Health Management During Winter

With winter arriving, there are some really useful preventative measures that you can take.

A general “stand back and look” at your horse is always valuable, look at the body covering and weight ,adjust the feed as necessary depending on management and the weather.

Many older ponies and horses have signs of “equine cushings” disease and or “equine metabolic syndrome”, these range from increased drinking to loss of weight, increased hair coat thickness and laminitis, diagnosis and control of this disease will help in the management during the winter and the tests are easily performed.

At this time of the year it is important to check on the worm burden of your horse, especially the encysted forms of strongyles that are not easily detectable on lab tests. The signs that your horse is affected range from loss of weight to clinical diarrheoa, the worms come out of the encysted state at this time of the year to cause the clinical signs. Use of a wormer containing moxidectin is recommended.

Again on the worm front ,a new saliva test for tapeworms is available and is useful at this time of year as tapeworms have been implicated in cases of colic

Look at your horse’s skin, are you going to rug up with a clip or is your horse going to be out all winter in all weather? If you are turning out all winter it may be a good idea to use an old fashioned recipe of lard and sulphur to coat the top line to prevent rain scald. Keeping the outdoor rugs waterproof and clean on the inside helps to reduce skin diseases. Ringworm is active at the moment so keep an eye out for the circular patches of raised reddened skin with hair loss.

Washing off after sweating is important especially if there is a thick coat, these horses are notably difficult to dry and cold sweats can result, it may be better in these cases to brush the sweat out after it has dried.

Mud fever will begin with the onset of the wet weather, this is always better prevented than cured. Barrier creams on clean skin that has been washed and dried is helpful. There is always a good argument to be had about washing mud off or letting the mud dry and then brushing it off, I think this depends on the stable management and the type of horse, in the correct circumstance both methods will work. In horses that are prone to this condition be aware of small scabs or skin blemishes that could be the beginnings of this troublesome condition.

Check the feet for cracks and regularly trim the feet to help reduce cracks, applying Stockholm tar to the sole surface of the feet can help to reduce foot infections.

Pasture maintenance should not be forgotten at this time of the year, picking up droppings trying to reduce the muddy gateways with hard standings and moving the feeding sites will all help. If you are feeding hay out in the field then placing the hay in small piles around the field may help to reduce poaching. Where it is practical a turn out pen with a surface is very useful.

Feeding during the winter months is all important, ensuring that there is enough energy in the diet especially if turned out, this will help to keep your horses condition stable. The change from a grass based to forage based diet should be gradual and is normally the case as the grass stops growing the horse will naturally start eating more concentrates and forage.

At this time of year we really start using hay or haylage as a replacement for grass. Good quality, dust free clean forage will help to reduce respiratory symptoms such as coughing and can cause a lack of exercise tolerance even without a cough. This is also applies to bedding. If you are in any doubt as to the quality of your forage and bedding then it is wise to analyse it. This is relatively cheap and can look at both the nutritional and the dust contents of your hay and straw. There are times where treating the hay by steaming is very effective and increasing the ventilation in the stable can help when there is a borderline result on the dust content of the bedding. Making sure the bed is dry and the stable is well mucked out is important as this reduces the production of moulds, in some cases a disinfectant surface spray can help to control the mould growth. We do not find as much dust in haylage but quality is more important here, the haylage produced for horses should be mould free, dry and smell good. The recent outbreak of botulism in cows on the Archers should alert us to the problems of poorly made haylage!

Wounds are common at this time of the year and can be difficult to detect below the layers of mud, and difficult to clean and heal due to the dirt and wet that is around. This is a whole subject on its own but the salient points are to assess the wound and get help if needed; the smaller wounds can be more important than the wound that is bleeding well. The main points to think about are where is the wound and how lame is the horse, wounds over joints and the horse being very lame would necessitate a vet call I’m afraid! Many can be treated at home with washing and the application of a poultice or just wound cream, and antibiotics need not be given unless there is an obvious sign of infection such as swelling and lameness.

Tetanus vaccines should be up to date, if unsure then call your vet.  

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