That really hurt my feline feelings. But I’ll be the bigger cat, let it go, and tell you what you missed!
There are several types of skin funk that horses can get. There is itchy skin funk, scratchy skin funk, buggy skin funk, sunny skin funk, fungus-y skin funk, and bacterial skin funk. Lucky us, we live in Florida, so most of these are going to be exaggerated by our awesome warm weather! The first step is recognizing when your horse has a skin problem. Skin funk can show up as hair loss, hives, welts, crusties, scabs, redness, or abnormal hair growth. The second step is calling me! Well, more specifically, Dr. Lacher or Dr. Vurgason. With their experience, they will be able to tell what type of skin funk you are dealing with, what the cause is, and how to treat it. The third step is using one of Kintetic Vet’s awesome products (plus HorseSox for lower leg skin funk) to get your horse’s skin back under control!
Dr. Vurgason’s favorite KineticVet product is the IBH salve. This is great for horses with Insect Bite Hypersensitivity (“I.B.H.”), and a little bit of salve goes a long way! Did you know there are 89 species of gnats (that’s not counting horse flies, mosquitoes, house flies, etc) that are probably going after your horse’s eyes, ears, mane, and tail!? Dr. Lacher’s favorite product from KineticVet is CK shampoo. This stuff is amazing for treating scratches, rain rot, and any other bacterial or fungal skin funk. Only a few treatments and the results are amazing! My favorite product is KineticVet’s new SB (sunblock). Not only does it provide sun protection for my delicate skin, but it also repels insects and contains aloe vera which makes it feel really good.
There was definitely a little something for everybody at Thursday’s seminar. Most notably, there was plenty of me! Stay tuned for our next “Come See Tony” event on Equine Nutrition, coming up in May. Until then, take care of that skin!
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.
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!
Being the jolly cat I am, it is my favorite time of year. Bright, shiny stuff called Christmas decorations to play with, the Castration Clinic at the Hospital, paper and boxes from presents delivered to the Hospital, and general good cheer among all. In keeping with the season, I have spoken with many of our patients, and our Docs and technicians and compiled Springhill Equine’s Top 5 list of things your horse wants from Santa.
1. Fly Sheets: Mosquito Mesh Flyshield Sheet
Why this one? It is super light for our hot summer but the mesh is fine enough to keep those dangs gnats away. For added airflow, trim out the lining at the shoulders and mane. Removing the lining hasn’t created any rubbing issues and has kept the horse cooler. This sheet also held up well to horseplay and fit a wide variety of horses. Beware of the similar non-Flyshield version. It fit no horse well.
2. Grazing Muzzles: Tough 1 Grazing Muzzle or Harmany Grazing Muzzle
OK, so a grazing muzzle may not be on your horse’s wish list, but it is at the top of your veterinarian’s wish list. Our poor Docs see lots of horses with a weight problem. I can sympathize. My large stature caused me to have diabetes until a diet and exercise program helped me reverse it. While horses don’t get diabetes, they do get laminitis, or founder, when overweight. Obese horses are also pretty much guaranteed to develop Cushings later in life. These two grazing muzzles provide the best combination of comfort, breathability, and portion control.
3. Socks for your horse: Equiflexsleeve or Silver Whinnys
Tired of wrapping legs? Worried about all that heat under quilts and wraps in the summer? Need to decrease swelling or cover a wound, but you still want to turn your horse out? Seriously, the greatest things since sliced tuna (humans say bread, but I really don’t like bread very much). Equiflexsleeves reduce swelling in the lower legs, your horse can wear them inside or out, they breath, and they are stupid easy to put on and take off. Oh, and they make a lot less laundry than all those quilts and wraps! Sox for horses is the name of the silver impregnated bandages Coby is wearing. These work similar to Equiflexsleeves but, go higher and lower on the leg and have the added advantage of being antibacterial. If you need to cover a wound, or if your horse is prone to scratches, dew poisoning, greasy heel, or whatever you want to call it, then you need a pair of these!
4. Fly Mask: Nag Horse Ranch fly masks. Dr. Lacher owns the Queen of Fly Mask destruction. And while these don’t last forever with her, they certainly hold up pretty darn well. In addition, when they do lose a right ear (and they do, it just takes 3 months instead of 3 minutes), back they go for repair. They block more UV light than any other mask on the market and can be custom made for your horse pretty easily.
5. Small hole hay nets: HayChix or Big Bale Buddy
Save yourself a ton of money, reduce waste, and help control your horse’s weight. Small hole hay nets for your big bales are AAHHMAZING. Added bonus: your horse won’t have their entire head stuck in the hay bale breathing in all that dust and mold.
