Sheep and Goat Parasite Management

Sheep and Goat Parasite Management

Tuesdays with Tony

I’ve waxed poetic more than once on parasite control in horses and donkeys, which I’ve summed up succinctly as: “deworm less.” Well, today I’m here to talk about that same thing in goats and sheep (spoiler alert, the sum-up will be similar). Dr. Speziok has only been here for a few months, but I’ve already listened to her spiel on small ruminant parasites more times than I can count. So, let’s talk about the major parasites of our cloven-hooved friends and, more importantly, how to manage them.

Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic

Let’s Meet the Contestants

There are four different worms that love to cause problems in ruminant guts, and just like the boy bands of yesteryear, they have an acronym: HOTC.

HOTC stands for: Haemonchus, Ostertagia, Trichostrongylus, and Cooperia. These “big four” cause all kinds of issues for sheep and goats and can make them very, very sick. We talk about them as a group because when we do our fecal egg counts (similar, but a bit more complicated to the fecals we do on horses once a year), they all look the same under the microscope, so we count them together.

In most sheep and goats, the species called Haemonchus contortus is the main player. Otherwise known as the Barberpole worm, it lives in the abomasum (the last chamber of the 4-chamber stomach) and small intestine and sucks blood for a living.

What Do They Do?

These tiny-but-mighty blood feeders lead to anemia, edema, emaciation, and GI distress. Sheep and goats can lose weight, have pale mucous membranes, high FAMACHA scores, and bottle jaw.

These pesky pests can even hide in their hosts by going into a dormant state called hypobiosis when they sense the weather would be unfavorable for eggs on the pasture. In the south, this is basically only the hottest part of summer, but even then they never really go away. In this hypobiotic state, the larvae are significantly more resistant to dewormers and only a few products even stand a chance against them.

Why do sheep and goats seem so sensitive to their little intestinal passengers? Well, they mostly evolved to live on mountain tops away from warm, moist environments that harbor parasites. So when we bring them to the southeastern US, their little guts have no idea what to do with all these worms!

Drug Resistance

Unfortunately, just like with horses, you humans used to think that deworming very often and with rotating products was the way to go. It was very much not, as we know now, and it has only worsened the major parasite resistance issues we’re dealing with.

Doctor’s orders here: avoid deworming on any type of routine or schedule. Deworming needs to be targeted and adjusted based on individual animals as directed by the veterinarian you have a great relationship with. Parasite resistance is a very large, very real problem that we can only fight by being strategic. What works for one farm will not work for another, and the history of an individual animal is vital to making these protocol decisions. No more blanket approach!


One of the most important skills and duties of a sheep or goat owner is to perform regular FAMACHA score checks. No, that’s not another boy band. It’s an anemia scoring system developed in South Africa to help small ruminant owners monitor the health of their animals. I’ve watched Dr. Speziok demonstrate this system to just about every goat owner that’s come to Springhill, so make sure your veterinarian shows you how to do it! FAMACHA scores are judged by the mucous membranes on the inside of the lower eyelids.

To expose the mucous membranes, have the animal in an area with good light and use an assistant to help restrain them if necessary. Use the thumb of your upper hand to COVER the eye, then to PUSH the eye slightly into the socket. Use the thumb of your lower hand to PULL the lower eyelid down, and watch the mucous membranes POP into view. This does not hurt the animal, and if it’s done weekly or monthly on a regular basis, it will become routine for them.

Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic

The basic premise of FAMACHA is the darker the pink color of those mucous membranes, the better the goat is doing. The details of the scoring system and how it is used is one of those things that are best learned in person, so have your veterinarian show you how to use this scoring system next time you see them.

Deworming Protocols

Protocols will vary based on an individual herd or flock, but the main point is that all deworming of small ruminants should be based on the individual animals’ FAMACHA score and their fecal egg count. Checking those mucous membrane colors can become part of your farm routine, and when they are pale, collect a fecal sample for your veterinarian to analyze. Those two things together determine when a dewormer should be used. If there are resistance issues on your farm, your veterinarian may need you to give two different dewormers at the same time. This attacks those annoying worms from multiple attack angles, giving us a better chance of killing them.

I know you humans love to focus on the medications we animals need, but management strategies are often the most important things you can do. Feeding sheep and goats above the ground and keeping their pens clean will help prevent them from reinfecting themselves and each other with the parasites they shed. If you are breeding your small ruminants, do not breed those that constantly require deworming. Try to have dams lamb or kid in a clean, dry pen with minimal other adult animals.

Work with your veterinarian to manage the overall health of your animals, which will help them better fight off parasites. Dr. Speziok is now offering a herd/flock evaluation where you can learn some awesome tips and tricks for making your small ruminants as happy and healthy as they can be!

Until next week,

~ Tony

P.S. Have you subscribed to my blog, or are you just hoping that you’ll see it on Facebook? Be a good human and scroll down to that big purple box and subscribe, and not only will you get my blog in your email, you’ll get it a day before everyone else! That’s a purr-fect reason if you ask me.

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, or follow us on Facebook!

