First and foremost I need to apologize to all of you, my loyal followers for posting this late. I got caught up in finalizing my Christmas Wish List so my minions know exactly what to get me this year, to ensure I don’t receive the same lame bag of treats…..again (that I don’t even like). So here it goes.
I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Vurgason’s horse, Smokey, at the clinic last week. I couldn’t help but notice a scar right in the middle of his forehead. I asked how it happened, and he told me that a few years back, he reared up and hit his head on a light fixture. Inspired to prevent the same injury in other horses at our practice, I decided to address this issue in my famed weekly blog.
Barns aren’t always the safest place, trust me, I know……I live in one….and horses are accident-prone. I think we’ve clearly established that. But my staff here at at Springhill Equine does everything they can to keep it up to standard and make sure all of us critters are secure once they leave for those long lonely hours when the sun goes down. When building or rebuilding a barn, corners are often cut to save money. But when the safety of your horses is at stake, you really don’t want to be cutting corners.
Electricity is pretty awesome. I do enjoy lights, heat, and playing with tangled wires on the floor, especially this time of year. But it’s also dangerous. Other things that are dangerous: glass and mercury gas. Combine these three and what do you get? Fluorescent light fixtures! And yet, what do you think are the most common lights we see in horse barns? That’s right: unprotected long tubes of glass filled with mercury. The same that scarred poor Smokey’s face.
A few decades ago, fluorescent technology was all the rage. But since then the technology has been far surpassed by LED, especially in terms of efficiency. Plus, the gasses used with fluorescents can be quite dangerous. If you don’t believe me, take a peek at the EPA’s instructions on discarding fluorescent bulbs. I’m just thankful I have people for that and wouldn’t have to get my delicate paws dirty. With more efficient LED lights, you will ultimately save money, while protecting the environment at the same time! Who doesn’t love that?
If you have fluorescent tube lights in your barn, I highly recommend replacing them. Unless you like lacerations and toxic gas….. If that’s your thing maybe you should consider unsubscribing from my blog. But if you are concerned about safety, there are things you can do to improve the situation. If you’re on a budget, I’d recommend at least purchasing tube covers for the bulbs. Or cages for the fixtures. Relocate the fixtures to above the area where your horse can reach if they rear up. Or, replace them completely.
Dr Vurgason’s other half can install light fixtures with a solid glass shell protector over the bulb and a metal cage protecting the glass shell. You can put any bulb into these fixtures, although LED is always the way to go. LEDs are much cooler than fluorescent lights, reducing the risk of combustion, and they are sturdier since they are made with epoxy lenses, not glass which is much more resistant to breakage. They have a longer life expectancy, are more energy efficient, have close to no UV emissions, will operate in extremely hot or cold conditions, instantly light, and have low-voltage. With this combination, and professional wiring, you can rest at ease knowing your horses (and more importantly barn cats) are safe and your barn is using less energy (which your wallet will appreciate too). You’re welcome. We all know those equids cost you owners much more than us superior felines do. I just don’t get humans sometimes.
So with everyone getting in the holiday spirit (including me and my staff) please keep my wise words in mind and be aware of your surroundings.
Until next week,
This week I would like all of you to sit back and relax while I tell the story of Dr. Lacher’s Thanksgiving. It’s a tale of joy and sadness. It’s a tale of three colics with much in common with that other story about three things: Goldilocks and the Three Bears.
It started on Wednesday evening around 6pm. A little peek into the lives of our veterinarians: most of you call about colics around 7-8am and 5-6pm when you head out to feed. Matt, the 30 year old pony, had been normal at breakfast, but on arriving home from work, his owner found him down and rolling. Dr. Lacher was leaving the clinic to head home, so she simply turned left instead of right and headed to Matt.
As she pulled up to the farm, Jane said, “Matt has lived here for the last ten years and has never had a sick day in all those years! I’m so worried!”
Dr. Lacher replied, “I will be honest, I’m very worried too, but let’s get Matt some sedation and pain relief and see what we have going on.”
Our Docs see a lot of colics. Once you see your first 10-15 colics, you start to notice little things (and sometimes big things) the moment you pull in to a farm. The horse has a pained look in his eye, there is sweat at the flanks, he isn’t just laying down, he’s going up and down repeatedly, and many more subtle signs tell our Docs that things are worse than they seem.
