Going Out of Town

This week I will be leaving town to attend the American Association of Equine Practitioners Annual Convention in Salt Lake City, Utah!  There will be 4 days of meetings, seminars, trade shows, and dinners along with plenty of socializing among equine vets.  We get to trade stories about cases, clients, business, and the general “stuff” that goes along with being a horse doctor.  Most of the vets will be leaving their own horses to the care of others while they attend this convention, which made me think of what horse owners can do to protect their horses while they are on vacation.  Here are some helpful hints on precautions you can take to put your mind at ease when you leave your equine friends at home:

1.  Go through the morning and afternoon routine with your caretaker a couple days before you leave.  Provide them with a detailed list of instructions and allow them to take notes as you go through the routines.  Try and think of little details that someone who doesn’t know that horses may forget (example: the mare gets fed first in the north corner of the pasture and the gelding second in the south corner).

Uh-oh!  Someone forgot to tell the caretaker not to put "Pickles" next to "Charlie" :) Source: Reddit.com
Uh-oh! Someone forgot to tell the caretaker not to put “Pickles” next to “Charlie” 🙂
Source: Reddit.com

2.  Label things clearly.  Label halters, feed tubs, feed bins, medications, supplements, etc.  Label with the “W”s : Who, What, Where, When.  For instance, if your ancient gelding “Bubba” gets a scoop of glucosamine in his grain in the morning make sure to label the supplement accordingly.

Source: Spotted Oak Farm Nicely labeled feed bins and supplements.
Source: Spotted Oak Farm
Nicely labeled feed bins and supplements.

3.  Have a list of emergency numbers posted and clearly visible.  Important numbers are:

  • Veterinarian, preferably list two in case one can’t be reached
  • Horsey friends – they may know your horses or have helpful hints
  • Someone with a trailer and is willing to haul the horse in case it needs to be hospitalized

4.  Call your vet and let them know that you will be out of town.  Authorize your caretaker to make decisions if you can’t be reached in an emergency situation.

5.  Think about and discuss the “tough situations” with your caretaker.  For instance – Are you willing to pursue colic surgery if needed?  Will you take your horse to a referral hospital if needed?  If the horse has to be put to sleep, what is to be done with the body (bury? cremation?)?  I have seen all of these situations arise and how hard they can be on the owners, caretaker, and horse.

I hope these tips will help everyone relax a bit when they have to leave their horses in the care of another person!


Lacerations – Part I – Head and Face

Horses are a prey animal.  In the wild they have to be wary of predators, which makes them naturally “spooky”.  Because horses have a very strong “fight or flight” response they are prone to injuring themselves when they are frightened.  Additionally they are curious creatures, which can get them into all sorts of trouble.  Most cuts, punctures, scrapes, etc. are from the horse injuring itself on some random object or fighting with other horses.

Lacerations (cuts) can happen at any location on the horse, but certain areas are fairly common.  The way injuries are treated depend on the severity of the wound and where the wound is on the horse.  In this post I am going to write about lacerations to the head and face of the horse.  In later posts I will discuss other typically injured areas such as the hoof, upper limb and lower limb.

Typical Location on the Face and Head

A horse can injure any spot on their head and face, but certain areas tend to be the most frequent.  Curious exploration of their environment can lead to cuts and punctures on the lips and around the mouth.  Lots of facial wounds are caused by the horse rubbing his head on an object to get a nice scratch.  It is all too common for a horse to find a seemingly harmless object and catch a corner of his eye on the object  – which results in half of they eyelid being torn off.  The eyes are probably the most injured structure on the horses head.  Second to that would be the bridge of the nose and frontal sinus area.

www.viim.org Scratching the face can lead to injuries.
Scratching the face can lead to injuries.

