Please click on each link below to see further information.
- A physical examination;
- Rectal examination;
- Ultrasound scan;
- Reproductive examination.
- Vaccinations (tetanus, influenza and herpes virus (if required));
- Worming control;
- Dental management;
- Shoeing/foot trimming;
- Overall physical condition of the mare.
- Reduced risk of spreading venereal diseases as there is no direct stallion-mare contact;
- Reduced risk of injury to the horses and handlers;
- Achieves mating whilst the sire and dam are on different stud farms, or even in different countries.
- Dental care
- Follow good hygiene procedures - Comprehensive hygiene procedures will reduce the chances of outbreaks. Use dedicated stable equipment for each horse to help avoid infections, for example individual buckets, brushes, tack etc. Try to avoid horse to horse contact and shared water at shows or events and if you handle another horse wash your hands before handling your horse again. Disinfect stables and equipment between horse usage with disinfectants which will kill viruses and bacteria.
- Quarantine - If a horse on your yard is suspected to have an infectious disease; it must be quarantined immediately to prevent spread. All new horses on a yard should also be quarantined on arrival for at least three weeks and monitored for signs of disease. Quarantine areas can be as simple as an isolated paddock or stable.
- Establish a yard protocol - Ideally your yard should have a protocol providing clear rules as to what should be done in the event of a potential infectious disease case. This protocol should apply to all horses on the yard and is much easier to establish prior to any outbreak. The yard protocol should state what vaccinations horses should have prior to entering the yard as this will help to reduce the likelihood of the infectious disease.
- Limit the number of horses on a yard - Overcrowding increases the likelihood of infection spreading and should be avoided.
- Be vigilant for signs - Horses infected with respiratory diseases may exhibit a number of similar signs. Monitoring your horse closely will help your vet make an accurate diagnosis and reduce the chance of infection spreading. Monitoring for a rise in rectal temperature is a good way of picking up early cases of respiratory disease. Regularly inspect your horse for any injuries especially of the hooves and lower limbs. Identifying wounds early will allow prompt treatment of any infection.
- Be aware of horses at risk - Respiratory diseases can affect all ages and types but those most at risk are horses kept in large numbers and those which travel a lot, for example to shows, riding club events and competitions.
- Segregate youngsters - Diseases such as ’flu’ are most common in youngsters under three years of age.
- Ventilation - Ensuring stables are well ventilated will improve respiratory health and help reduce the spread of disease.
- Maintain buildings, fencing and yard areas - Minimise the risk of injury by keeping areas tidy and by removing all potentially harmful materials.
- Vaccination - Vaccination is the best way to prevent your horse from contracting respiratory diseases that are caused by viruses or bacteria. Allowing your horse’s booster vaccinations to lapse may increase the risk of disease.
- Equine Herpes Virus (EHV)
- Neurological signs - hind limb weakness and incoordination leading to paralysis and the inability to stand.
- Respiratory Disease - rise in temperature, coughing and nasal discharge
- Abortion and death of newborn foals
- Fly control
- Starting control before the midge season - do not wait for your horse to start itching.
- Stabling your horse during dawn and dusk when midge activity is greatest.
- Turning horses out in fields with lower midge burdens such as breezy pastures, higher ground and away from woodland.
- Preventing horses from grazing areas that have ponds nearby as these naturally attract the troublesome midges.
- Using an effective fly rug to prevent midge contact with your horse’s skin.
- Using an effective long acting product containing Permethrin and Citronellol that is licensed to both kill and repel flies and aid in the control of sweet-itch.
- Within 5 minutes the foal should be able to sit up and lift its head.
- Within 5-10 minutes the foal should have a strong suck reflex.
- By 1 hour the foal should be able to stand, initially with a wide based stance. It will then start searching for the udder.
- Within 2 hours the foal should be able to suck well from the mare.
- Is the foal bright and inquisitive?
- Are there any signs of prematurity? For example a short silky coat, floppy ears, domed forehead, slack tendons and a small size.
- Foals gums should be pink and moist.
- Is the foal shivering from the cold? Weak or premature foals are particularly susceptible to feeling the cold as they have poor body insulation and energy reserves. They are not always able to regulate their body temperature.
- Check that the foal is sucking correctly. Milk on the foal's head may mean the foal is not nursing correctly, or the mare is producing more milk than the foal can ingest. Milk seen coming down the nostrils may mean problems like a cleft palate.
- Have a close look at its legs. Are they straight and able to support the foal when it stands? Are they lax, windswept or contracted? If so, is the foal having difficulty staying up to nurse?
- Does its chest expand normally, with both sides symmetrical with each breath?
- Has it passed its first faeces – the meconium? This is the dark hard balls of faeces that are an accumulation (while in the womb) of allantoic fluid, gut secretions and cellular debris. Failure to pass this can result in complications such as colic due to impaction. After passing the meconium, pale coloured pasty milk faeces should now be passed. Colts that are overdue seem to be most at risk of meconium related colic.
- Grass sickness
- Per-acute - the horse is found dead in the field. There was no previous warning as to the fact that the horse was ill and post-mortem is required for diagnosis.
- Acute - the principal symptom is severe, sudden onset colic. The horse may have patchy sweating, high heart rate and skin/ muscle tremours. Many horses have, in addition, a green nasal discharge that is associated with a difficulty in swallowing and regurgitation of stomach contents which is particularly noticeable since horses cannot normally vomit. This is normally fatal and affected horses will often die or need to be euthanased on welfare grounds.
- Sub-acute - symptoms include low-grade colic usually caused by mild impaction of the large colon which is induced by lack of intestinal motility. Typically these animals will have a high heart rate and patchy sweating, sometimes with some muscle tremors. Owners may notice some dribbling and inability to swallow properly. Faeces tend to be dry, small and scant in number.
- Chronic - The appearance of a horse with chronic grass sickness is akin to that of a greyhound. They develop a thin and tucked-up appearance from long periods of inappetance, swallowing difficulties and, therefore, weight loss. They often develop crusts up their nose, muscle twitching especially over the triceps and tend to stand with all 4 legs very close together (like an elephant on a tub). They will have a sleepy expression with a downwards turn of their upper eyelashes.
- Herd immunity
- How vaccines work
- To prevent unnecessary suffering.
- To prevent additional unplanned expenses – costs of treatment can far outweigh costs of vaccination.
- To prevent loss of use – a sick horse should not be ridden or exercised until it has completely recovered.
- To prevent yard closures and sporting cancellations – horse movements on a yard may have to be restricted or cancelled if a horse is diagnosed with an infectious disease.
- To prevent the spread of disease.
- Is my horse at risk of disease?
- Is my horse putting other horses at risk of disease? General vaccine FAQsWhat should my horse be vaccinated against?
- Flu and Tetanus: It is advisable to keep your pregnant mare up to date with her flu and tetanus vaccinations so that this immunity can be passed to her foal via the colostrum. Most ‘flu/tet’ vaccines are licensed to use in pregnancy. Speak to your Veterinary Surgeon about the most suitable time to booster your mare.
- Herpes: To reduce abortion caused by EHV-1 infection pregnant mares should be vaccinated during the 5th, 7th and 9th month of pregnancy.
- Strangles: It is not recommended to vaccinate against strangles during pregnancy.
- Pasture Management
- Remove droppings on a regular basis (preferably daily, but at least twice a week) and don’t use horse manure as fertiliser.
- Don’t overstock pastures: a maximum of two horses per hectare or 1-1.5 acres per horse is recommended.
- Graze horses of a similar age together – young horses are more susceptible to a higher worm burden.
- Sub-divide grazing areas into smaller paddocks and graze on a rotational basis.
- Harrow pasture during dry conditions to expose soil-borne larvae so that they dry out and die.
- Worm new arrivals for all species of worm and stable for 48 hours before turnout onto your pasture.
- Use Faecal Worm Egg Counts (FWEC) during the spring, summer and autumn to assess which horses need worming. Treat horses with a worm egg count greater than 200 eggs/g.
- Target the following worms at the correct time of year with a wormer effective at killing them:
- Encysted Redworm Larvae - late autumn and late winter;
- Bots - winter;
- Tapeworm - spring and autumn.
- Worm all horses and ponies at the same time with the same product.
- Use the correct dose: the recommended dosage will vary according to the horse’s weight. Estimate weight as accurately as possible using scales or a weigh tape.
- Maintain a programme of good pasture management: regularly remove droppings, worm and stable new arrivals before turnout.