For Matt, it started with his history. A thirty year-old horse with no history of colic suddenly colicing is very often bad. Dr. Lacher noticed Matt had a sheen of sweat over his entire body as soon as she got close to him. Added to that, Matt simply couldn’t get comfortable. He wasn’t quietly laying down; he was up and down and up again in the 30 seconds it took to drive up the driveway.
“I’m giving Matt a large dose of sedation and a morphine-type drug for pain,” Dr. Lacher informed Jane. “Next, I’m going to draw a small amount of blood to run a lactate test.”
“We use lactate in the Emergency Department!” Jane replied. Jane is the nurse you want to have if you ever end up in the Emergency Room. She’s fantastic!
“Yep, we have been using it in horses in much the same way human doctors do for the past 6 years or so. We want his number to be less than 3.0,” said Dr. Lacher. Jane and Dr. Lacher stared at the lactate meter for the longest 13 seconds in history awaiting results. The number loomed large at 7.2.
Dr. Lacher took a deep breath, “That’s not a good number. Let’s see if we can figure out why it’s so high and then we can make decisions from there.” Jane nodded her agreement.
After passing an NG tube in to Matt’s stomach, a rectal exam, and an abdominal ultrasound, it was determined Matt had a strangulating lipoma. This is a fatty tumor that forms over many years. One day all the forces of Mother Nature align and the tumor wraps around the small intestine and cuts off the blood supply. The only cure is colic surgery and this is not one of the “easy” colic surgeries. This one is long, very hard on the horse, and is often followed by a horrible bout of laminitis.
“I think there is only one decision I can make,” Jane stated. “Matt has had a great retirement and a wonderful life. I don’t want him to experience all that pain!”
So under a beautiful sky full of stars, Dr. Lacher and Jane walked Matt to the back field and said goodbye to him. Jane told him how much he was loved and how much she appreciated all he had taught her daughter. Dr. Lacher reflected on all the things these great old horses have contributed to the people around them as she drove home.
‘Twas the night before Thanksgiving and all through the house not a creature was stirring not even a mouse. When what to my wondering ears should I hear but the sound of the BeeGees singing Staying Alive. OK, I wasn’t actually there, but this is what I heard from one of the cats that lives at Dr. Lacher’s house. Around 12:30am her phone rang with another colic. This time it was, Zippy, a 28 year old Morgan with no history of colic.
“Uhoh,” said Dr. Lacher, “Here we go again. I really worry about the old guys colicing!”
Weekend/Emergency Tech/Awesome Husband Justin replied, “So, where are we are heading to?”
This time as Dr. Lacher and Justin pulled up to the farm they saw a horse laying quietly on his side. He was calm as Dr. Lacher put her stethoscope to his chest and abdomen.
“36,” Dr. Lacher stated matter-of-factly “and some gut sounds.”
“36 is good?” asked his owner, Linda.
“36 is very good!” Dr. Lacher replied. Turns out heart rate is one of those important things our Docs use to determine how bad your horse is actually colicing. Anything less than 48 is pretty darn good. Anything over 60 is very worrisome to our Docs. Dr. Lacher went on to explain that the fact that Zippy was laying quietly and willing to remain standing were good signs. Zippy had a calm eye, some gut sounds, and wasn’t sweaty or agitated. All really good signs. His lacate was 1.8. That’s really, really good.
Dr. Lacher put on the big, long sleeve and did a rectal exam. “It’s one of the few ways we have to figure out what’s going on inside this big abdomen. And I’m happy to say that all his parts seem to be in the right places, though he does have a bit of an impaction in his large colon,” she reported.
Dr. Lacher gave Zippy some sedation, muscle relaxers, and pain relievers. Then she and Justin tubed him with our scientifically formulated electrolyte mixture for colics. This formula helps horses get water in to the GI tract which breaks up the impaction. It also had just the right amount of sodium and potassium in there to correct deficiencies colicky horses often get.
“Call me if you need me or have ANY questions,” called Dr. Lacher as she and Justin headed home for a few hours of sleep.
Thanksgiving morning arrived quietly, for about 30 minutes. Around 7:30am the BeeGees were at it again. Stayin Alive could be heard coming from the house as Dr. Lacher and Justin fulfilled their horse feeding duties. This time it was Stephanie calling about her horse, Blue. He was uncomfortable and definitely not interested in breakfast. Personally, I can’t imagine not being interested in food but horses are weird.
As Justin and Dr. Lacher pulled up to this colic Dr. Lacher said, “Oh we are going to be OK with this one.”
“How can you possibly know that?!?” exclaimed Justin.