What to Do for Head and Eye Injuries

  • Calm down.  A LOT of these injuries look horrible and will terrify you, but luckily the face and head are places on the horse that heal quickly and usually without much scarring.  I have seen mouths torn open, eyelids hanging by a couple threads and 80% of the skin torn off the front of the face of horses. These injuries, while nasty to look at initially, healed up beautifully.
www.thehorse.com Common eyelid laceration seen in horses
Common eyelid laceration seen in horses
www.thehorse.com The same eyelid as above - beautifully healed!
The same eyelid as above – beautifully healed!
  • Call your vet.  Not tomorrow, not later that afternoon – right away.  Fresh wounds can be cleaned and stitched easily, which decreases the chance of scarring.  Wounds that are swollen and infected can be difficult to sew up completely and the vet may need to leave some portion of the wound open to help it drain.  Lots of wounds leave a flap of skin attached, which would be nice to put back in place and suture, but if left long enough the flap looses blood supply and the tissue dies off.  There is no point in suturing dead skin, so then you have to deal with an open wound.  This can mean cleaning and flushing the wound – horses typically don’t appreciate that.
www.banixx.com This wound is infected and needs to be left open to drain.  Stitching the wound would not be a good idea in this case.
This wound is infected and needs to be left open to drain. Stitching the wound would not be a good idea in this case.
  • Get horse in proper area.  If your vet is coming out to look at the laceration (as opposed to you hauling the horse into the vet clinic) then you need to get your horse in an area with very good lighting.  It should be protected from the elements if possible.

Treatment Options

The treatment will always depend on multiple factors:

  1. How long the wound has been present and if infected or not
  2. Involvement of other facial structures/organs (eyes, mouth, ears, etc.)
  3. Depth of the wound

Most of the time treatment will begin with cleaning the wound and removing dead or infected tissue.  Your vet will then decide if and how they will suture the wound.  Some vets like to use staples instead of stitches.  If the wound can’t be sutured, then your vet will determine how the open wound will be treated and give you instructions on how to do so.  Usually horses are given antibiotics when they have wounds.   As opposed to humans, horses are always in an outside or barn environment.  We can’t control their actions and must assume that they will rub their sutures and roll in mud and get the wound dirty.  Antibiotics help treat any infection already present as well as prevent future infection.


It seems as though no matter how safe we make our horses’ environment, they will find something on which to injure themselves.  However, the severity and frequency of injuries can be lessened by regularly checking the barn, paddocks, and sheds.  Nail heads, wires, and sharp edges make excellent scratching posts and often contribute to eye injuries.  Any wood that is splintered or chewed on can also be places for your horse to injure themselves.  Examining your horse’s environment at least monthly can help catch these problem areas early.  Finally, some injuries (especially puncture wounds) can be fairly small and easy to miss by just glancing at the horses as you throw hay over the fence.  It is important to give horses a decent look-over at least once a day to check for injuries and abnormal behavior.


www.shutterstock.com Typical old fence post with nail sticking out.  Horses love to find these spots and injure themselves :)
Typical old fence post with nail sticking out. Horses love to find these spots and injure themselves 🙂

Autumn – A Great Time for Sand Colic

If you live in the north you probably have noticed your pastures are eaten down, however, your horses are still out there trying to grab any bit of grass they can.  Unfortunately, this behavior can lead to problems depending on the type of soil present in your pastures.  If you have sandy soil, please pay attention to the following announcement:  the combination of weeks nibbling at grass and ingesting sand plus the cold weather decreasing the horse’s desire to drink is a recipe for a major sand impaction colic.

What is sand impaction?

When a horse pulls up clumps of grass with dirt they ingest some of the dirt.  As the materials they eat move through the digestive tract some of the sand settles at the bottom (ventral) portion of the tract.  After weeks to months of small amounts of sand settling in the digestive tract, the accumulation of sand can build up and then other feed materials start backing up.  Eventually the contents of the GI tract can get so backed up that the horse can no longer pass feces and begins to feel painful.  That is when we see the outward signs of colic (not eating, rolling, kicking at belly, sweating, etc).

Source: carouselequineclinic.com
Source: carouselequineclinic.com

How is a sand impaction treated?

Any time your horse shows signs of colic, call your veterinarian IMMEDIATELY.  Do not wait around for hours and hope he suddenly just gets better.  The vet may ask you to walk your horse to prevent him from rolling and causing injuries to himself.  The vet will examine the horse and probably give him an anti-inflammatory medication to lessen his pain.  The vet may “tube” the horse, which means taking a flexible long tube and sticking it up the nose and down into the stomach.  This does two things: 1) allows the horse to “throw up” any backed up stomach contents and prevent the stomach from rupturing and 2) allows the vet to administer fluids or medication orally.  Your vet may also do a rectal exam to determine how bad the impaction is and feel if any structures seem to be out of place.  What your vet finds when they examine the horse tells them what further treatments are needed.  Some additional courses of action are IV fluids, oral fluids, administration of laxatives and psyllium, and finally, surgery.