- Don’t rely on the blanket use of the same wormer: this may encourage the development of drug resistance in the parasite population.
- Rotate the active ingredient for each grazing season: select one product type and use for the entire grazing season.
- Routine healthcare
- Skin and coat
- Teeth and eating
- Eyes, ears, nose
- Urine and faeces
- Appetite and water intake
- Muscle stiffness resulting in a ‘rocking horse’ stance and ‘lock-jaw’;
- Difficulty moving and eating;
- Protrusion of the third eyelid;
- When to call the vet
- Acute abdominal pain or colic;
- Serious injury involving deep wounds, severe haemorrhage, suspected bone fractures or damage to the eyes;
- Evidence of straining for more than 30 minutes by a mare due to foal;
- Inability to rise or stand;
- Inability or abnormal reluctance to move;
- Severe diarrhoea;
- Prolonged/ abnormal sweating, high temperature, anxiety, restlessness or loss of appetite;
- Any other signs of acute pain or injury;
- Respiratory distress.
- Marked lameness that has not responded to normal first aid treatment;
- Injury that has not responded to normal first aid treatment;
- Signs suspicious of Strangles or other infectious disease, nasal discharge, raised temperature, enlarged lymph nodes or cough;
- Sustained loss of appetite;
- Persistent weight loss;
- Skin conditions that have not responded to treatment, including saddle sores and girth galls;
- Other sub-acute illness or injury.
Want to breed from your horse?
Understanding the basic physiology and anatomy of the brood mare will provide owners with information that is vital for successfully breeding healthy foals.
The mare has two ovaries that lie in the dorsal (upper) part of the abdomen, behind the kidneys. The ovaries are the female gonads and produce and release eggs. They are also the site of production of the female sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone. The uterus is comprised of two horns and a body, all being suspended from the roof of the abdomen by the broad ligament. The cervix guards the entrance into the uterus from the vagina.Understanding the oestrus cycle
In the Northern hemisphere, generally, mares are most sexually receptive from April through to September. During winter, the mares become sexually inactive and are in a state of anoestrus. As spring approaches and day length increases, a gland within the brain, the pineal gland, produces less of a substance called melatonin and the mare enters a transitional period. In response to rising hormone levels, follicles are stimulated to grow within the ovaries. Initially lots of follicles grow simultaneously until one becomes dominant and ovulates releasing the egg from the follicle. After this, regular oestrus cycles will occur through the summer months.Managing mares in season
Each oestrus cycle lasts around 21 days with the mare being in season (sexually receptive) for 3-8 days. During this time the mare will show variable behavioural changes such as frequent posturing to urinate and she will also be receptive to the stallion, allowing him to nuzzle her.
These behavioural changes are due to increasing levels of the hormone oestrogen which is released from the follicles. Ovulation usually occurs 24-48 hours before the mare goes out of season and what remains of the follicle after ovulation forms a structure called the corpus luteum within the ovary, which produces another hormone called progesterone. Progesterone, in simple terms, has opposite effects to oestrogen as the mare will now be out of season and aggressive towards the advances of the stallion. At around16-17 days if a pregnancy is not detected, the lining of the uterus produces a hormone called prostaglandin which destroys the corpus luteum and therefore significantly reduces the levels of circulating progesterone.This reduction in progesterone allows follicles to develop again and the mare to return to season however if the mare is pregnant the corpus luteum will remain and along with other factors, allow pregnancy to continue and suppress further returns to cycling activity.Preparing your mare for stud
There are a number of things that need to be considered before sending your mare away to stud.
Prior to sending your mare to stud it is prudent to have her examined by your veterinary surgeon to ensure that she is fit to breed. To perform this safely your veterinary surgeon may require stocks although quiet, well-behaved mares can be assessed over a stable door.
The breeding soundness examination will include:
At the same time your veterinary surgeon will also be able to perform clitoral swabs (CEM) and blood tests (EVA and EIA) required by most studs to confirm that your mare is free from venereal disease such as contagious equine metritis (CEM) and the viral diseases Equine Viral Arteritis (EVA) and Equine Infectious Anaemia (EIA)Pre-stud checklist
Before sending the mare away you will need to consider whether the following are required and up to date:
Also it is common practice for any new additions onto a stud farm to be isolated on arrival. This allows time for any incubating infections to be shown up. If your mare is pregnant and you are sending her away to stud to foal, then you should contact the stud for further information as the mare may well need to arrive at the stud at least 3-4 weeks prior to her foaling date.
Your veterinary surgeon will be able to provide you with further information on both what is involved with a breeding soundness examination as well as providing advice on appropriate considerations for your mare.Mating or ‘covering’
Mares can be mated or “covered” in one of two ways. The first and most obvious is when they are naturally mated. The second is where semen is collected from a stallion, which may even be on a different continent. It is then stored, and at a later date, placed into the uterus of the mare. This process is known as artificial insemination (AI).
Mares are often covered naturally, especially in the thoroughbred industry. Developments in the management of equine breeding mean that it is now possible for a veterinary surgeon to examine the mare to see what stage of her cycle she is in and then through the use of agents to induce ovulation, the mare can be mated as close to ovulation as possible. The net result of this is to limit the number of matings required. . The mare is then regularly rechecked for signs of ovulation and ultimately pregnancy.Artificial Insemination (AI)
Artificial insemination involves collecting semen from the stallion and then implanting it into the mare. The semen is collected by having the stallion mount a teaser animal or dummy. Once mounted, the semen is collected into an artificial vagina (AV) and then either used immediately, chilled, or frozen, and then transported to the stud farm where the mare is stabled. The mare is then inseminated once she is in season. The semen is thawed (if frozen) and inserted into the mares uterus through the vagina and cervix via a pipette.
The use of AI is becoming more and more popular. Fresh, chilled or frozen semen can be used.
What are the advantages of AI?
If you are considering breeding from either a mare or stallion your veterinary surgeon will be able to provide you with further advice as to which method is appropriate for you.
Caring for your horse’s teeth
Unlike cats, dogs and humans, horses’ teeth erupt continuously throughout much of their life although, unlike some rodent species, they are born with a finite amount of tooth to utilise. Evolution has equipped the horse with robust grinding teeth, ideal for the horse's natural feeding behaviour which is long periods of grazing on tough grass. Unfortunately, those same traits which make horse dentition good for grazing mean that they may not be well suited when domesticated. Stabled horses spend far less time chewing than their free-range cousins, and the feeding of concentrates also alters the pattern of chewing movements. This can upset the natural balance between tooth eruption and tooth wear, allowing sharp or overgrown teeth to develop. Routine dental care aims to address or prevent these problems.
Finding an equine dentist
Your veterinary surgeon is best placed to offer you information and advice on how your horse's teeth can be properly maintained and arrange for a dental examination.
If you are concerned that your horse's teeth have not been recently checked or may need some attention your first port of call should be your veterinary surgeon who will offer advice, reassurance and a suitable course of action.How often should you have your horse’s teeth checked?
How often routine dental checks take place varies according to the individual horse and will depend on age and any pre-existing conditions. A good rule-of-thumb is that the teeth should be examined at least annually but in some cases checks might be undertaken two or three times a year. Up until the age of five years the equine mouth undergoes a lot of change with the shedding of 'baby' teeth and the eruption of permanent teeth. Often, dental check-ups are more frequent during this period and settle into a more regular rhythm during 'middle age' once all the adult teeth have erupted. Your vet or equine dental technician will be able to advise you on a case-by-case basis.Getting your horse ready for the examination
Many horses will tolerate routine dental examination and treatment quite well, and will only require normal restraint with a head-collar. However, the dental exam should not become stressful for your horse since the safety of horse, handler and person performing the dental is paramount and so it is sometimes required to sedate your horse as a routine part of this procedure. Injectable sedatives used for this will need to be given by a veterinary surgeon, who will also then be able to monitor and supervise your horse whilst it is under sedation to ensure that it is safe and effective.Routine examination
Before starting any dental treatment, the vet or equine dental technician will undertake an assessment of the whole mouth. While the front teeth (the incisors) are easy to examine, it is more common for the grinding cheek teeth at the back of the mouth to develop problems. To perform a thorough examination, the practitioner will therefore need to use a speculum, or 'gag', to open the horses’ mouth so that these teeth at the back of the mouth can be inspected and all teeth checked both manually and visually.Common teeth problems in horses
In the adult horse, where all of the teeth have erupted, several common problems can develop. Horses naturally chew their food in an elliptical fashion, with the 'grinding' part of the cycle occurring during the sideways movement. In the wild, when chewing forage, the extent of the sideways motion (lateral excursion) is large, covering the whole of the grinding surface of the teeth, including the edges. In domesticated horses this sideways movement can be reduced, and the horse doesn't tend to grind right to the edges of the teeth every time. The tooth surface can therefore get worn away quicker than the edges, which then become long and sharp.Routine rasping of horse’s teeth
Because of their angled shape, the outside edge becomes sharp on the upper teeth, and the inside edge becomes sharp on the lower teeth and these sharp edges can be painful and uncomfortable for the horse. These sharp edges will often be addressed by a process known as 'floating' and this involves using rasps to smooth any abnormally sharp areas of the cheek teeth. To be able to reach all the different teeth in the mouth a variety of rasps of different angles, shapes and lengths will be have to be used.
