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Horsein’ Around

by Roger Thompson
Fort Collins, Colo.

Yes, it is that time of year when we need to protect our horses from infectious internal parasites and diseases. A few years ago, I ran across a handy little publication put out by Intervet, a pharmaceutical company that put out concise information about protection. I am using this guide to write about protection because it saves me time.

A horse that is bright and alert, with a shiny hair coat, is a pleasure to see and an indication of a healthy horse. However, maintaining that healthy horse involves basic understanding of equine management and diseases. For older horse enthusiasts like myself it is more or less common knowledge and we have a program that we follow every year. Nevertheless, new folks getting into the business need to learn and understand more information.

Why vaccinate? Properly administered vaccinations are simply the safest, easiest and most economical tools available. When we first began vaccinating we had to turn to a veterinarian to administer these, but the pharmaceutical companies, understanding the need for average folks to do the job and to increase sales, began making vaccinations available, with instructions for the everyday horse owner. Now we can just go down and buy what we need and do the job ourselves.

Illness can take an enormous toll on a horse’s health and performance, and/or life. Horses that are on the move, like to horse shows, rodeos, the racetrack, breeding etc., are especially susceptible to the spread of disease by other horses.

I have decided not to travel much this year because of the fuel prices. I just can’t afford it, so maybe I’ll make competitions close to home. However, one thing to keep in mind is the fact that travel stress can weaken the immune system’s ability to naturally fend off illness. Vaccinating at the right time, well before exposure, is extremely important. If you are new to administering vaccinations, it is best to get your vet to do this and then have him/her explain what is being done.

Horse diseases vary widely. The key to good health is knowing when, how and where these diseases may strike and how best to defeat them. Follow the brief descriptions of the more common diseases and consult your vet for more information.

Sleeping Sickness or Equine Encephalomyelitis is a virus transmitted by mosquitoes, which may result in permanent brain damage or even death. Eastern and Western types are most common. Affected horses stop eating, run a fever, and may go blind and begin head pressing. Prognosis for recovery is poor and vaccination is strongly recommended for prevention.

Flu or Equine Influenza has symptoms, which include fever, dry cough, runny nose, dehydration, poor appetite, lethargy, and sometimes-secondary pneumonia. Death is rare and most horses recover, but the flu is highly infectious and results in lost time and money. Vaccination is recommended.

Rhinopneumonitis or what is normally called “rhino” in laymen terms, has two main types: EHV-1 and EHV-4. EHV-1 is the most virulent and can cause respiratory disease, abortion, foal death and paralysis. EHV-4 is common in young horses and usually only cause’s respiratory problems. Vaccination for both is recommended and pregnant mares need specifically EHV-1 as prevention to abortions.

Strangles, Distemper or Barn Fever is a highly contagious bacteria disease that causes severe inflammation and pain in the throat and neck, making swallowing difficult. Swollen lymph nodes may abscess. Preventative vaccination recommended.

West Nile Virus is a relatively new disease that affects horses, humans and birds. However, it is spread only by mosquitoes and is not directly contracted from sick animals. Symptoms vary widely, and may include wobbliness, lethargy and decreased appetite, twitching in the lips, neck and chest, and in some cases fever or unusual lameness. Some show no symptoms at all and mortality may be as high as 30 percent. Preventative vaccination is strongly recommended.

There are a number of good vaccines on the market that cover the most common diseases to vaccinate against and four specific areas for injection. You need to inject areas where there is sufficient muscle mass to receive the needle and little chance of hitting bone or puncturing a nerve, tendon or major blood vessel.

The Neck Region is the most frequently used area. Using care to hit the safe triangle in the muscle. Neither too high into the large ligament, nor too low close to the neck bones. Also, avoid the jugular vein area.

The Gluteal or Hip Region is easiest to reach but if a post-injection abscess forms, it is difficult to treat. Intervet does not recommend this area for novice users.

The Hind Leg or Hamstring Region is the easiest to reach and a large muscle area, but beware that the horse may kick.

The Chest or Pectoral Region is also an easy place to reach, but beware that the horse may strike. In addition, possible swelling may make walking difficult.

Prior to his retirement Roger Thompson was a CHA certified instructor of advanced Western horsemanship and beginning English riding.


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