5 Preventable Reasons for Unplanned Vet Visits

5 Preventable Reasons for Unplanned Vet Visits

Tuesdays with Tony

My Springhill docs love seeing our clients and horses. So do I, because that means more adoring fans bringing me treats and attention. Our favorite reason to see you is for routine stuff like vaccines and dentals, instead of emergencies, and I bet you would agree! Of course, Springhill is always there for you if something unexpected happens, but we are happier if things are going well for you and your horses. As for me, I’ve found that I get more treats if you lot are in a good mood. Emergency vet visits tend to bring things down a bit, so let’s talk about how you can avoid them.

It’s unfortunately pretty common for my docs to treat illnesses or injuries that could have been avoided with a little preventative action. Of course, it’s not possible to prevent every issue, because horses are ridiculously talented at self-destruction. But if you could protect your horse (and your pocketbook), wouldn’t it be worth putting in a little effort now? Here are my top 5 preventable reasons your horse might need an emergency visit, and how you can avoid them.

1. Lacerations from Unsafe Fencing

Your horse is looking around right now for something to cut himself on. I recommend doing an inspection of every space that your horse has access to at least once a month. Basically, if you wouldn’t want a two-year-old kid messing with it for safety reasons, you probably don’t want your horse messing with it either.

Things like barbed wire, old rusted-out car bodies, nails sticking out of walls, broken gates, ancient farming implements, broken buckets, and that sort of thing should be removed from the horse’s pasture, paddock, and stall. Even if the horse has been grazing around it for years without a problem, it only takes one instant in time to produce a dramatic injury. I see it all the time.

Take a good look at your fencing. If it’s barbed wire, I guarantee there will be a laceration in your future, and you should either replace your fencing now or start a savings account called Vet Bills (you should have that savings account anyway, but that’s another blog). Horses are not like cowstheir skin is not as thick, and their fight-or-flight instinct is much stronger. If a horse finds himself tangled in wire, he will immediately struggle and pull until he frees himself, even if that means leaving most of the skin from his legs behind.

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Your fence doesn’t have to be anything scary like barbed wire for your horse to find ways to injure himself. Board fences look great and generally do a good job keeping horses in, but are prone to board breakages and nails backing out, leaving beautiful laceration opportunities. Walk those fence lines periodically with an eye out for not just broken boards, but also backedout nails. 

The cost of fixing broken fences or replacing barbed wire? Probably cheaper than a weekend emergency visit from your veterinarian. Especially if it happens twice. Or three times.

2. Lameness Caused by Poor Hoof Care

Laminitis, navicular syndrome, hoof abscess, tendon injury, white line disease, thrush, hoof cracks…. these are all types of lameness problems that can be caused or worsened by poor hoof care.

Your horse’s hooves should be trimmed every 4-6 weeks. Find a great farrier and stay on schedule. Letting them grow too long between trims is detrimental to the health of his feet and legs and can cause serious lameness problems. For example, a long toe and a negative palmar angle can exacerbate pain coming from the heel area, so a horse with navicular problems will be very sensitive to these measurements. 

Imbalance in a horse’s feet is one of the most common risk factors for tendon and ligament injuries. When the toes get too long, it puts excess stress on the tendons and ligaments at the back of the heel and up the leg. That can cause cumulative long-term damage as well as increase the chance of a major blow out of the tendon. It’s especially important for horses with conformational challenges to stay on top of their hoof care, since they are at increased risk for damage.

Hoof hygiene is important to prevent hoof diseases. Keep your horse’s feet picked out regularly. Stalls and paddocks should be kept picked out, so his feet aren’t constantly exposed to urine and manure that degrade hoof tissue. If the weather is wet and the field is muddy, provide a way for the feet to dry for at least part of each day. Know how to recognize thrush, white line disease, hoof cracks, and other common hoof disorders.

It’s easier to make necessary changes to maintain soundness than to reverse years of wear and tear that have already caused lameness issues. This also makes long term sense for your wallet. Preventative care is usually a lot cheaper (and more successful) than trying to fix long term problems. 

3. Some Colics

Okay, I’m not saying you can prevent every colic. There’s no way, since your horse is…a horse. But let’s work on reducing the number of them you’ll have to deal with.

Buy good quality hay. I know, I know, hay is so expensive. But so is an emergency vet visit. Poor quality hay can cause colic, especially impactions and diarrhea. It probably won’t provide the nutrients your horse needs either. Trust me, it’s not worth trying to save a few dollars.  

Make feed changes slooowly. If your horse has only been eating pasture, introduce hay very gradually. Coastal hay especially should be started slowly, since it’s known to cause a type of colic called an ileal impaction. Throwing a bunch of hay at a GI tract that’s been used to green grass is a recipe for an unscheduled vet visit. Absolutely DO NOT put a roll of coastal hay out when your horse isn’t already eating it. We would love to avoid coastal hay altogether, but it’s economical, so many people feed it. If you’re going to feed coastal, add some legume hay (that’s alfalfa or peanut) to your horse’s diet to dilute out the bad effects of the coastal. A flake a day is generally sufficient.