In most cases the removal of sharp enamel edges and points will be all that is required during a routine check-up. Occasionally, specific overgrowth of certain teeth may need to be addressed; the most commonly encountered type are 'hooks', which usually where overgrowth and sharpness occurs affecting the first upper, and last lower cheek teeth.What are the signs and symptoms of dental problems in horses?
There may be occasions where the initial dental examination reveals a more serious problem in the mouth of a horse. Often dental problems will lead to noticeable signs such as the horse having difficulty eating and swallowing, a discharge from one or both nostrils, or foul smelling breath. However, problems are sometimes not seen until the dental examination is performed, they can then be corrected to avoid development of further disease. Such problems can include an infection of the tooth root, a fractured tooth, a tooth that is growing in the wrong direction, or food packing into spaces between the teeth. Your vet or equine dental technician will be able to advise you on the appropriate course of action and start correcting this problem, which may take some time or require referral to specialist facility for further investigation and treatment. Many of these dental changes can be treated in the standing, sedated horse, but occasionally dental disease can necessitate more complicated surgery.Teeth problems in older horses
The most important point to remember about ageing a horse by its teeth is that it is a guide but not 100% accurate. In younger horses (less than 10 years old) a reasonable estimate of age can be made by looking at the stages of eruption of the temporary and permanent incisors, and by looking at the incisor tables (grinding surfaces), which change in appearance as the incisors wear down throughout the horse's life. However, in older horses, these estimates of age may be out by several years. In many respects, a horse is as old as it feels and if your horse is bright, healthy and eating well, you shouldn't worry if someone tells you that it has the teeth of a forty-year-old as they may be many years off the mark.
Management practices to reduce the incidence of infectious disease.
The principles of disease control focus on good yard management to keep the disease out and improving the immunity of individuals and the herd through vaccination.
Equine Herpes Virus (EHV)
Could my horse get Equine Herpes Virus?
There are many types of herpes virus in horses with EHV-1 and EHV-4 causing the most serious problems. EHV is widespread in the horse population with most horses carrying the virus but not showing clinical signs of the disease. This is because the virus remains latent (hidden) within the horse, a similar phenomenon in humans where the virus periodically re- emerges to cause ‘cold sores’. The reactivation of the virus comes without warning but is often associated with stress such as transportation or weaning. Once reactivated the virus causes disease in the horse and rapidly spreads from one horse to another.Clinical Symptoms:
EHV-1 is responsible for any of the above clinical symptoms whereas EHV-4 tends to cause only respiratory disease.
A vaccine is available which will reduce the clinical signs due to infection with EHV- 1 and EHV-4 and reduce abortion caused by EHV-1.
Herpes (EHV) FAQsThere is an outbreak of EHV, should I vaccinate my horse?Vaccination does not protect against the neurological form of the disease and generally it is not recommended to vaccinate in the face of an outbreak. For the general horse population, vaccination combined with biosecurity and hygiene measures, will reduce the risk of your horse getting the virus and contribute towards the concept of herd immunity.Should I vaccinate my pregnant mare?It is advisable to vaccinate pregnant mares during the 5th, 7th and 9th months of pregnancy to reduce abortion caused by EHV-1 infection. Try to keep pregnant mares and young stock separate to reduce the risk of disease to the mares.How long can the virus persist?It may persist for several days in mucus or on wet bedding or grass. Don’t take chances in stables or areas where other horses have been if you’re unsure of their health status. Remove all bedding and thoroughly disinfect the area.I think my horse may have come into contact with an affected horse. What should I do?Monitor your horses temperature on a daily basis (contact your vet immediately if it exceeds 38.5°C) and be vigilant for respiratory signs or incoordination. Try not to worry- most cases will not develop neurological signs and most horses will make a full recovery.
Caring for your horse's feet
The saying ‘no foot, no horse’ is key to understanding the vital need for good ongoing hoof care. Each horse is an individual and your farrier will advise you on the correct interval for shoeing as well as the best care to optimise foot health.
Nail bind and nail prick
Shoeing of horses' hooves is, in most cases, a routine event. Accurate placement of the nails is essential. Not only to ensure a firm hold within the wall of the hoof but that the nail does not penetrate too deep as it can irritate sensitive structures beneath, primarily the sensitive laminae.
When the shoeing nail has been placed too close to the sensitive laminae this is called nail bind and if the nail has penetrated the sensitive laminae this is called nail prick.What are the signs of nail bind and prick?
The first sign of a problem is lameness. This usually does not occur immediately but will be seen over the following few days after shoeing. Application of hoof testers or tapping the hoof around the nail will elicit pain. Also if removal of the nail is attempted the horse may resent it. There is an increased digital pulse in the palmar digital arteries, which are located on the side, or lateral, aspect of the fetlock and can be felt by placing a finger over them.How can I prevent nail bind and nail prick?
Regular attention from a competent farrier will ensure that your horse's feet are in optimal condition. Specific supplements are also available which can aid in hoof health and advice on the best treatment for your horse can be obtained from your farrier or veterinary surgeon.Pus in the foot
This is the most common cause of lameness in the horse. The lameness is usually confined to one leg and clinical signs will occur suddenly, sometimes during exercise when the animal has not been lame to begin with. The severity of the lameness is determined by the amount of pus produced and whether it has a means of escape. If there is no drainage, the pressure of the pus builds up between the sensitive layers of the hoof resulting in inflammation and pain.What causes 'pus in the foot'?
Pus in the foot is simply due to the presence of bacteria and other germs within the foot causing infection. The bacteria is often introduced into the foot either by a puncture wound (e.g. nail prick) or through a crack in the white line or hoof wall.What are the signs of 'pus in the foot'?
The first sign of 'pus in the foot' is lameness, generally in one leg. This may be only a slight lameness initially but can develop to the extent that the horse is reluctant to bear weight on that leg. As pain in the leg worsens the horse may become sweaty as they are uncomfortable and can even be reluctant to eat.
The leg, in particular the hoof, will feel warm to the touch and when felt the digital pulse will be strong or even bounding. The site of infection can usually be identified by applying light pressure with hoof testers over the sole. Pus may even be seen to ooze from the site of infection but occasionally the pus will migrate upwards and burst out at the coronary band or track along the sole leading to a condition called "under run sole". The shoe will need to be removed to allow an adequate examination.How can I prevent 'pus in the foot'?
All horse's feet should always be picked and thoroughly cleaned out before exercise. Exercise on uneven and stony ground should be avoided, particularly for thin-soled horses. Regular attention from a competent farrier will ensure that your horses' feet are in optimal condition.
If you have any queries or concerns it is important that you contact your veterinary surgeon for advice. It is essential in these cases that early diagnosis and treatment is undertaken to try to prevent complications such as under-run sole and tracking to the coronary band. It is also vital to ensure that your horses are always fully vaccinated against tetanus, an invariably fatal infection which can gain access through hoof injuries.
Once successful drainage of the abscess has been achieved horses recover very quickly. A poultice can be applied to soften the hoof and encourage the abscess to burst and drain on its own.Puncture wounds to the foot
The equine foot is a tough structure which helps protect the sensitive structures beneath, and the hoof wall is similar to the human fingernail. Puncture wounds to the foot can range in significance from none at all to a severe life threatening injury, depending on the site and depth of penetration of the wound. Puncture wounds usually occur on the sole of the hoof or frog although can sometimes penetrate the walls.What causes puncture wounds?
Puncture wounds occur due to penetration of the hoof and surrounding structures with a foreign body such as a shoeing nail, wire or glass. Other causes of penetration include sharp flint stones, needles, splinters of wood, etc. The severity of the injury is determined by the depth and site of penetration.