What can be done to prevent sand impaction?

  • Feed up off the ground.  There are many products designed to feed hay so that it does not fall on the ground (hay racks, etc).    Placing rubber mats beneath the hay rack and grain tubs also prevents feed that falls to the ground from being in the dirt.
  • Rotate pastures.  Keep horses in one pasture and let the other pasture’s grass grow.  Then trade once the horses eat down the first pasture.  The more pastures you have, the better this will work.
  • Keep horses busy with hay.  If you have hay always available to a horse they are less inclined to nibble on tiny bits of grass.
  • Supplement with psyllium.  Psyllium is a laxative product (it is in Metamucil).  Once in the intestines, psyllium absorbs water, swells, and forms clumpy stool that can carry sand out with the feces.  Psyllium can be purchased at any feed supply store.  Follow the manufacturers instructions for administration.


  • Periodically test feces for sand.  You can check if your horse is passing sand in his feces by taking a handful of poop and putting it in a bag.  Fill the bag with water and mash the poop until it is dissolved.  Hang the bag up and leave it for 5 to 10 minutes.  Come back and feel the bottom of the bag for sand that has settled.  If there is sand in the feces, you know your horse is consuming it, so its a good idea to make some modifications to his feeding management.  However, if there is no sand in the feces there is no guarantee that there is no sand in the horse’s GI tract.
Source: sand-colic.com
Source: sand-colic.com

As always, please use common sense and call your vet to discuss your horses risk of sand impaction.  This article is not intended to diagnose or treat your horse.

Making Horses Drink

Leading a horse to water can be relatively easy, but getting them to drink is a challenge. It can be frustrating when you have a dehydrated horse that refuses to drink water.  Whether its hot and humid weather at a horse show or extra cold and dry outside, horses need water.  Lots of it.

Water Needs

Just to maintain normal body functions, a horse needs 1/2 to 1 gallon of water per hundred pounds of body weight per day.  So for your average 1000 pound horse (Quarter Horse, Thoroughbred), that is 5 to 10 gallons of water per day.  If your horse is sweating or losing body fluids in other ways (example: diarrhea), then their water needs increase.

How to Tell if Your Horse is Dehydrated

You can use several tricks to determine if your horse is dehydrated.  1) Feel and look at the gums.  Normally they should be pink and moist or slick with saliva (just like your mouth).  Dehydrated horses have gums that feel dry or tacky.  The color also may be abnormal (pale, yellow, or dark red).

Source: http://www.haciendalascolinas.com
Normal horse gums are pink and moist.  Source: http://www.haciendalascolinas.com

2) Skin pinch test.  Tent the skin on the side of the neck up by pinching it up.  Normally the skin will snap back into place quickly.  If the horse is dehydrated the skin will stay tented for several seconds before before returning to its normal position.

Tips to Get Your Horse to Drink

Just as each person is different, each horse is different.  What works for one may not work for the next one.  These are some different tricks you might try to get your horse to drink when they are being stubborn:

  • Give them electrolyte paste orally.  You can purchase tubes of electrolyte paste from farm supply stores or your veterinarian.  Administer the paste as directed on the label or by your veterinarian.  The paste often will make the horse thirsty in a couple of minutes.
  • Flavor the water.  If your horse is picky about water and won’t drink when you go to shows or travel, then you may be able to flavor the water to mask any taste they don’t like.  Some put a small amount of powdered drink mix (example: Gatorade) in a pail of water and offer that to their horse in addition to plain water.  ALWAYS have regular water available as well as the flavored type in case the horse wants to drink plain water.  It is good to test different flavors to find one your horse likes before you have to travel or start the show season.
  • Treats in the water bucket.  One client of mine cut up apple slices and floated them in a bucket of water.  Her horse ended up drinking about a half gallon of water just trying to pick up the apple pieces out of the water.
  • Keep the water at a good temperature.  Horses do not like extra cold water.  They prefer 45-65 degrees fahrenheit, so try to keep the water as warm as possible in the winter.  I know people that take boiling water out to the barn and add some to each horse’s bucket in order to warm up the water before feeding time.

For a detailed information regarding horses and their water intake, visit http://www.aaep.org/info/horse-health?publication=867.