Keep your horse well hydrated. Especially when the weather changes, there’s a new shipment of hay, or you’re traveling with your horse. I wrote a whole other blog on it, which you can find here.

Prevent sand accumulation. The sand your horse picks up while grazing can accumulate in his colon, causing very serious colic issues. Don’t wait until he is colicky to do something about it. My blog has some suggestions for how to prevent and treat sand, which you can find here. I know, more free cat knowledge!

4. Tooth Problems

When was your horse’s last dental exam? If it wasn’t within the last year, it’s time to schedule. Don’t wait for your horse to start dropping feed and losing weight. That’s not the time to do a dental, those signs mean you already have major dental issues. Worn or uneven teeth can be prone to fracture and infection, which can turn into a complicated, expensive problem. Bad teeth can also cause riding problems like head tossing, resisting the bit, problems flexing or bending, and failing to work well, all due to pain from his teeth.

Don’t go looking for some fancy supplement for your underweight horse if you haven’t taken care of the basics first. That’s a waste of money. The average horse should have a dental exam and float once a year by a veterinarian. The goal is to do a little touch up every year so your horse can maintain good teeth long into his senior years. When the teeth are neglected, and problems have already occurred, it’s a lot harder for my doc to make your horse comfortable and corrections may be more expensive. She can’t put back teeth that have worn down or fractured, or been improperly floated by a layperson. Start early and stay current with your horse’s dental care.

5. Preventable Chokes

“Choke is when your horse gets something stuck in his esophagus and can’t swallow it. Dental problems can 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 by your veterinarian

Choke can be caused by hay, grain, treats like carrots and apples, or non-food objects. Certain feeds such as alfalfa cubes or beet pulp must be pre-moistened with water prior to feeding. If they are fed dry, your horse can easily choke on them. Soak alfalfa cubes and beet pulp in a bucket of water for at least 20 minutes prior to feeding. Your horse will get more hydration and be less prone to chokea win-win. Some things, such as corn on the cob, must never be fed as treats due to the risk of obstruction they present.

Some horses are feed-gulpers. They try to eat so fast that they don’t chew their feed enough before they swallow. You’ll want to find a way to slow him down to avoid a choke. Wetting down his grain or hay will make it less likely to get stuck. Putting large smooth rocks in your horse’s feed bucket will make it harder for him to grab big mouthfuls. Some horses may relax and slow down a bit if they are separated from other horses at feeding time. And remember to schedule that dental exam with your veterinarian since tooth problems are a common cause!

Trust me, it’s ALWAYS cheaper to do the preventative care and avoid the emergency visit. Don’t try to save a buck now and regret it later. Give my docs a call if you have questions about any of these things. Remember, our goal is to NOT see you for an emergency!

Until next week,

~ Tony

P.S. Have you subscribed to my blog? It’s the big purple box right down there, below this. Be a good human and scroll down a bit and subscribe. Don’t rely on Facebook to deliver my knowledge nuggets to you. They’re even less reliable than cats, and that’s saying something.                                

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?

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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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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

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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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Eye Problems Part 2

Eye Problems Part 2

Tuesdays with Tony

Are you ready for Eyes Part 2? Really, eyes could be a 5 or 6-part blog, but for now we’ll keep it to two. These will keep the most common eye problems horses have in the spotlight, so you know what to look out for. Conjunctivitis, abscesses, and lacerations happen often, and almost always on the weekend. If it hasn’t already been ingrained in your head, I’ll say it again: Eye problems are ALWAYS an emergency!

Conjunctivitis

The conjunctiva is the mucous membrane that covers the inside of the eyelids and lies over the white part, or sclera, of the eye. When this tissue becomes inflamed, the result is conjunctivitis. Conjunctivitis can have similar clinical signs to other common eye problems, including corneal ulcers, uveitis, and abscesses.

Horses with conjunctivitis often will have tearing from the eye, generalized redness, and swelling. It’s not uncommon for horses with conjunctivitis to be seen rubbing their eyes, making them more prone to developing corneal ulcers. As usual with horses, conjunctivitis can be caused by a number of different reasons, like allergies, insect hypersensitivity, and other environmental irritants. Conjunctivitis can also lead to secondary ocular problems such as obstructed tear ducts, which can require veterinary attention to resolve. 

Treatment of conjunctivitis includes anti-inflammatories, antihistamines, and occasionally, anti-biotics. Topical anti-inflammatories can be dangerous if there is any kind of insult to the cornea and can result in a small scratch becoming a large, melting, sight-threatening ulcer. Therefore, it is never a good idea to treat an eye before your veterinarian assesses the eye and prescribes the appropriate treatment. Similarly, treatment of an obstructed tear duct requires veterinary involvement. If performed incorrectly, there is risk for rupture of the tear duct. 