Generally speaking, the deeper the penetration the more likely it is that an important structure is affected. For example if the wound penetrates deep into the foot and reaches structures such as the pedal bone, it can cause a bone infection and may even fracture the bone. The most serious injuries are those to the back half of the foot as these may penetrate structures in this area that involve not only the joints in the foot but also the tendons and ligaments that support the foot and lower limb, consequently this type of injury is very serious and can be life threatening.What if my horse has a puncture wound?
If you discover a puncture wound to your horse's foot, you should immediately contact your veterinary surgeon for further advice. Do not necessarily remove the foreign item if it is still present since it may be beneficial for your vet to radiograph (X-ray) the foot with the foreign body in place to gauge the extent of the penetration. It is important that an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment is administered as soon as possible to avoid further complications and potentially life threatening situations developing.
It is also important that your horse has regular tetanus vaccinations as puncture wounds are an ideal route for tetanus to infect your horse. Advice on vaccination can be sought form your veterinary surgeon.Bruised Sole
The sole of the hoof is the insensitive protective undersurface which is bordered by the white line and the frog. The parts of the hoof that normally contact the ground on an unshod horse are the dorsal wall (the hard hoof) and the frog. Normally, the sole of the hoof does not come into contact with the ground.What causes bruised soles?
Beneath the sole lies sensitive blood filled tissue called laminae. This tissue connects the sole to the pedal bone of the hoof. Injury to the laminae causes bleeding between the sole and the pedal bone. This can form a bruise or haematoma, which is a blister filled with blood, beneath the sole and therefore cause pain and lameness.
Injury to the laminae occurs due to the horse treading on a stone or another hard object, particularly when on stony hard ground. Other causes include poor fitting shoes and excessive work on hard ground, especially in horses that are unshod.What are the signs of a bruised sole?
The most obvious sign of a bruise is lameness. The lameness usually develops immediately the bruise occurs but may reappear the next day once the horse has seemingly recovered. The lameness should be confined to the affected leg and pressure applied with hoof testers should demonstrate the area of the sole affected.How can I prevent sole bruises?
All horses' feet should always be picked and thoroughly cleaned out before exercise. Exercise on uneven and stony ground should be avoided, particularly for thin-soled horses. Regular attention from a competent farrier will ensure that your horses' feet are in optimal condition. Specific supplements are also available which can aid in hoof health, as well as protective hoof pads. Advice on both maintaining foot health and products that are available can be obtained from your farrier and veterinary surgeon.Corns
This is a term used to describe bruises of the sole occurring at the seat of corn. This is the part of the sole which lies between the bars and the wall at the back of the sole.
Beneath the sole lies sensitive blood filled tissue called laminae. This tissue connects the sole to the pedal bone of the hoof. Injury to the laminae causes bleeding between the sole and the pedal bone. This can form a bruise or haematoma, which is a blister, filled with blood, causing pain and lameness.
Unlike bruised soles in which the lameness is evident almost immediately, corns can also develop over a long period of timeWhat causes corns?
Corns can be caused by a number of things that cause trauma to the seat of corn. Most commonly corns are due to either a too narrow or too tight a shoe, which causes injury to the seat of corn. Stones can become trapped between the shoe and the seat of corn or the shoes can be left on too long and begin to dig in causing damage. Poor conformation such as low heels means that excessive weight is put on the heels and may cause trauma to this area.What are the signs of corns?
Lameness is the most obvious signs of corns. The severity of the lameness depends on how much damage has occurred. This lameness becomes more apparent if the horse is ridden on hard ground, in circles or lunged. Sometimes both front legs may be affected which can be more difficult to detect. Pain can usually be elicited by applying pressure over the affected seat of corn.How can I prevent corns?
Regular attention from a competent farrier will ensure that your horses' feet are in optimal condition. Specific supplements are also available which can aid in hoof health, as well as protective hoof pads. Advice on both maintaining foot health and products that are available can be obtained from your farrier and veterinary surgeon.Thrush
Thrush is a condition affecting the frog region of the foot, which can result in lameness of the affected limb.What causes thrush?
Thrush can often develop due to poor hygiene, failure to clean out the feet regularly or if the horse is kept in damp and muddy conditions. As the hoof is continually damp and dirty it allows bacteria and fungi to invade, causing infection. The part of the hoof affected is the sulci (of which there are three) or grooves either side and in the frog. One bacterium in particular, Fusobacterium necrophorum, is particularly nasty and will eat away the layers of the frog and expose the deeper more sensitive tissues. Horses with deep sulci are much more prone to developing thrush and horses with long toes and contracted heels will tend to develop deeper sulci, which may mean that infection is more likely.What are the signs of thrush?
Thrush produces a black, foul smelling, moist discharge in the affected sulcus of the frog. Affected areas may be painful when palpated with the hind feet more commonly affected.How can thrush be prevented?
This condition is easily prevented by good hygiene - daily cleaning of the stable and regular foot care and inspection. Regular attention from a farrier ensures the development of long heels is avoided and also to keep the frog healthy.
It is also important that your horse has regular tetanus vaccinations as thrush can allow tetanus to infect your horse if infection is severe. Advice on vaccination can be sought form your veterinary surgeon.Hoof CracksWhat are hoof cracks?
Cracks can occur in the hoof walls and can originate from either the hoof or the coronary band. Ones that originate from the base of the hoof are called grass cracks whilst those that originate from the coronary band are called sand cracks. They can be either partial cracks extending only part of the length of the hoof wall or complete cracks extending the entire length of the hoof wall such as those depicted. They can be either superficial, not effecting the sensitive laminae or deep where the laminae is involved.What causes hoof cracks?
Grass cracks are more common and are usually caused by overgrown hoof walls or unbalanced feet. Sand cracks however usually occur due to an injury to the coronary band or as a result of abnormal stress at the coronary band caused by unbalanced feet.What are the signs of hoof cracks?
Hoof wall cracks are obvious to the naked eye but may also cause lameness. If a crack is superficial and does not affect the sensitive laminae underneath then the horse may remain sound. If the crack is deep and the laminae is involved or there is movement associated with the crack then there will be a degree of lameness, which can be severe in some cases.How can I prevent hoof cracks?
Regular attention from a competent farrier will ensure that your horse's feet are well balanced and in optimal condition. Specific supplements are also available which can aid in hoof health, advice on the best one for your horse can be obtained from your farrier or veterinary surgeon.
It is important that veterinary advice is sought with all cases of lameness so that a precise diagnosis can be made as early as possible and an appropriate course of treatment undertaken.
Summer Seasonal Recurrent Dermatitis (SSRD) or sweet-itch, as it is more-commonly known, is a condition caused by a reaction to the saliva of biting midges during the months from April to early November. It causes horses to rub their manes, tails and sometimes their undersides too. In the United Kingdom, it is the antigens present in the saliva of the Culicoides midge and to a lesser extent, a member of the black fly family called Simulium Equinum that horses are allergic to. The severity of the condition varies from horse to horse; some will only rub occasionally, while others will rub themselves bald, causing open sores.
Treatment of sweet itch revolves around anti-inflammatory therapy which is often unsatisfactory and can have serious side effects if used long term. Preventative measures are therefore crucial to avoid the condition and limit the suffering which can arise from the intense and unrelenting itching.
Control is aimed at minimising exposure to midge bites and often includes some of the following:
Ask your vet or retail outlet for a licensed, long-acting fly control product that both kills and repels flies, which will come as a ready-to-use, topical application. While off-the-shelf products may provide relief for short periods of time, re-application a number of times per day will be necessary which can prove unmanageable. By using a licensed control product, your horse can normally gain up to four day’s relief, although longer or shorter protection may occur depending on climatic conditions, the prevailing fly species and the intensity of fly worry.
Sweet-itch is a common skin disease that affects many horses and ponies in the UK and at present there is no cure. Once a horse develops the allergy it will generally be for life, so it is the responsibility of every horse owner to be vigilant in order to aid early detection, and to take preventative measures to prevent unnecessary suffering.
Caring for your mare and foal
Good preparation before the birth of your mare’s foal will help minimise stress for you, your mare and your foal.