“I just do,” was Dr. Lacher’s reply.
Allow me to explain what Dr. Lacher meant by “I just do.” Blue was standing in his stall, looking at his sides but not trying to lay down. He had no hay, shavings, or grass on his sides or back, letting Dr. Lacher know he hadn’t been rolling much, if at all, before Stephanie found him acting colicky. Blue also just plain didn’t look as painful as Matt, or even Zippy. His eye was quieter, and while he was clearly uncomfortable, he just wasn’t as frantic as Matt. Dr. Lacher did her exam on Blue and confirmed her suspicions. Blue had a heart rate of 36, gut sounds all over his abdomen, and some gas on rectal palpation.
“Blue is going to be just fine. He has a typical gas colic. They do great with some sedation to relax them, Banamine to help with the pain, and a whole lot of fluids and electrolytes pumped in to help overhydrate them,” Dr. Lacher explained as Stayin’ Alive sounded from the truck. It seemed the Thanksgiving weekend was going to be a long one.
The phone call was from Zippy’s owner. He was still unhappy. While he wasn’t as uncomfortable as the previous evening, he wasn’t interested in food and was laying down quietly. After talking through the possibilities with Linda, Zippy got to go for a trailer ride to the Clinic. I love when the horses come to the clinic so I can perform CAT scans on them!
Zippy was definitely uncomfortable when he stepped off the trailer at the clinic. Dr. Lacher performed her usual exam on him and found his heart rate was a bit high at 48 beats per minute, and he didn’t have the greatest gut sounds. She put that long glove on again and did a rectal exam. Zippy’s impaction was softer but it was still there.
“Sometimes these impactions need a little bit more help. Let’s get an IV catheter in Zippy and get him started on some fluids. I’ll tube him with some more fluids too, just to make sure he is super hydrated,” said Dr. Lacher.
Zippy got started on IV fluids and got some more medication to help his pain. Then Dr. Lacher pulled out her ultrasound machine.
“Because Zippy isn’t back to normal, I’m going to use the ultrasound to look inside his abdomen a different way and see if any of his small intestines are distended or if there’s free fluid,” Dr. Lacher explained.
Zippy’s ultrasound looked great. His small intestine wasn’t distended and I could see it moving on the screen. That was pretty cool. There also wasn’t any free fluid around the intestines. Dr. Lacher told us this would show up as black areas between the intestines. She said Zippy’s large colon was also looking pretty darn normal. While we were checking stuff, Zippy got another lactate. We all breathed a sigh of relief when it was 2.6, a little higher, but still a pretty good number.
By late afternoon on Thanksgiving as I was finishing up the turkey bits Justin brought me, Zippy began looking for food in his stall. This is a really good sign. When colics start looking for food Dr. Lacher always gets really excited. I thought poop was a better sign, but she says they can poop and still be colicing, and that looking for food usually means the colic is all better. Zippy continued to be fed small amounts throughout the night and got to home on Friday morning. I’m sure Linda was very happy to have him back!
I hope you have enjoyed my tale of three colics. I learned a lot about what our Docs look for in a colic. Heart rate seems like a really important clue. If you want to learn how to take your horse’s heart rate, come on by the Clinic or ask us when we are out at your farm. Our Docs and Technicians are always happy to teach!
Until next week,
Quick PSA about the Meet Tony Event this weekend: Exercise for Equestrians. You’ve got limited free time; learn how to make the time you do have to exercise count for all that it can! Come dressed to workout and Kevan will help you work on technique. No, he will not be making anyone perform 50 Burpees or anything of that sort. I will, likely, be lying in the aisle watching the goings on since I do NOT exercise.
Anywho, on to my life, which is really what’s important here. Colic. As far as I can tell, it’s what horses do when they are bored and seeking proof that their human is well trained to do their bidding. My Docs, however, tell me it is largely due to the rather ridiculous system horses evolved to digest their food, combined with the rather ridiculous system humans have developed to house and feed said horses. Also, cold weather.
We all know that horses have a crazy GI tract, and we can’t fix that. What we can fix is what you humans do to that GI tract. Start with feeding good stuff. Need help figuring that part out? Contact Beth at the Clinic. She’s an expert. She even has a certificate that says so from a leading feed manufacturer! Between that certificate and over a decade in the feed industry, Beth has answers to your feed questions. Beth tells me forage should form the foundation of the diet. She tells me horses must eat more than the mouthful or so of grass that I eat and then puke up in some inappropriate place. They need to eat 1.5-2% of their body weight in hay every day! From there, supplement the gaps with as little concentrate as possible. Again, Beth is our go to when it comes to nutrition. Got questions? She’s got answers!
