Health Matters

The Importance of Routine Dentals for the Horse

Written by Hannah Wellman on .

The equine mouth is a little different from ours in that their teeth are constantly erupting. The chewing motion that they make from side to side and slightly forward is what keeps their teeth “filed” so to speak. However, the horse’s maxilla or upper jaw is quite a bit wider than the horse’s mandible, or lower jaw. This leads to uneven wear as the horse chews and sharp enamel points can develop over time. These points can cause painful ulcerations along their cheeks and underneath their tongues. Because horses don’t open wide on command, these ulcerations may go undetected. As an owner, you may just notice that your horse is just not as cooperative under tack, or is resistant to certain tasks. In more severe cases the ulcers can make the horse’s mouth so sore that they stop eating and weight loss can develop.

It is important that your veterinarian comes annually and completes a dental exam using a mouth speculum and light source to visualize and assess the condition of your horse’s mouth. Sharp points can be rasped away with hand floats or more modern power dentistry tools to achieve a "balanced" mouth. Good oral hygiene is a vital part of your horses overall health and well-being and should be included in your horse’s yearly wellness examination in association with your veterinarian.

Potomac Horse Fever

Written by Hannah Wellman on .

Potomac horse fever, also called equine monocytic ehrlichiosis, is a disease affecting horses in the USA, Canada and Europe. The exact mode of transmission is not known, but the disease appears to be more prevalent around freshwater streams and rivers. This is thought to be related to populations of certain snail and insect species which are proposed to be part of the organisms life cycle and mode of transmission. Horses can not get the disease from other horses.

The disease prevalence for Potomac horse fever is greatest in summer and early fall. Not all horses that become infected with the organism show outward clinical signs. Horses that develop symptoms often exhibit a fever and decreased appetite. Some develop diarrhea. Mares may abort around seven months of pregnancy. Based on the above processes, and secondary systemic endotoxemia, horses may go on to develop laminitis. Potomac horse fever can be fatal. Potomac horse fever is diagnosed by a blood test. Veterinarians may suspect the disease based on the time of year, prevalence in area, history and clinical signs and may therefore begin treatment before the results become available.

Treatment includes antibiotics and supportive care such as fluids and anti-inflammatories. The disease can progress quickly so aggressive treatment is often warranted in horses displaying clinical signs.

Equine Injuries

Written by Hannah Wellman on .

The most important aspect of equine injuries is to make sure the people involved in the horse’s care stay as safe as possible. Alert any emergency services that there is a horse involved and call a veterinarian immediately.

If the horse is down it is often safest to allow the horse to remain recumbent. Horses can move their legs and kick out in a large circumference. Allow plenty of space between a down horse and where you are. Horses are naturally ‘flight’ creatures and can react
strongly to loud noises or quickly changing conditions. Keep the area as quiet as possible.

If the horse is standing but obviously injured, restrict movement as much as possible. If it looks like the horse has a broken leg, support the horse so that they do not put weight on that leg. Lacerations on legs with intense bleeding may be wrapped with clean clothing to apply pressure. Bleeding involving the head, neck or chest is best controlled with direct pressure.

If you own horses, or will be involved with the care of a horse, always make sure someone with you is familiar with the animals history and veterinarian, should you be injured and unable to communicate this in times of emergency. If you are traveling out of state, keep the number of veterinary hospitals in the area with you. If they do not operate a 24-hour facility, make sure you have an emergency contact.

Some veterinary facilities offer equine first-aid courses to horse owners. This can be a great source of information and give you the hands-on skills and knowledge to handle horse emergencies with greater confidence.

Hyperkalemic Periodic Paralysis (HYPP)

Written by Hannah Wellman on .

HYPP is a disorder of muscle function caused by an abnormality in the way sodium and potassium interact with muscle cells. This abnormality is a genetically inherited trait in Quarter Horses, Appaloosas and Paints traceable to a Quarter Horse stallion named

Diagnosis of HYPP is usually made based on genetic predisposition, clinical signs and response to treatment. Blood samples taken during an episode may reveal high potassium levels. Researching a horses genetic history and undertaking genetic testing will reveal if the horse has the genetic predisposition to the disease or is a carrier.

Clinical signs may include sweating, muscle tremors and respiratory distress. Horses may also become weak and lie down.

Treatment of HYPP involves giving fluids with additives that decrease the potassium levels in the blood. Other supportive therapies may be needed depending on severity of the episode. Horses usually respond quickly once treatment is initiated.

Owners that know their horse is HYPP positive are often able to influence the severity of the disease with good management. Feeding a diet low in potassium and regular exercise may assist in reducing the occurrence of clinical signs.

Lyme Disease

Written by Hannah Wellman on .

Lyme disease is carried by ticks of the Ixodes variety infected with an organism called Borrelia. For a horse to become infected, the tick must be attached for at least 24 hours. Lyme disease is more common in the North-Eastern and Mid-Atlantic states with up to 75 percent of horses being exposed to the disease.

Horses that develop clinical disease show a variety of symptoms. They may get a low-grade fever, show muscle soreness, lameness, become hypersensitive to stimuli, their legs may swell, and they may show behavioral changes.

Diagnosis is based on history, geographic location or travel, clinical signs and blood results. The major issue with some blood tests it that they do not clearly separate old exposure and current clinical disease. Most horses begin treatment based on clinical signs, blood results and elimination of other possible causes.

Treatment for Lyme disease is antibiotics. Duration of treatment may be up to a month. Like all antibiotic use, owners must watch for signs of gastrointestinal disturbance as a side effect and may consider use of a probiotic during treatment.

Equine Gastric Ulcers

Written by Hannah Wellman on .

Equine gastric (stomach) ulcers can be caused by a variety of different factors, often when combined together creating disease. Horses of all ages can be affected, including young foals. Individual horses may display a wide range of signs, with the severity of the ulcers not always reflected by the severity of clinical signs.

Ulcers occur in the horseʼs stomach when there is an imbalance between the acidic chemicals produced to digest food material and the mucosal film that lines the stomach. In some cases there may be an excessive production of acids, while in others it may be due to a decrease in the mucosal production.

The exact cause of ulcers in a horse may be difficult to define. Factors that may be involved include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory use (NSAIDs), feed deprivation, consumption of high carbohydrate diets, concurrent disease or stress.

Ulcers are often treated based on suspicion rather than a clinical diagnosis. Though some horses do not show clinical symptoms, others may stop eating well, grind their teeth, colic, salivate excessively, lose body condition or exhibit decreased performance.

Endoscopic evaluation (gastroscopy) is the gold standard for diagnosing ulcers. Itrequires a short period of fasting followed by a long scope being placed up the horses nose, down the esophagus and into the stomach. The horse is usually tranquilized for the procedure.

Depending on the horseʼs history, clinical signs and location of ulcers, the veterinarian will determine a treatment plan. Most treatments are given orally allowing the horse to be managed at home with veterinary supervision.

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