Foaling is usually a relatively straightforward event, however problems can arise which must be dealt with quickly and appropriately in order to achieve a positive outcome. It is advisable that you consult your veterinary surgeon for more specific advice before your mare is due to foal. If possible, have an experienced friend available for when the time comes if you are not completely happy with the process.Good hygiene and a peaceful environment
For foaling, the mare will require a large well ventilated, draft-free box deeply bedded with clean, dust free straw. Fresh water and good quality hay or haylage should be available to the mare ad lib avoiding the use of haynets. Her tail should be bandaged up just before foaling whilst her hindquarters, legs, vulva and udder should be washed with an antiseptic solution. Foaling will often take place in the night when there is reduced activity in the yard and it is quiet. Some studs set up cameras so that the mare can be observed at all times without being disturbed.The stages of foaling
The actual process of foaling, or parturition, as it is called technically, can be divided into three stages. Up to 24 hours before foaling the mare may start secreting a waxy substance on the udder and inside of the hindlegs, this is called 'waxing up' but is not seen in all mares and often maiden (first foal) mares may not do this.Foaling stage one
During stage one, the uterus will start to perform contractions, moving the foal into the correct position. The mare may show restlessness, sweating and signs of mild colic including flank watching and getting up and down but there may not be many other external signs visible. It is important throughout this time not to disturb the mare. This stage indicates that foaling will occur within the next few hours.Foaling stage two
The second stage of labour involves the breaking of the waters as the membranes around the foal rupture and release the fluid. More powerful contractions involving the abdominal muscles then begin and can be seen. After the waters have broken, the white membranes of the sac containing the foal will appear at the vulval lips. The foal should present for delivery with two front legs and with its muzzle resting on top of the fore legs (the diving position). The foal should then be delivered within 15-20minutes.Foaling stage three
The third stage of labour is expulsion of the foetal membranes. This should occur within a few hours of foaling.When to call your vet during foaling
During the foaling process the mare should, although she may not know it, adhere to the time indications given above. Any delay may indicate the need for emergency veterinary attention and you should never intervene if you are unsure or have not first consulted your veterinary surgeon for advice.Foaling difficultiesDystocia
Dystocia or difficulty in foaling is uncommon in the horse. However if problems do occur it is important that your veterinary surgeon is contacted as soon as they are noticed. Sometimes the foal can be manipulated within the mare to enable normal delivery but it may be that the foal has an abnormality that will make a normal birth impossible, such as contracted tendons. Your veterinary surgeon will make an initial attempt to correct any incorrect position of the foal but a horse is unlike a cow in that she will not be able to tolerate a large degree of manipulation without some damage to her reproductive tract. So, when manipulation fails, a caesarean section may need to be performed.Caesarian section
Caesarean section in the mare is a major operation performed under general anaesthesia. The decision to perform a caesarean is one which only your veterinary surgeon can make with you. This will depend on time and distance to the nearest referral hospital where this specialist procedure can be undertaken.Retained placenta in the mare
The foetal membranes should be expelled within a few hours of foaling during the third stage of labour. Occasionally these may not be expelled, but retained and if the mare has not passed the membranes within a few hours of foaling, then veterinary attention should be sought. Retention of the foetal membranes can lead to complications including endometritis (infection of the uterus) and toxic laminitis, the results of which can be very grave.
Caring for newborn foals
In the womb, the foal does not use its lungs. At birth, the small air sacs in the lungs rapidly expand in its first breaths to clear the fluid from within the lungs and so the foal will gasp initially. The breathing rate is often initially rapid and then settles down after about 24 hours to approximately 30-36 breaths per minute. Following delivery the foal is usually able to perform the following:
Any delays in the foal establishing a normal pattern of behaviour may indicate early signs of problems and so it is important that you contact your veterinary surgeon at any stage of foaling that you suspect problems.First days with your mare and foal
Your foal will ideally need to have its first vet examination within 24 hours of being born. This examination will be thorough and include all the body systems to recognise the early signs of disease or abnormalities. These problematic signs may be vague and non-specific but can rapidly worsen if they go unnoticed. A foal’s condition like babies can change rapidly so early intervention is essential in survival.
Your vet will take into account the mare's breeding history, as abnormalities during the pregnancy can be dangerous to the foal. They will examine the mare's placenta carefully making sure that it has passed intact. Retaining either all or part of the placenta can quickly lead to infection in the womb and this can rapidly trigger toxic shock, which can be life threatening or result in complications such as laminitis.
They will also check the foal's navel, the umbilicus, for any swelling, continued wetness, a hernia, infection and to see if it has closed up properly. It will need to be dipped in an antiseptic solution. This helps to dry the navel stump and prevent bacteria from tracking up into the body.
A blood sample can be taken when the foal is at least 18 hours old (often performed after 24 hours), to determine if the passive transfer of antibodies has successfully occurred from the dam to the foal via the colostrum. This is called an IgG test. Other blood tests can determine if an infection or anaemia is present, as well as detect for other abnormalities.
The initial first few hours are when the mare and foal need to form a strong bond. A mare will have a very strong instinct to look after her foal and therefore the foal-dam bond should not be interfered with if at all possible.
Any delays in the foal establishing a normal pattern of behaviour should be a concern and may indicate the early signs of problems.Keeping your newborn foal healthy
It is best to observe the foals’ behaviour and overall appearance closely. After your initial observations up close you will need to watch the foal undisturbed, preferably from outside the box. Once the foal has stood it should be nursing five-seven times each hour. In between these times it should be exploring its surroundings, bonding with the mare and sleeping. Most foals should get up when you enter the box and run to the dam.Foal health checklist
Any deviations from a normal physical appearance need to be seen by a veterinary surgeon promptly.The foal's immune system
Your foal has been born with a naïve immune system that does not have antibodies to fight off infections. The mare's first milk or colostrum is vital for the foal's health over the next 3-6 months because it contains the vital antibodies that will be absorbed across the foal's gut to protect it.
Specialised cells in the newborn foal's gut are uniquely designed to absorb colostral antibodies for a short period of time. After around 12-24hours these cells close down and stop absorbing antibodies. Therefore it is essential that the foal sucks from the mare and receives the colostrum as early as possible but certainly within 12 hours.
Observe the mare's udder prior to foaling; If it starts secreting milk before the foal is born, it may be that she is losing her colostrum. In this case it would be advisable to collect and freeze it until the foal is born. The quality of this thick creamy coloured milk depends on its richness. Very rich, good quality colostrum contains higher levels of proteins. These proteins can be measured on a hand held instrument called a refractometer that your veterinary surgeon will have.
Maiden mares may have poor quality colostrum or inadequate amounts and so it may be advisable to make prior arrangements to buy some from a neighbouring stud farm if needed.
Foals that fail to suckle may need to have a stomach tube passed by the veterinary surgeon and given the stored colostrum. This should be done within the first 4 hours following birth.
Does my horse have grass sickness?
Grass sickness (Equine dysautonomia) is so-called because it only affects horses and ponies when they are at grass.What causes grass sickness?
The exact cause of this disease is unknown but has been linked to free-living soil-borne bacteria called Clostridium botulinum. The bacteria release a neuro-toxin once inside the horse's intestines which then damages the sympathetic nervous system that innervates the gut and paralyses it. Grass sickness is diagnosed all over the UK and is often a fatal condition in affected horses.What are the signs and symptoms of grass sickness?
Clinical signs of grass sickness may be very variable depending on the form of the disease that the horse is suffering but can include patchy sweating, swallowing difficulties, recurrent impaction colic, dullness, lethargy, weight loss, depression and severe discomfort.
There are four forms of grass sickness
Whether or not a horse survives grass sickness depends on the degree of damage suffered by the intestine and nervous system. Most horses with the more severe forms of grass sickness ie acute and sub-acute do not survive. There is no specific treatment but, horses with chronic grass sickness may survive with intensive long-term supportive care, however these animals tend to be forever prone to choke and impaction colic and require special attention and feeding.How is grass sickness diagnosed?
Diagnosing grass sickness is not straightforward. The range of clinical signs that individuals can display is not consistent and varies according to the extent that the nervous system has been damaged. Frequently, severe colic cases are taken to surgery to discount other factors (such as a twisted gut or small intestinal blockage). Definitive diagnosis involves sampling a portion of small intestine (an ileal biopsy) during surgery, and examining it under a microscope. Grass sickness causes very specific damage that can only be identified microscopically.
One method that can be used during diagnosis to assess the degree of nerve damage is for the vet to administer a substance called phenylephrine into one of the horse's eyes. In a horse suffering grass sickness, the eye that received the drops will open slightly and the eyelashes will assume a different angle to that of the other eye. This test may be a helpful indicator along with other clinical signs but does not rule grass sickness in or out since results can be variable.