If your veterinarian suspects that your horses tear duct is obstructed, they will sedate your horse, as most horses HATE this process. They will then insert a small tube into a tiny hole in your horse’s nostril and flush a solution of saline and usually steroid up the tear duct to dislodge any mucous that has accumulated. I find it to be utterly disgusting, but for some reason the docs and techs love to do this. They say it’s rewarding. Humans.

Antihistamines are often prescribed if your horse has an overall allergic appearance. You know what I’m talking about, the itchy mane with hair missing and the crusty tail, those guys really need antihistamines. As a cat with allergies, I can tell you how important it is to control the itchiness before it results in a skin or eye infection. An easy way to help protect your horse’s eyes from external environmental factors is placement of fly mask. Some horses really just don’t know what’s good for them and often like to remove their fly masks. Don’t be afraid to ask my docs about the fly masks out there that are significantly more difficult for horses to remove.

Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic

Stromal Abscesses

Probably one of the most frustrating eye problems a horse can get is a stromal abscess. This is when bacteria or fungus gets trapped within the layers of the cornea and the top layer of the cornea heals, allowing the organism to reproduce and grown within the deeper layers of the cornea with no way out. Abscesses are extremely painful for your horse and result in extreme squinting and copious tearing, often with mucoid discharge present as well. These horses tend to be head shy and do not want anything or anyone near their eyes.

An abscess within the cornea is usually easily diagnosed by a yellow-white circular infiltrate surrounded by edema, and occasionally blood vessels. Recognizing an abscess early is extremely important when it comes to successful treatment. Also, recognizing that treatment will be long, intense, and likely expensive is very important. You as an owner must be upfront and open with your veterinarian about your willingness to be involved in treatment and your budget.

Treatment almost always includes placement of a subpalpebral lavage, along with every 2-hour administration of 4-6 eye medications around the clock for several weeks. These things are exhausting, let me tell you. When we have one here at the clinic, I literally get no sleep, which is saying something for a cat. Neither does the horse or my minions. This is a lot to take on at home, so think hard about your willingness to get up at midnight, and 2 am, and 4 am, etc. to go give your horse more eye meds. It will take over your life, so that’s why we encourage you to let us handle it for you. We have more people to share the load. 

One of the most important goals of treating an abscess is to control the inflammation. Once the inflammation is under control, the abscess has a chance to heal. Sometimes, medications will be injected directly into the conjunctiva or abscess itself to facilitate die-off of the organism and allow for healing to occur. These things can take 6 weeks or longer to heal. It’s a long hard road but, if it caught early and treated aggressively, they can heal, and sight can be normal.

If an abscess does not heal despite intense treatment, or if it’s been left too long without treatment, enucleation may be recommended. This is when the entire globe of the eye is removed. Sometimes enucleations are the best option for the horse and the owner, and sometimes it’s the only option.  

Lacerations

If you have ever owned a horse, then you’ve probably had a horse who has sliced his eye lid almost clean off. They find the most random places to do this too: screw eyes, bucket handles and hooks, double ended snaps, tree branches, horse trailers, fences, literally just about anywhere you can think of, a horse has lacerated his eye lid on it. You can be the most cautious owner in the world and your horse will still find a way to lacerate his eye lid. 

Looking at the lacerated eyelid, it might seem like a simple fix to just finish off the job and trim the flap off. Please, for the love of cats, do not do this! Your horse needs his eyelids! Their eyelids protect them from when they stick their heads in places they shouldn’t, they act as a lubricating system to the eye, and protect them from UV rays from the sun. Horses need their eyelids. Do not, I repeat, do not cut off their eyelids.

Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic

Always call your veterinarian if you notice a lacerated eyelid. The sooner they come out to fix it, the better. After a while, the flap will start to lose blood supply, and once that happens, fixing it may not be an option. When your veterinarian comes out, they will assess the damage, which 9 times out of 10 looks significantly worse than it is. They will sedate your horse, clean up the eyelid, and put it back together with sutures. They will also examine the eye itself to make sure there was no damage done to the eye. You will likely have instructions to apply topical antibiotic and administer anti-inflammatories daily. Sutures have to be removed after several days, as they can cause trauma to the eye if left in longer than directed. The best part about eye lid lacerations is, after your horse looks like he has been in a bar fight for a couple of days, you’ll barely notice anything ever happened and they heal up fantastically.

Eyes are the window to the world and your horse needs them just as much as you do. So, who are you going to call when your horse has an eye problem? YOUR VETERINARIAN! This cat could go on and on about eyes, so if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to call the clinic.

Until next week,

~Tony

P.S. If you want to really get deep into horse eyes, you should listen to the podcast the humans do. It’s called Straight from the Horse Doctor’s Mouth, and they have several in-depth episodes on eyes. You can find them here on the Podcast Page, or subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. Every horse owner should be listening to this fantastic free resource! In addition to reading my cat wisdoms, of course. Goes without saying.

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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More Adventures of the Horse Doctor's Husband