Seasonal Allergies

Seasonal Allergies

Allergies are a common problem in horses which can affect overall health, performance, and quality of life.

Common signs include excessive itchiness, hives, coughing, difficulty breathing (heaves), skin lesions along the lower midline (sweet itch), and hair loss from rubbing. Horses may also have swelling (edema) on the body or legs, swollen lymph nodes, and irritated eyes.
There are many possible causes of allergies. Anything in the environment that the horse ingests, breaths in, or touches can be a possible allergen. Sometimes there is a single incident that causes a reaction such as a bee sting or exposure to a grooming product that sets off the immune system. Often times the allergic reaction is caused by ongoing exposure to something in the environment such as hay, insects, or bedding. Allergies occur seasonally, especially in the spring and summer months as insect exposure increases as do other possible allergens such as plants and pollens. Some horses struggle with allergies year round.
Diagnosis of allergies is based mainly on physical symptoms. Sometimes it is important to rule out other health issues that could lead to similar signs such as infection which could also cause respiratory problems, swellings, etc. Your veterinarian can often do this with a thorough physical exam and possibly a routine blood panel.

When any horse suffers from allergies, the main goal is always to identify and remove the cause if possible.

There may be a new load of shavings right before a horse developed hives. Maybe the hay has been stored for a long time and there is mold or dust at the end of the batch and a horse has developed a harsh cough. There could have been a few unusually warm days in early spring leading to increased insect exposure causing sweet itch. Any strong leads should be investigated and addressed in an effort to remove the cause. Even if the cause seems fairly obvious and easy to remove, the horse may need treatment to get the symptoms under control. Antihistamines are commonly used, fairly effective, and safe for any horse. Some horses benefit from steroids if allergic symptoms are fairly severe. Steroids need to be used with caution, mainly due to the risk for laminitis, and are not safe for horses with metabolic disease. There are topical ointments and sprays that can be used to reduce focal areas of irritation if the horse is wanting to rub or itch excessively. There are a variety of supplements on the market for horses that tend to get allergies. Some are for allergies in general, some for specific forms of allergies such as bug bite sensitivity. I have seen mixed results with many of these products but they can definitely be worth a try in my opinion, especially if they can help manage a chronic case.

In some instances the cause of an allergic reaction is not easy to identify.

In these cases I typically treat the horse with medications to alleviate symptoms for about 1-3 weeks. When the horse is taken off the medications, sometimes the problem will not recur. If the allergies do come back and if the symptoms affect the horse significantly further effort can be made to either modify the environment or run tests on the horse. Modifying the environment can include changes in feed, changing or eliminating bedding, and paying attention to any daily products used topically that could be changed. Even if something is not new to the horse, the horse could develop an allergy, so anything is fair game. It is also possible that the allergen is innate to the environment and can’t be removed. Another option is to submit blood for an allergy panel. The upside to this is that it is relatively easy and noninvasive, maybe less cumbersome than altering environment. The downside is cost and that the results are not proven to be accurate in horses. That said, I have had cases where practical information from blood results helped manage horses. Skin testing is also available for horses for a more accurate assessment of allergens. That is typically done by a specialist in veterinary dermatology and we typically send only the most difficult cases. Once a horse has been tested via skin or blood, allergy shots become an option. This is when a series of shots is given over time to desensitize the horse to allergens that are shown to be significant on their tests. This can be useful, especially if the allergens are unavoidable.
Most horses that experience allergies can be helped with basic management and/or fairly benign medications, especially if caught and dealt with early before the immune reaction gets too out of hand. Luckily, in many cases the issues is transient. If chronic allergies develop it is helpful to understand the pros and cons of the various approaches to treatment.

Pre-Purchase Exam – what should it include?

PPE Exams ….Here is an outline of a standard pre-purchase exam for a riding/performance horse highlighting the main points and where issues often come up.

BACKGROUND INFO: How old is the horse, what has the horse been doing, any history of major medical issues or lameness? Any ongoing maintenance that includes corrective shoeing, medication, joint support/injections, what is the buyer’s intended use for the horse.

BASIC PHYSICAL: This is a general health exam and all aspects of basic health and condition should be considered: main things that come up are eye issues such as cataracts, etc, heart murmurs, skin issues or tumors such as sarcoids or melanomas, teeth are examined but it is important to understand this exam is limited and as a full oral exam requires sedation
CONFORMATION: The way the horse is built is significant to soundness and ability to perform as expected, typical issues include abnormal hooves such as club feet or negative angles on the fronts or hinds, there also may be malformations of the limbs or back
MOVEMENT: The horse should be evaluated for both soundness and correctness in all 3 gaits. Any lameness or abnormality in the movement is noted.

FLEXIONS: This is a way to challenge and further evaluate the soundness of each leg.
NEURO EXAM: This is a series of activities that ensures optimal function of the spinal cord and brain…that the horse knows where its feet are, is strong, and has normal brain function.

IMAGING: (optional) Xrays most common to evaluate common areas of concern such as front feet and hocks/areas of concern based on flexions/some buyers choose to do a survey of the entire horse to gain more knowledge, this often includes neck and back; ultrasound of the soft tissue structures of the limbs can be done/this usually focuses on the suspensory ligaments; endoscopy can be performed on the stomach or airway.

BLOOD TESTS: (optional) A basic health panel gives the buyer a baseline and evaluates the overall health of the horse, a drug screen can be run to look for sedatives, pain killers, and steroids; a coggins test may be needed for the horse to travel
CONCLUSION: All of the exam findings should be brought to the attention of the buyer in detail and then discussed in light of their significance to the horse and what the buyer intends to do with the horse so the buyer has the necessary understanding to make a decision based on all the known risk factors that could be associated with the horse.