What is Herd Immunity?
In the UK the estimated population of horses is in the region of 1.1 million, of which almost 1 million are thought to be leisure horses with the majority in single horse ownership. Horse owners are not used to thinking of their individual horse as part of a larger population of horses either at yard level or even in a local region. Your horse is part of a herd whether this is their field companion, the other horses on the yard or even the other horses in your local area. The impact of this is that your horse may be at risk of picking up an infectious disease even if it doesn’t leave home and will contribute to the spread of this to other susceptible horses. Herd immunity is a form of immunity that occurs when vaccination of a significant proportion of the herd provides a measure of protection for individuals who have not been vaccinated or have not developed immunity through natural exposure. When a sufficient proportion of the herd has been vaccinated the disease is unable to spread because there are too few susceptible horses left to propagate the outbreak. This means outbreaks of a disease can be controlled without the need for all horses to be vaccinated.
How vaccines work
When horses are infected naturally, defence proteins called antibodies are produced and, together with a type of white blood cell called a killer cell, they will help the horse fight disease. Both antibodies and killer cells are specific for a particular infectious organism and can continue to circulate within the immune system for a time after the horse has recovered from the disease. This will help protect the horse from getting the disease again. However, the limitation with this natural immunity is that this response can take days, by which time the disease can cause significant harm and spread to other horses. Over time, the response weakens further unless the horse is re-exposed.
Vaccines stimulate an immune response in horses by tricking their bodies into believing that they are being attacked by a disease and creating antibodies and killer cells to fight infection. This means that when natural infection does occur, the immune system is able to produce a much faster and stronger response. It is this strong response, as a result of vaccination, that prevents the disease becoming debilitating and spreading to others.
Vaccines contain antigens (disease causing organisms) that are altered slightly but are still recognisable to the horse’s immune system.
Therefore when a horse is vaccinated the immune system is primed and able to fight the disease it is immunised against, but not suffer the ill effects of the disease itself.
Why should I vaccinate my horse?
The most common diseases to vaccinate against are equine ‘flu’ and tetanus, although it is also advisable to protect your horse against strangles and herpes. Your vet will be able to advise you on a vaccination or prevention programme and the frequency of booster vaccinations. If you are concerned about any diseases during breeding, for example herpes virus or rotavirus, you should also talk to your vet for information on a suitable prevention programme.How often should I vaccinate my horse?
Booster vaccinations for respiratory disease are required from every three months to fifteen months, depending on the vaccine. Your vet can advise you on this.I don’t compete my horse so do I need to vaccinate?
Yes especially if your horse has any contact with other horses. It is easy to overlook the importance of influenza as a disease as outbreaks are relatively rare. However the disease is debilitating for your horse and can be distressing for you to witness. A horse doesn’t need to leave home to be at risk of tetanus and most cases of tetanus are fatal.How effective is vaccination?
As in humans, vaccination is never a 100% guarantee since it relies on the ability of each horse to individually mount a satisfactory immune response. As a result, you should never vaccinate a horse that is unhealthy or stressed. A combination of having a complete vaccination program and enough of the population vaccinated (herd immunity) is how viruses and bacteria are kept at bay. The gold standard is to have a whole yard vaccinated and follow good stable management and hygiene procedures. This will reduce the amount of infective organism in the horse’s environment.What should I do if my horse appears sick following vaccination?
Just as humans sometimes feel unwell following immunisation, horses also can appear off-colour after being vaccinated. This is not usually a cause for concern, but if you are worried you should talk to your vet.Can I vaccinate my pregnant mare?
All about equine influenza
Equine influenza (flu) is caused by a highly contagious virus and while it does not usually cause a long term or fatal illness, your horse will be unwell and require time off work sometimes for an extended period. The disease is endemic in the UK meaning it is widespread throughout the horse population. It can lead to serious complications in very young or old horses and due to its infectious nature can spread rapidly through groups of unprotected animals, where there could be large economic consequences e.g. on a racing yard, livery yard or riding school.What are the signs of equine influenza?
Equine influenza is similar in appearance to flu in humans. Clinical signs are caused by infection of the respiratory tract and typically include a dry, hacking cough, a nasal discharge, and a fever. More severe signs such as pneumonia can occur in some individuals particularly foals. Influenza is an airborne virus and horses become infected through direct contact with an infected horse or through indirect contact via contaminated equipment or people.How is equine influenza treated?
There is no specific treatment for equine influenza and although antibiotics may be useful to control a secondary bacterial infection they will not treat the virus itself. Your horse will need a minimum of six weeks rest to recover or longer in more severe cases and your vet will advise you on this.
Prevention of the disease is achieved through routine vaccination and good biosecurity management.
Influenza FAQsCan my horse die of Influenza?The disease carries a low rate of mortality so it is unlikely that your horse will die from infection. However, the virus can cause a form of pneumonia which may prove to be fatal in foals or yearlings.Are there any long term consequences of influenza?Most horses recover within 2 weeks however in some horses a post-viral cough can persist for a much longer time. In some individuals it can take up to 6 months to regain full health. Horses can develop permanent lung damage following a bout of influenza which will cause performance related issues. There is also the potential that horses can develop sore muscles and myocarditis (heart muscle inflammation), which can subsequently cause an irregular heartbeat.Can I exercise my horse as soon as he has stopped coughing?Following a bout of flu it is important to give a horse complete rest for at least 6 weeks. Without rest the potential for long term consequences increases.How far can influenza travel?Influenza is an airborne virus and can spread quickly and easily through a yard. Under favourable weather conditions it can spread up to 5km.What should I do if I suspect my horse may have influenza?In the first instance, try to limit the spread of the disease by isolating your horse from others. The virus spreads rapidly so if other in contact horses are coughing this may be too late. Seek veterinary advice immediately. Your vet may take some samples to help determine what infectious disease your horse has got so that appropriate advice on treatment and return to work can be given.Do all horses show the same signs?The severity of symptoms depends on numerous horse related factors such as age, stress, exercise level, vaccination status but also on how potent the infecting virus is. Naïve unvaccinated horses experiencing infection for the first time are likely to show marked clinical signs whereas other horses may only show mild signs which can be easy to mistake for something else.Can I check that new horses entering my yard aren’t already infected with flu – is there a test and what are the best quarantine measures I can take to protect all other horses?It is advisable to isolate all new horses onto a yard ideally for 3 weeks. A remote paddock will suffice and will allow horses that are incubating disease to develop symptoms whilst reducing the risk of disease spreading to other horses on the yard. There are tests available to diagnose disease in horses displaying symptoms. Please speak to your Veterinary Surgeon. Your yard should also have isolation facilities and a protocol of what to do in the event of a suspected case of infectious respiratory disease. By having these measures in place prior to any suspected disease outbreak you will be able to limit the impact of disease on your yard.What can I do to prevent my horse from getting Flu?Vaccinating regularly is the best way to protect your horse against disease caused by influenza. Vaccination can also protect the herd, whether this is your horse’s field companion or the other horses on your yard. Vaccinating a large proportion of the equine population will limit the ability of the virus to spread so reduce the incidence of outbreaks.When should I vaccinate my horse?A vaccination regime consists of a primary course from around 6 months old of two injections 4 weeks apart followed by the first booster 5 months later. Thereafter booster vaccinations are given annually. Tetanus can be combined within the influenza vaccination so dual protection is provided. (Intervals and timings may vary between depending on the vaccine manufacturer; speak to your Veterinary Surgeon for advice).I don’t compete my horse so do I need to vaccinate against equine influenza?Yes, especially if your horse has any contact with other horses. It is easy to overlook the importance of influenza as a disease because outbreaks are relatively rare and the disease doesn’t tend to kill the horse. However the disease is debilitating for your horse, can be distressing for you to witness and can be costly to treat. By vaccinating your horse you will be complying with your duty of care to protect your horse against disease.Do I really need to keep on vaccinating against influenza each year?Yes, vaccines will provide protection for one year following the initial three injections. After this period antibody levels decline and your horse will not be protected.I’ve heard that there are different strains of Equine Flu, does that mean I need more than one vaccination?As with human influenza, there are different strains of equine influenza circulating throughout the world, some more infectious than others. Additionally different vaccines within the UK contain different strains of the virus. However, all vaccines licensed for use in the UK undergo strict tests to ensure that they are safe and effective so that any licensed vaccine can be used to protect your horse. It is more important to check that you horse is up to date with the vaccinations and that to vaccinate as many individuals as possible to encourage the concept of herd immunity.
