I'm sure you've all heard the old saying, "If you don't like the weather in Texas, just wait a few minutes and it'll change." Well, over the last few weeks that saying has never been truer. From a horseman's standpoint, the dramatic shifts in temperature, wind speed, pollen count and humidity have been showing up in a variety of different ailments. Horses tend to have times of the year when respiratory infections are more common, other times runny eyes and noses flare up because of allergens.
Technology touches every part of our lives.It cools our houses, helps us run faster, gets us better fuel mileage, and ensures there is always a song we like on the radio. When technology is applied to horses, the best application in a long time has been the use of MRI in the diagnosis and treatment of lameness.
I would be interested to know, from a horse owner standpoint, how many people choose to insure their horses for loss of use and/or major medical coverage versus straight mortality coverage?
I have insured my own personal horses for just mortality in the past, since as a veterinarian I can get my work done at a little better deal than the average horse owner. But, what horse insurance comes down to, in my opinion, is how much money are you willing to walk away from and not have a problem with it.
For me, the most important piece of information I use to determine if I look at one right off is if they have a fever or not. Normal rectal temp for a horse is from 99.5 to 101.5°F. Most horses tend to be consistent in what their normal temp is so you can get an idea if it's on the rise. Anything over 102.5 will get my attention, but I don't worry about getting aggressive until it gets upwards of 104. The main thing with a fever is that with most infections it means they are contagious - either shedding virus particles or bacteria. Knowing this will affect not just your horse, but the neighbors horse, or others you own not yet showing symptoms. Fever horses get looked at right away, snotty horses with normal temps can vary. Horses are like kids and when it comes to respiratory disease. I tend to treat them the same in many respects. If they are eating well, no fever, and feel pretty good otherwise I try not to interfere with letting their immune systems catch up to the bug and clear it out - even if they have quite a bit of nasal discharge and coughing.
If, however, you can hear the gurgling noise of mucus while your horse is breathing at rest, see abrupt weight loss, or enlarging lymph nodes under or behind the jaw, then I prefer to not let nature take its course without stepping in. Basically, all respiratory infections are bacterial (ex. strangles or some type of strep. infection) or viral (influenza, rhino, etc.). Rarely will I see a true fungal pneumonia, and they tend to look like a disaster early, so don't worry about that for now. The odd thing about bacteria and viruses is that to the untrained eye (and the very well trained eye) the early symptoms can look very similar. Nasal discharge, coughing, matted eyes, and general lethargy are common between the two types of infections. So, how do you proceed?
First off, I'm not going to lie to you and say I don't start horses on antibiotics that show these symptoms without a fever. I think lots of veterinarians will agree with me that sometimes you have to treat the owner more than you do the horse, but I'm also at the stage in my career that I do not feel bad about just flat saying ,"no, there's nothing wrong with your horse", either. So, if no other horses in the same pen or immediately neighboring areas have fevers, a history of recent fevers, strangles or flu/rhino infections I would say our snot nosed, matted eye horse with snot in the water bucket gets to go a few more days without being seen or prescribed antibiotics. Some owners will not accept this answer readily and I am always glad to look at them just to make sure there is nothing else going on and we both feel better about "scientific neglect" for the time being. If, however, in the next few days we see a fever of 102.5 or greater, hear mucus lung sounds, see enlarging lymph nodes or overt loss of appetite, etc. then he wins a trip to the vet.
Not all horses need antibiotics, but most will sure benefit from anti-inflammatories to reduce fevers, increase appetite and provide some much needed relief from an over whelmed immune system. Some do, however, need to begin a course of antibiotics to shake the "snots," which like ours tends to start from a viral infection and proceed to some form of upper respiratory bacterial infection. Nothing takes the place of a good physical exam, blood work and possible scoping the horses upper airway.
So, if your veterinarian decides it's best to skip the drugs, at least give your horse a chance to clear the infection on his own. If the decision is made to begin medication please stay with it until the medication is complete and the symptoms are gone. The video clip you'll see is of a "clinically normal horse" that got better after a few days on antibiotics, so the owners stopped giving the medication well before it was time. What resulted is a chondroid, a dried out lump of pus that remained in his guttural pouch. The endoscopic removal of the chondroid was required to stop this horse from continually shedding and transmitting strangles infection to the other horses he came in contact with. Hope, this doesn't happen to your horse, but it sure is fun to get them out with the endoscope if it does!
Horse owner: Hey Doc, I've got a young horse that's had a snotty nose for a few days now, but he doesn't seem to feel bad. He'll cough every once in a while, and some mornings his eyes will be matted up with mucus. Today I went to go feed and there was a big, green glob of snot in his water bucket. Do you think you need to look at him, or can I just start him on some antibiotics?
Vet: Well, there are a few things I need to find out first, and then we'll know what's the best thing to do.
1. How young of a horse are we talking about?
2. Do you have any other, older, or neighbor horses that are sick also?
3. Has the colt run a fever of 102° or more?
4. What is the vaccination history of your horses?
As a horse owner, general respiratory disease is one of the more common problems you'll deal with. To get a good base of information to start with, answer the few questions above. Sometimes thinking about the answer to these will bring up some other points about the horse you may not have thought of until now. This will get you thinking about why horses get respiratory infections, and what signs you can look for to try and head off the worst of it.
Normal values for a horse
Heart Rate 32-36 beats per minute
Respiratory Rate 16-18 breaths per minuteNext time we'll go over the symptoms to look for, including the details most people overlook, what you can do at home and which horses need to be looked at by your vet.
From an owner’s standpoint, what can you do when you first notice your horse losing weight over a relatively short period of time? For horses of any age, the three primary causes of weight loss are 1) Teeth, 2) Parasites, and 3) Diet.