Equine Nutritional Analysis

Equine Nutritional Analysis

Nutrition is always a study of the individual.

There are basic requirements that will serve a population well, but each horse then has to be considered separately. Their needs change due to factors we may or may not recognize. Knowledge of the basic needs and added nutrition that may help support things like stress, growth, and training is helpful. Providing high quality forage and understanding its basic content is essential. Combining information with horsemanship and observation remains our best tool when it comes to formulating the optimal diet for our horses.

Our means of testing for deficiencies and toxicities remain quite limited even in this day and age.

Very few nutrients can accurately be evaluated in the blood. Vitamin E and Selenium are among the few that can be accurately evaluated. There is a mineral panel that laboratories offer for horses but the value of the information is limited. For example, copper is stored in the liver, so the levels found in the blood do not represent what is in the body. Hair mineral analysis is limited as well. The primary issue is hair represents the past. In most cases we are interested in the horses’ current status. Hair mineral analysis can be useful for showing heavy metal toxicity and detecting environmental toxins but has minimal value when it comes to the nutritional status of a horse. Selenium can be evaluated with hair analysis but blood samples are more accurate.

Breeding Season is Upon Us!

Breeding Season is Upon Us!

The holidays are now over, which means breeding season will soon begin.

We start breeding in February, typically wind down by July. Breeders focused on aged events or sales often want the advantage of an earlier foal. Those mares are bred in February and March. In order to get the mares to cycle well early in the season they are put under lights starting in December. If an early foal is not important, breeders may choose to breed later in the spring or early summer. The main advantage to this is having a foal born during warmer weather may make it easier to manage depending on the climate and facilities. If you are considering breeding your mare what should be considered prior to the endeavor?

First, is the mare a good candidate? The main factors are age, breeding history, and overall health. If there are questions regarding your mare, a breeding soundness exam is a good investment before moving forward. Your veterinarian can evaluate the overall health of the horse, examine the reproductive tract by palpation and ultrasound, and possibly do tests such as a uterine culture and cytology to ensure all is well. Most mares are healthy and normal but it is good to answer questions before planning insemination. This can save time and money.

When choosing a stallion be aware of breeding history.

Some stallions are more fertile than others so it is good to know how many foals they have on the ground and by what means. The three main options are live cover, cooled transported semen, and frozen semen. Live cover can be less costly as there is less need for veterinary involvement and the chances of conception are generally high. There is innate risk to both the mare and stallion for physical injury. The other issue is geography. Shipped semen allows the mare owner to choose from stallions anywhere in the country and outside the country as well. Cooled transported semen is collected upon request. It is shipped same day or overnight. The advantage is it can lead to higher conception rates (50-65% chance of pregnancy per cycle) than frozen semen in some cases. The collection and shipment of the semen must be timed in sync with the mare’s cycle. Frozen semen can be stored indefinitely on the mare’s end. This allows for insemination anytime, independent of outside factors. Frozen semen requires careful handling and very specific timing of insemination. Conception rates with frozen semen are statistically lower at 30-40-% chance for pregnancy per cycle. It is good to review the stallions breeding contract before making the final decision to fully understand costs and parameters.

When it is time to breed the mare we want her to enter into a good heat cycle. This cycle needs to accommodate shipment schedules if we are using cooled transported semen. The time of ovulation must be predicted properly for success with cooled, and especially frozen semen. Mares’ heat cycles can be difficult to track so we typically use a simple protocol of hormonal therapy to bring them into heat and induce ovulation. This can eliminate costs variables.

After your mare is bred, your veterinarian will ultrasound her to check for pregnancy after about 14 days.

If she is in foal a second check is typically done around 25 days to check for a fetal heartbeat and normal development. It is also important to rule out twins during these exams. We always hope to catch the mare on the first cycle. Sometimes it takes more than one try to get the mare pregnant. Three attempts at artificial insemination leads to about a 90% chance of pregnancy. If the mare is not pregnant after a few tries, the situation should be re-evaluated from all angles. Sometimes further diagnostics are indicated to look for problems in the mare. Even if the stallion is proven fertile, it can be helpful to switch stallions as incompatibility can exist between certain mares and stallions.


Selenium Supplementation: Part 2

Selenium Supplementation: Part 2

Tips On Selenium Supplementation

Having mentioned the importance of selenium in the diet, I would like to bring up a few important points about supplementing this essential nutrient.

Having practiced in a selenium deficient region for almost 20 years, I can say the problem is real. We often test horses who are on high quality forage but no supplements that are low in blood selenium levels. Horse owners in such regions as the PNW will likely need to address deficiencies, especially if the horses are used for riding or breeding purposes. 

When choosing a supplement, look for organic selenium yeast as it provides the more stable and absorbable form. Selenium’s important role as an antioxidant to prevent cell damage is dependent on Vitamin E. Therefore, the horse must receive adequate amount of vitamin E. This is important for all horses, especially those who are stabled or on dry lots as fresh green pasture is the main dietary source of vitamin E.

If you are adding selenium to your horse’s diet it is important to consider balance with other trace elements. This is often overlooked when selenium is simply added to the diet on top of other basic supplements. I learned about the details of this when we created Meganutril Ultra. We loved the results we were getting from the Meganutril but we knew we needed a practical basic supplement that could accommodate all horses in our selenium deficient area. We asked Klaus to create that for us by adding more selenium to the original Meganutril product. I expected it to be a matter of adding the selenium and increasing the level of vitamin E. I was wrong.  Klaus and the scientists at Miavit adjusted all the other ingredients to optimize the new supplement and to accommodate the higher selenium.

In addition to vitamin E, vitamin C is another important, and sometimes under recognized teammate for selenium when it comes to antioxidant effects and preventing cell damage. Horses with high workloads can benefit from the addition of vitamin C in a pH neutral form.