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More Adventures of the Horse Doctor's Husband
How to Have A Smart Deworming Protocol

How to Have A Smart Deworming Protocol

Tuesdays with Tony

For those of you who missed my Deworming Seminar on Thursday- you have offended me down to my kitty core. I understand it was chilly and those were the days when it got dark at 6:30 pm, but all I wanted was to tell you my secrets about evil worms that like to live inside horse’s guts. Well, my secrets are out now, so I may as well share them with all of you.


   Back in the day when Zimectrin, the first oral paste dewormer, stepped onto the scene, it seemed like a good idea to deworm your horse every 6 weeks or so. After all, more is better, right? Then, some different dewormers came on the market, and it seemed like an even better idea to rotate between these products, and use a different one every 6 weeks. Heck, vets even recommended this.
    Well, it turns out this wasn’t such a good plan. You know how antibiotic resistance develops when antibiotics are over-used or used improperly? The same thing is now happening with dewormers. By rotating between deworming medications, we have shown the parasites every drug in our arsenal. This has given the parasites the ability to become resistant to every one of our deworming products. And that, folks, is terrifying.
    So why can’t they just come up with a new deworming medication? Well, unfortunately it’s not a simple process. And “they” (the drug companies) aren’t too inclined to invest a bunch of time and money into research and development of a new product when people are still buying their available products like hot-cakes. (Mmm, hot-cakes…) Also, even if somebody decided today to start developing a new dewormer, it would be about 10 years before we would see it on the shelves. That’s just how long the whole process of drug development, clinical trials, and FDA approval takes.
   So basically this leaves us with a handful of equine deworming medications, and a population of parasites that is anywhere from a little bit resistant to completely resistant to them. Dewormers that used to work for 4-5 months are now only effective for 4-5 weeks. Deworming your foal with one product as a baby essentially means that product will not work the next time you go to use it. Depending on what type of worms you are trying to target (roundworms vs strongyles) you may as well be giving your horse apple-flavored toothpaste rather than some of our available dewormers.

Our Plan to Fight Back

   Even though the outlook is dismal right now, vets (with the help of some very smart researchers) have come up with a plan to fight back.
   So, we all agree that showing the parasites every dewormer multiple times is a bad plan, right? Instead, let’s only show the parasites ONE dewormer (Equimax), ONCE a year (in the fall). Fall is the best time of year to do this because that’s the peak season for parasite breeding here in Florida. Equimax is the product we recommend because it has Ivermectin to get the problematic small strongyles, as well as Praziquantel to take care of the tapeworms that don’t show up reliably on fecal checks.
   But Tony, you may ask, what if my horse is a high shedder? Well, let’s first remember that only 20% of horses carry 80% of the worm burden. This means that the chances your horse is a high shedder are slim. That being said, we are happy to do a fecal egg count on your horse in the spring, and IF he comes back as a high shedder, we will give you special permission to deworm him a second time.

What about Foals?

    Ok, foals are entirely different creatures when it comes to parasites. As babies, they are still susceptible to Ascarids (roundworms), plus they haven’t developed their own immunity against strongyles yet. For this reason, I have developed a unique protocol for these special ones, we’ll call it the ‘Tony protocol’. Step 1: Deworm your foal at 2-3 months with Panacur. Step 2: Bring us a fecal sample to check at 5-6 months…we will tell you what to do. Step 3: Bring us another fecal sample at 9 months; we will tell you if your foal is a high shedder. Step 4: Deworm at 1 year with Equimax.
     Yearlings to 3 year olds still get special treatment as they continue to develop their natural immunity to parasites. You may deworm them once in the spring with plain Ivermectin and once in the fall with Equimax. It’s a good idea to bring us a fecal sample in the summer for your 1-3 year-olds to see if they require a 3rd deworming.

What else can I do?

  Since you are going to be saving a bunch of money by NOT buying dewormer every 6 weeks, why not invest in a nice pitchfork and wheelbarrow, and maybe a fancy composting system at your farm? It’s a fact that removing fresh manure from your pastures drastically reduces worm burdens in grazing horses. Plus, it’s a great way to get a lifetime supply of high-quality fertilizer! Just remember to never spread fresh manure on pastures where horses will be grazing. Manure has to go through the composting process in order to reach high enough internal temperatures to kill parasite larvae.
     It’s important to remember that 80% of horses are only carrying 20% of the parasites, so there’s a good chance that your horse does not need to be dewormed at all. A simple fecal analysis will tell you if you need to or not. Out of the 30-something fecal analyses we did for those that came to the seminar last week, only 4 of them were high shedders. 4! That’s pretty solid reasoning as far as this cat is concerned.
    Now that you know my secrets, I need you to make me a promise. I need 100% cooperation for this once-a-year deworming master plan to succeed. We can defeat the parasites, but we need your help! So, promise me that you will tell all of your horse friends THE PLAN. If you came to my seminar, or read my blog, you are now an honorary expert on deworming horses. And if any of your friends have questions, tell them to call me….at which point I will direct them to the nearest doctor.
    Thank you for your attention. *APPLAUSE*
P.S. As a special gift from me to you, here’s a link to the video of the seminar. You will really have expert status with facts to quote after you watch this! Parasites and Deworming Seminar

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Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Office Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at, or follow us on Facebook!

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 – Deworming

Tuesdays with Tony – Deworming

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!