If you think your horse may be dehydrated, call your veterinarian as soon as possible.  Dehydration in horses can lead to SERIOUS health issues such as kidney failure, colic, and death.  This article is not a substitute for your veterinarian and is not intended to diagnose or treat any illness or disorder in your horse.

Rain Rot

As I sit here on a cold rainy November day I am pondering what topic to cover and it hits me – Rain rot!  You know, that nice crusty bits that form all over a horse’s back and when you pick them off a little bit of hair comes with the crust?

Source: http://www.horseandhound.co.uk

When you run your hands over the horse it feels like cobblestone under their coat.  Under the scabs/crusts the skin is usually pink and “weepy” or serous, but sometimes can be dry.



Source: http://www.threeoaksequine.com

Sometimes the horse will be painful when you pick off the scabs.  Several things worth knowing about “rain rot” or “rain scald” are listed below:

  • It is caused by the bacteria Dermatophilus congolensis and can cause skin infections in horses, sheep, cattle, and other animals.
  • The bacteria can live in the skin of animals and sometimes the animal will not develop the disease.  These animals are called “reservoirs” because the bacteria can hang out undetected on that animal until it can transfer over to the next animal.  We don’t know exactly how the bacteria get transferred from one animal to the next, but assume it can be through touching, sharing tack, or possibly via insects (flys, etc).
  • Once the bacteria infect a new horse, they can live quietly on the horse and not cause major disease for some time.  But, when conditions are right (wet environment), the bacteria can reproduce and start to spread.  This is when the disease becomes apparent.
  • The disease is called “Dermatophilosis” and is usually treated with medicated shampoo.  Make sure to really scrub those crusts and get the soap under the crust to the skin!  Sometimes your vet will also prescribe oral antibiotics.
  • Prevent infections with providing shelter from snow and rain, blanketing when needed, regular grooming, and good nutrition.

As always, this is not intended to substitute for a visit from your veterinarian!  Always call your vet to make an actual diagnosis and recommend proper treatment.

Preparing for Winter

Winter is right around the corner.  Ugh.  The time of year where lots of horses are out of work and people are too cold to even think about riding.  We bundle up, run out to the barn, do a quick check, throw them hay and/or grain, make sure the water isn’t frozen, and RUN back to the house.  It feels great to return to the warmth and take off the gear and settle in for the evening or day.

Unfortunately things don’t always go as planned :(.  Things that I commonly see in winter that go wrong for horse owners are 1) down horse, 2) colic, 3) weight loss, and 4) injuries.  Sometimes these things are related.  To help horse owners get ready for winter I am going to list several steps one can take in order to prevent and/or minimize common winter horse woes.

1)  Teeth – Have the horses teeth checked by your vet.  Horses with poor dentition have a more difficult time in winter because they have to rely on hay and grain for calories, which are harder to chew than nice moist soft grass.  Your vet may recommend “floating” the teeth so that the horse can chew more effectively and digest feed to get the most nutrition per bite.

2) Watering System – You do not have to have fancy automatic waterers.  You do, however, have to be sure your horse has access to unfrozen water at all times.  Water heaters should be checked over and tested before the first hard frost in the fall.  Be sure to test the water to see that it is not giving the horses an electric shock every time they drink!  Have both inside and outside sources of water if your horse has free access to turnout.  Water is essential to preventing colic (and a whole bunch of other problems).

3) Shelter – Horses need access to dry shelter that protects them from the elements.  A 3-sided run-in shed can do just fine for most horses.  A horse can keep warm easily if its skin stays relatively dry and it has plenty of hay to munch on.  If a horse is too cold you will see it shivering.  This is not a good thing and means you need to dry the horse off and get him into shelter.  Cold horses don’t drink water properly, which can lead to colic.

4) Veterinary Access – In case of emergency you need to either have the vet out to look at the horse or take the horse to the vet clinic.  If the vet has to come out to your barn, please make sure the driveway is somewhat plowed and there is a path to the barn that is shoveled.  In the ideal situation your vet can drive into the barn isle and has a clean, dry, and brightly lit area to work.  That is not always possible but no person wants to be stuck in the snow or mud after working hard on an emergency call in the middle of the night :).  Sometimes it will be necessary for you to transport your horse to a clinic.  It is nice to protect your trailer from winter elements but I suggest not letting it buried in 10 feet of snow under a tarp.  Keep it easily accessible for emergency situations.