A well-managed pasture will help to reduce the worm burden. The following pointers should be followed where possible:
Summary of ‘need to know’:
Caring for your pregnant mare
Pregnancy describes the state of the mare following successful mating through to the act of giving birth, called parturition.What is the gestation period in horses?
The average length of pregnancy or gestation length is 340 days. In ponies it is slightly shorter at 333 days. However this can be a variable time period and a normal healthy foal may be born anywhere between 325-365 days gestation.
The length of pregnancy can be affected by various factors including nutrition; as well-fed mares will often have shorter pregnancies. Also, the time of year can have a bearing on how long a mare will remain pregnant as mares that are carrying foals through the winter months often have longer pregnancy or gestation lengths than those in summer.How is pregnancy in horses diagnosed?
The traditional method for diagnosis is rectal palpation where the foetus or foal is felt for manually. More recently ultrasound examination has become increasingly used as the foetus can be visualised on a screen and often the pregnancy can be detected much earlier than with manual palpation. Pregnancies can be detected as early as 14 days after ovulation. However progressive scans are required to ensure that the pregnancy has persisted and is healthy. Ultrasound examination involves insertion of a probe via the rectum that relays an image back to a screen which can be viewed and stored. Although this is the most useful and commonest method of diagnosis there are some inherent risks to the mare and the vet during this procedure. Rectal tears are rare but potentially catastrophic events for the mare. The risk of this happening can be reduced by restraining the mare in stocks during the examination. Light sedation or gut muscle relaxants can also be used if a mare is particularly anxious. The use of stocks will also protect the vet from being kicked. There are obviously size limitations for this examination to be carried out safely and small breeds are unsuitable candidates.
There are two types of blood test which can also be used to diagnose pregnancy depending on the stage of the expected pregnancy.. The first looks for the presence of a hormone called equine chorionic gonadotrophin or eCG. This hormone is produced by the placenta during pregnancy between days 45 and 90. After 100 days of pregnancy a different blood test is used to look for the presence of a hormone called oestrone sulphate which is produced by the foetus.
Your veterinary surgeon will be able to discuss further the different methods of diagnosis and which one(s) are most appropriate for your mare.
What is ragwort poisoning?
Ragwort (Senecio jacobea) is a weed that is often found in pasture throughout the UK and contains poisonous substances (toxin). These toxins (pyrrolizidine alkaloids cause damage to the liver of a number of animals including horses and donkeys. Most animals tend to avoid eating ragwort as it is not very palatable, although if food is scarce or there are a large number of Ragwort plants present within the pasture, horses may be forced to eat it. However the toxin is very stable and remains toxic even when the dried plant is incorporated into hay.What causes ragwort poisoning?
The most common cause of ragwort poisoning is from chronic (long-term) eating of hay which includes dried ragwort.What are the signs and symptoms of ragwort poisoning?
There are two types of poisoning with Ragwort – acute (immediate) and chronic (long-term). The acute form is rarely seen as large quantities of Ragwort need to be eaten but if it does occur the first sign is often sudden death of the horse or pony.
Chronic poisoning is the most common form and the signs of poisoning are usually not seen until four weeks to six months after eating the plants. Small doses of the poison gradually accumulate in the horse's liver where it causes damage to the liver cells and scarring with the liver eventually shrinking in size. The liver has large functional reserves and so it is only once these reserves have been exhausted that signs of poisoning can develop. These signs can often come on suddenly, although in some horses and ponies, mild illness can precede more severe symptoms. Signs of chronic disease include loss of appetite, depression, diarrhoea, weight loss, sensitivity to sunlight and jaundice (yellow colour to skin or eyes). The liver is responsible for filtering the blood of many substances so when it stops functioning correctly these compounds can affect the brain and affected animals can develop neurological symptoms such as weakness, circling and head pressing.How can I prevent ragwort poisoning?
Ragwort is a biennial plant, which in its first year forms flat rosettes. In the second year it becomes much taller and produces yellow flowers. The only reliable method of prevention is to remove the weed from pasture. The plants should be removed, including their roots and disposed of away from livestock. It is important to ensure that animals have no access whatsoever to any plants even dried as they can still be poisonous. The poison can also be absorbed through the skin of humans so it is important that impervious gloves are worn. Plants on adjacent land should be removed to avoid the spreading of seed back into your paddocks. Always ensure that there is adequate grazing or alternative food sources such as hay, so that your horse or pony is not tempted to eat any ragwort that may have been missed. Sprays are available for the control of ragwort and advice can be sort from your local farm merchant on appropriate ones for you.
There is a DEFRA Code of Practice to prevent the spread of ragwort. Those who disregard the need for the weed's control can face prosecution by the government (Ragwort Control Act 2004).
Routine health checks for your horse
Your veterinary surgeon should carry out an annual health check on your horse. But as owners we can perform regular checks ourselves to ensure that any signs of disease are identified early. In most cases routine checks are second nature and often you will perform them subconsciously every time you ride, groom, feed, bring in or turn out your horse. Here’s a handy list of regular checks to make:
If anything appears out of the ordinary then get in touch with your veterinary surgeon who will be able to give you advice.
Knowing the normal values for things such as breathing rate and heart rate in your horse can be very useful in identifying stress or disease early. Any changes from these normal values could indicate a problem.What is the normal range of a horse’s heart rate?
At rest = 28-48 beats per minute At exercise = up to 200 beats per minute The heart rate is measured with a stethoscope or by feeling the pulse in the lower leg or jaw. If at rest the heart or pulse rate is raised this may be a sign that the horse is in pain or stressed.What is the normal range of a horse’s breathing (respiratory) rate?
At rest = 10-14 breaths minute. Breathing rate can be measured with a stethoscope or watching the sideways expansion of the chest. The rate can often be raised when the horse is stressed or sick.What is a horse’s normal body temperature?
Normal Temperature = 99.5-101.3°F or 37.5-38.5°C
The temperature is taken by inserting the thermometer into the anus of the horse and holding against the side of the rectum. Do not stand directly behind the horse when taking the temperature. Low readings may be taken if the thermometer is inserted into a piece of faeces by accident. It is important to seek advice from your veterinary surgeon if you are inexperienced at this.
What is Strangles?
Strangles is a highly contagious respiratory infection caused by the bacterium Streptococcus equi.. It is endemic in the UK and causes major economic problems particularly on big yards. Horses become infected through direct contact with an infected horse or via indirect contact through contaminated equipment, or personnel.
Typical signs of strangles include dullness, reduced appetite, cough, nasal discharge, fever and swellings or abscesses in the throat region. In some instances horses may only develop mild symptoms such as a mild and transient nasal discharge that can be mistaken as a ‘dust allergy’ or ‘common cold’.
Most horses will make a full recovery however complications arise in 10% of cases. Such complications include remaining a carrier of the disease with the bacteria residing in small pouches (guttural pouches) at the back of the throat. These horses will remain symptom free yet will infect other susceptible horses which they come into contact with. Severe and fatal complications such as ‘bastard strangles’ occur approximately 1% of cases. This is when abscesses develop in other sites ultimately leading to organ failure.
Horses which show signs of the disease should be isolated immediately to reduce the risk of spread to other horses. All in-contact individuals should be carefully monitored and those showing a rise in temperature or clinical signs should also be isolated. There is no specific treatment for strangles. Treatment relies on good supportive and nursing care such as anti-inflammatory therapy, feeding from the ground to encourage drainage of abscesses and feeding wet sloppy feeds. Hot poulticing abscesses can help encourage the abscess to rupture spontaneously or to allow surgical drainage by your veterinary surgeon.
Prevention of the disease relies on good biosecurity practices and vaccination.