Moving on to the most common reason the Docs get called out this time of year: round bales of coastal hay. The weather gets cool, the grass stops growing, and you humans remember that 1.5-2% body weight forage thing and put out a round bale. Horses, being less intelligent than cats, get so excited about the hay, they gorge themselves to oblivion and get an ileal impaction. How do you make sure this doesn’t happen? Start with square bales. Throw out 1 flake twice daily, then 2 flakes twice daily, and keep increasing the quantity until your horse is leaving some of the hay. THEN you can put out the round bale. Also add some peanut or alfalfa hay. I realize most of our horses suffer from too many calories so alfalfa/peanut seems like a bad addition, but luckily adding 3-5 pounds of these hays per day can keep the GI tract moving in the right direction. Other strategies than can help reduce the risk of coastal hay impactions are the addition of very wet, soaked beet pulp or alfalfa cubes (the minis work best) to the diet, and adding salt on very cold nights.
Trust me, my Docs don’t want to see you for a colic any more than you want to see them. Let’s all do our part to keep those horses pooping as they were meant to be pooping!
Did you miss the last See Tony Opportunity? There’s another coming up on November 19th at 10am. I understand this is a Saturday and that you humans don’t do the thing known as work on that day. That means no excuses for not coming to see me. This will be a talk about exercises and mental strategies that can improve your riding. I don’t know about the exercise portion, but I hear petting a cat while he purrs is an excellent mental calming exercise.
Now on to the main topic for this week: worms. Allow me to digress for a moment; it will make sense in a moment. A funny thing happens around this time of year. First, I notice a change in the weather to excellent catnapping in the sun temperatures, next I notice there is less of the aforementioned sun, and finally one day the humans are all late for their serving duties. This has been explained to me as The Time Change. I feel it’s just an excuse for opening the door and feeding me a full hour late! How does this relate to worms? This Time Change thing coincides with the ideal time to check a fecal parasite egg count on horses. I am a wise cat. I know all sorts of things the average city cat doesn’t.
Worms are smart. Not cat smart, but smart. Over time they have learned how to survive every deworming agent available: that includes the so called “natural” dewormers (more on that later). We humans are responsible for teaching the worms this skill. By using dewormers too often, we let the worms learn how to fight. What’s a horse owner to do? Learn how to use deworming properly by doing three things: 1-Deworm the right horse, 2-Use the right product, 3-Deworm at the right time.
Let’s start with deworming the right horse. The only way to know if your horse has parasites is something called a fecal parasite egg count. This is performed using a small amount of fresh poop. We do some mixing, spinning, and settling before we are able to count how many eggs are left on a microscope slide. This number is our guideline for which horses need deworming now and how often they are likely to need dewormed. These egg counts are often very surprising. Turns out it’s pretty difficult to tell if a horse has worms just by looking at them. Plenty of fat, shiny horses have really high egg counts!
On to the right product. Once upon a time a great idea arose among people who study worms. There were a few products available and they were from different chemical families so it made sense to rotate those products so the worms couldn’t get used to any one drug. Sounds good, makes sense, DOESN’T work. The worms are pretty good at resisting the –zoles and pyrantel so using these drugs doesn’t do much good unless you know they work on your farm. How do you know if they work? Fecal egg counts. Here at Springhill Equine we usually stick to ivermectin and moxidectin used as infrequently as possible, again based on those fecal egg counts.
Deworm at the right time of year for the biggest bang for your buck. You may find this hard to believe but worms don’t like summertime in Florida. This means if we deworm once the weather gets hot, all the worms get killed in the horse and the sunshine kills all the worms in the ground. That means less deworming because you are decreasing your horse’s exposure to parasites. Next we wait for the weather to cool off (like it does right around the time change) to hit the parasites coming out of summer hibernation. Ta Da! Targeted deworming!!!
These strategies help the dewormers we have now last as long as possible. It is very, very important that deworming is done with help from our amazing Clinic. All of our technicians and docs can help you design the plan that’s right for your horse, your property, and your horse’s lifestyle. There are no new dewormers even in development. That means when resistance to ivermectin becomes widespread, that’s it. We won’t have a way to deworm horses and worms used to kill horses. So be a good human and deworm your horse the right way!