Please be sure to check your trailer floor for rotten areas. Many of you saw this horse on our Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter feeds. Dr. Lacher and Charly pieced him back together and now begins the healing. He is looking at several months of bandaging but with some luck he will be back to good soon.
The sun is just peeking over the horizon in the morning as you head out to feed your horse. You open the feed can, scoop out the morning ration, and dump it in the feed bucket. As you walk away you hear a dry, raspy cough. “Probably just the dusty grain,” you think and remind yourself to ask Springhill Equine about it the next time they come out to the farm. What does that cough really mean? Allergic airway disease.
Allergic airway disease has had a bit of an identity crisis over the years. It has been called: Heaves, asthma, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), heaves (again), and currently Recurrent Airway Obstruction (RAO). All of these are our fancy names for constriction of the small airways in the lungs due to allergies. The allergic response causes an increase in mucous in the airway and makes the muscles around those same airways tighten up. It’s an unfair combination which makes it very difficult to breath.
So why the dry cough? These horses typically breathe in fairly well but can’t breathe out without pushing extra hard. We call this abdominal breathing. One way these horses manage to get a good breath out is by coughing. The other thing that leads to coughing is called airway hyper-reactivity. This means anything that touches the airway causes a coughing fit. Dust from grain and/or hay is the most common cause of coughing at feeding time for allergic horses.
Recently there has been a lot of research on these allergic airway horses. Sadly much of it has not progressed to finding new treatments, but we are learning more about the genetics behind allergies, what different symptoms mean, and how well currently available treatments do work. Most older research focused on the effects of allergic airway disease on the racehorse only. Here are the highlights of a few recent papers. If you hear your horse coughing on a regular basis chances are very good they have allergic airway disease. Allergic airway horses are statistically way more likely to have hit this wonderful genetic trifecta: allergic airway disease, allergic skin, and Anhidrosis (non-sweating). Dexamethasone works well in most allergic airway horses but not all. For the horses Dexamethasone does not work on, inhalers provide a safe and viable option.
Treatment is targeted at reducing the allergic response. Dexamethasone is a short acting (about 24 hours) steroid that can be given by injection or orally. Especially during the summer Springhill Equine Doctors will usually start horses on Dexamethasone to get symptoms under control. Typically the dose starts very high and tapers every few days until we find what makes your horse happy. Changes in the weather, pollen levels, and dustiness of hay or grain may require a brief increase in Dexamethasone dosages.
For horses who are unable to tolerate Dexamethasone or don’t respond to it, metered dose inhalers can be used. Steroid inhalers are used most commonly for human asthma. Inhalers present some challenges for horse owners. First how do you get your horse to breathe deeply when you want them to? Answer: you don’t. Second, inhalers can be very expensive and time consuming. To solve the first problem we use an extender which seals over one nostril that allows us to time the “puffs” with the horse’s breathing. For the second problem we discuss options with you, the horse owner, and come up with the best solution.
Once winter comes around Intradermal Allergy Testing can be performed. Allergy testing allows us to identify what allergens bother your horse. Once we know what bothers your horse most we can begin shots, which over time teach the immune system to tolerate those allergens. Allergy shots can offer real help to allergic airway horses but it takes time. It is generally well towards the middle of the second year of therapy before we see benefits. But those are fantastic benefits. We are able to reduce the length of time and dosages of drug therapy these horses are on.
Moral of the story: if you heard a cough, give us a call. The better we control allergic airway disease the longer your horse stays happy, healthy, and ride-able.
Whew! There I did it. I took a breath!!! I am very glad to have Dr. Vurgason here and settled in. It means I get to sneak away to the beach for a long weekend. I am ready for slightly cooler weather so my non-sweater starts sweating again and a little less rain so her constant rain rot can catch a break but such is summer in Florida. The extra breathing room has also meant my two younger horses are getting ridden more. I have seen this as a blessing and a curse all at the same time. I love the way younger horses advance so quickly as they learn the big lessons of life but I hate teaching them! They are sometimes painful lessons for the rider…..
Springhill Equine is here to help you through any and all lameness issues your horse might be having, whether it is painfully obvious or ever so subtle, we can help! Dr. Lacher’s extensive background in performance horse lameness coupled with all of our new technology makes Springhill Equine your one stop solution for lame horses and ponies. After performing a lameness exam, flexing and blocking if necessary we also can utilize our digital X-ray and ultrasound machines to pin point the issue and develop the quickest most effective rehab program for your horse. Once the source of the issue is revealed there are several new procedures we are performing to help speed up the recovery process and keep our horses performing longer including IRAP, PRP, and FES. If you are at all concerned about one of your’s limping or even just feeling a little funny please don’t hesitate to call!