For more information visit the website www.equine-strangles.co.uk
Strangles FAQsA horse on our yard has been diagnosed with strangles. It has been isolated but is there a risk to my horse?If your horse has had any direct nose to nose or indirect (people, equipment, tack) contact with the infected horse then there is a risk that your horse may develop disease. Rectal temperatures should be taken twice daily from ‘in contact’ horses and those displaying clinical signs. Horses with a raised temperature >38.5C should be isolated and presumed infected until the results of further testing prove otherwise.How do I know if my horse is a carrier of the disease?Approximately 10% of recovered horses become carriers of the disease and harbor the bacteria in their guttural pouches (pouches in the throat region). These horses are often symptom free and appear outwardly healthy although spread the disease to susceptible horses for months or even years. A blood test is available which will identify potential carriers. Further investigation of positive cases should then follow by either a series of throat swabs (nasopharyngeal) or preferably by endoscope examination and culture of the guttural pouches. Horses can be treated through removal of infected material and flushing of the pouches.How long should a field be left empty of horses after a contaminated horse has been grazing the field?The bacteria are unlikely to survive longer than 3-4 days in the environment however, water troughs carry the greatest risk and can harbor the infection for up to 14 days. It is advisable to empty troughs and disinfect them before moving horses back onto the pasture.How long should a yard remain closed after a case of strangles has been diagnosed?This will depend on the specific situation and how well isolation procedures have been followed. Ideally a yard should remain closed to all horse movements until all horses have been identified as free from disease on diagnostic testing. Screening for carriers after an outbreak will usually commence 6 weeks after the last clinical case. Once all carriers are identified, treated and confirmed free from disease a yard can be re-opened.How can I prevent my horse from getting strangles?Several preventative measures can be taken to minimize the risk of strangles (see Management practices to reduce the incidence of respiratory disease) including vaccination. Your Vet will be able to advise you on appropriate vaccination.Is there a vaccine available?Yes. A live attenuated vaccine is now available in the UK to aid in the management and prevention of strangles. It can be used in horses from four months of age and is administered by submucosal injection into the upper lip.Can vaccination give my horse strangles?No. Although the vaccine is live, the bacteria have been altered so that they only survive long enough to stimulate the immune system and will not cause disease.My horse is the one of the only horses vaccinated on the yard, is there any benefit at all?The best way to control strangles through vaccination is to vaccinate all horses on a yard to reduce the level of challenge. Individual horses will still benefit from vaccination as their immunity will be higher than any unvaccinated horses.Can my horse be vaccinated if there is an outbreak on the yard?A booster can be given to healthy horses if they have had a primary course and it has been between 3 and 6 months since the last strangles vaccination. If your horse has not been vaccinated or vaccinations have lapsed then it is recommended to wait until the yard becomes ‘disease free’ through diagnostic testing before initiating a vaccination programme.
Could my horse get Tetanus?
Tetanus is caused by a bacterium (Clostridium tetani) which is found in the soil.
Although most animals can be affected, horses are particularly susceptible. The bacteria enter the body through wounds, with punctures of the sole of the foot a common route of infection. The bacteria then cause disease by producing toxins that affect the nervous system.
Horses with a tetanus infection become seriously ill very quickly and in many cases the disease is fatal despite all attempts at treatment.How do I stop my horse getting tetanus?
Fully vaccinated horses are able to neutralize the toxin before it can cause any ill effects and disease is completely prevented.Tetanus vaccination for horses
All horses should be vaccinated against tetanus whether they are retired, companion or competition animals.
Tetanus FAQsIs tetanus an infectious disease in horses?Yes, tetanus in an infectious disease of horses caused by contamination of a wound with soil containing the bacterium Clostridium tetani. Tetanus is not contagious therefore cannot be passed from one horse to another.What is the treatment for tetanus?Treatment involves administering large repeated doses of tetanus antitoxin to help bind the circulating toxins and large doses of Penicillin. Other treatments are largely supportive and involve the use of sedatives, muscle relaxants, fluid replacement, wound debridement and slings. Treatment is expensive, labour intensive and often unrewarding and affected horses are often euthansed on welfare grounds.How can I prevent my horse from getting tetanus?Vaccination is essential in preventing the serious consequences of the disease, used alongside good stable management practices to reduce the risk of injury to your horse.My horse has a cut and I am unsure of his vaccination status, what should I do?Any wound large or small is at risk of becoming contaminated. If you are unsure that your horse is protected call you veterinary surgeon immediately. Depending on the length of time which has elapsed since the last vaccination your vet will administer either tetanus antitoxin and/or a tetanus booster.Do I have to vaccinate my horse?There are no legal requirements to vaccinate against tetanus but owners have a duty of care to protect their horse from disease under The Animal Welfare Act 2006 or The Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006. Most owners are aware of the life threatening nature of the disease and do not take the risk of leaving their horse unprotected.My horse is elderly and has been vaccinated against tetanus for all of his life, do I need to continue?The horse is the most susceptible of all the domestic species and regular vaccination is essential for protection. There is no age related immunity to the disease so an older horse is just as likely to become infected as a younger horse.
Vaccinate to protect your horse
Disease prevention through vaccination is an essential part of horse management. If you are lucky enough not to need your vet for an emergency this year, you should still make sure you see them for your horse's vaccinations and check-up. The health check is also an ideal time to discuss how your horse has been over the year, identify whether there are any areas that need monitoring or further investigation and discuss any questions or concerns that you may have regarding your horses’ health and management.Vaccinating your horse against equine influenza
This disease spreads very rapidly and can have significant economic implications due to loss of performance as well as the ill health of an infected horse so vaccination is often compulsory for horses entering competitions, particularly if they are run under British Horseracing Authority or FEI rules. You should check that your horse is vaccinated to meet local requirements before setting off for a competition. Even if your horse isn’t competing it is important to protect them against the unpleasant ill effects of equine influenza.
Foals should start their flu vaccinations from a young age, typically four to six months of age.. The initial course for foals and adults alike is two injections given generally 4-6 weeks apart, with a third injection required around 5-6 months later. Following this first third injection, the manufacturer's recommendation for subsequent flu vaccination should be followed and is typically every 12 months. If you are competing your horse you will also need to make sure that the vaccinations are in accordance with the governing body for your particular sport. For most governing bodies, standard manufacturer recomentdations are sufficient for competition, however some organisations, such as the FEI require 6 monthly intervals between flu vaccines and a period of time between vaccination and competition. Be careful to check the rules of any competition before you leave for an event.
If any, there are usually only mild side-effects to a flu vaccine.. Your veterinary surgeon will be able to discuss what you may see and if you are worried that your horse is having a reaction you should always contact your veterinary surgeon for advice.Vaccinating your horse against equine herpes virus
Equine herpes (EHV) can cause respiratory signs, neurological disease and can have implications for breeding mares if infected, including risk of abortion. Not every horse requires an EHV vaccine and you should discuss with your vet whether this vaccine is appropriate for your horse. The initial vaccination course is similar to the flu vaccine (2 injections 4-6 weeks apart) but the booster interval is shorter and specific schedules exist for the vaccination of pregnant mares. Contact your veterinary surgery for further information regarding EHV vaccination.Vaccinating your horse against tetanus
Tetanus vaccination is recommended for all horses, whether or not your horse leaves the yard or meets other horses as the organism responsible for infection is in the environment. Initial (primary course) vaccination again starts with two injections given 4-6 weeks apart. Following the initial course, booster injections should be given at least every one to three years, depending on the vaccine manufacturer's instructions so check with your vet who will advise you on the relevant booster interval for your horse. As with other equine vaccines, side effects are not common but horses may rarely become stiff or sore around the site of injection after it is given and you should contact your veterinary surgeon for advice if you suspect that this has occurred.Vaccinating your horse against strangles
There is also a vaccine that is available against strangles for horses that are at risk of this infection and this vaccine is given into the upper lip of the horse, using a special applicator. The first two (primary) vaccinations are given 4 weeks apart, and a boostervaccination is then needed after 3 months. The booster interval will then depend on the risk of infection to your horse and what other control factors are in place. Your veterinary surgeon will discuss booster intervals and control factors that will be appropriate to your yard and whether vaccination against strangles is recommended in your horse.Other equine vaccinations
In addition, there are other vaccines that are usually only used in high-risk areas or in breeding horses and not all of which are available in the UK.
Rotavirus can cause diarrhoea in young foals, but it rarely affects older animals. An equine rotavirus vaccine is available to stimulate immunity in mares so that their milk contains specific antibodies which give their foals protection during their first few months of life. Mares are vaccinated during their 8th, 9th and 10th months of pregnancy.
When to call the vet
When to call your Vet
According to the Equine Industry Welfare Guidelines for Horses, Ponies and Donkeys a veterinary surgeon should be consulted urgently by the owner or person in charge of the horse is there are any signs of:
A veterinary surgeon should be consulted within 48 hours of the owner or person in charge becoming aware of the following conditions:
Of course there are many other reasons why you will want to call your vet for assistance and you should feel free to do so. This list is a minimum indication of the attention that should be available to animals in distress.