Spring and your horse

Here in North Carolina, spring is approaching, intermittantly. It is 80 degrees F on day and 30 degrees F the next. Humans seem to be acutely aware of the temperature. What do I wear? Can get out of my driveway or do I need to park at the top of the hill tonight? It would be nice if the forecast were somewhere close to what I see when I open the door.

Interestingly enough, animals are acutely aware of photoperiod – in a 24 hour length, how many hours were daylight. It has an effect on when they lose their winter coat. It has an effect on when they are ready to breed. Horses are seasonally polyestrus. That means that they cycle in the spring and summer and, generally, do not in the winter. Seems like a good plan. Have a baby when it is warm for a newborn and when there is abundant food available for a lactating mare to magically change from grass to milk (water to wine).

Other creatures have a similar gestation plan. Have babies in the spring when it is warm and food is available. In North Carolina, Rabies is a problem. Raccoons, an excellent vector for Rabies, have their babies in the spring.

Other vectors, insects, appear it seems from nowhere. Birds follow their migration back northward. All natures’ wonderful cycles blossom in the spring.

Your horse is at risk for many diseases carried by these vectors. Those raccoons (rabies) travel through your horses’ pasture while you are at work. Those migrating birds (west nile virus) land on trees in your horses’ pasture. Those nasty horseflies (EEE/WEE) land on your horse and will drive that poor soul crazy. Horsefly stingers have made it through my bluejeans and left a remarkable welt.

The point of this discussion is that now is the time to make sure to call your veterinarian and schedule spring vaccinations. The good news is that there are wonderful vaccinations for horses that work, keep the horse safe from that pathogen. But, they need to get into the horse. Your veterinarian knows which ones, where to put it (not as easy as it looks), how often they need each individual vaccine. I have found that work is always easier when you watch someone else do it. I urge you, have the veterinarian do this. There is a lot going on determining what, when, how, how often, what could go wrong.

And, while she’s there, talk to your veterinarian about deworming. The schedule and products used are different here in North Carolina than would be recommended in Montana, or even South Carolina for that matter.

Roughage – in the beginning and always

Long before there were any feed stores or the mixed feed that comes in the bag of your or your horse’s choice, there was roughage. The horses of ages ago and in the wild today survive on what grows in the ground. Their gastro-intestinal tracts have evolved to process grasses. The animal in general does best if you follow the lead that nature has given and offer your horse roughage.

The horse, in the wild will eat a little, walk a little, eat a little, walk a little, eat some more, then take a short nap. Then, it is back to the above – eat a little, walk a little, eat a little . . . The horse has an incredibly small stomach for an animal its size. There is almost no correlation between how a horse needs to be fed and how a cow needs to be fed for example. The horse’s small stomach needs to be fed a small amount of low protein food (roughage) in small amounts, often. It is a pipeline that needs to be fed a little, a lot. That, in general, is not consistent with the scoops of high protein feed that is so convenient for us as horse owners.

The simplicity and consistency of the above is brought home again and again. This past year was one of drought beyond imagination. No water means not much roughage is growing. Grass isn’t available. Hay is remarkably expensive and as any horse owner, one begins to look for any alternative. Again and again, I need to learn this lesson. The horse needs roughage. The horse’s gastro-intestinal tract is uniquely oblivious to the fact that the price of hay is skyrocketing. The horse needs roughage. If you just watch how your horse’s body is changing, it will soon become apparent that despite what the bag says ( recall above where it was noted that horses existed long before feed stores did ), horses need roughage.

There is a medical term called ‘scratch factor.’ That refers to how the ingesta interacts with the insides of the horse’s intestines. It is normal for the horse to chew the grass or hay till she’s done then swallow. This swallowed food is not totally soft and gooey. There are intermittant pieces of the roughage that provide a ‘scratch’ to the inside of the horse’s intestine. No matter how you make it, I cannot imagine a pelleted mix being able to provide this scratch factor. Having watched too many horse on less than optimal roughage, but plenty of concentrate, I can only propose that the scratch factor does stimulate the horse’s gastro-intestinal tract to elaborate some element that causes the whole system to work more efficiently.

As horses live longer, we do have to supplement the roughage they eat with some sort of prepared food, some bagged feed. As we do so, we would do well to keep some order in what is more important and what is the supplement. Horses need roughage first. Grass is best. Good quality hay is best ( this is not equivalent to pure alfalfa). Good quality fescue hay is just fine as long as you are not feeding a pregnant mare. If that is not enough to maintain a good weight on your horse, then it is time to have a veterinarian examine your animal. Teeth could be a problem. Deworming could be a problem. A good veterinarian check up will bring many things to light. After all that has been accomplished, then adding in a prepared food would be appropriate. And, remember the above, a horse is built to eat a little bit often. They are not the most convenient animal to feed for the working owner. But, they are built the way they are built. In order for them to thrive, things just seem to work best when you work in concert with nature.
HorseFeathers Veterinary Service, PLLC 1

Recalled foods for dogs and cats

Within the past year there have been multiple brands of dog and cat foods that have been recalled due to inclusion of a component that is toxic to the animal. Thankfully, most retail outlets have removed the specific foods from their shelves, but, for the poor animals that have already ingested these foods, the damage is done.

There is a list, maintained by the American Veterinary Medical Association, that exhaustively delineates which foods have been contaminated. This list is enormous and contains some brand names that have previously been considered trustworthy. The link to this list is:

An article from Canada explains political and legal ramifications and somewhat the mechanism of action of these tainted foods. That article is:

Recall News, US study ties 27 pet illnesses and deaths in Canada to recall

Dec. 28, 2007 — From Mytelus.com

TORONTO – In a year that saw dozens of recalls of products made in China, perhaps none had people more up in arms than a wide-ranging and repeatedly expanding recall of pet food tainted with a deadly combination of chemicals.

In March, Menu Foods recalled about 60 million cans and pouches of its “cuts and gravy” style food, sold under 95 brand names after it received reports of kidney failure and death among dogs and cats.

The problem was eventually traced to wheat gluten contaminated with melamine, used in making plastics, from a Chinese supplier. It was a massive recall, the largest in the industry, but just one of many recalls in Canada in 2007 of products manufactured in China.

At the time, a company spokesman had said Menu Foods would “take responsibility” for any expenses people incurred if they could prove the tainted pet food sickened or killed their pet.

But any compensation is now stalled by ongoing legal action.

At least 100 class action suits were filed against the company, and mediation is now being handled by a court in New Jersey with an eye to reaching an all-encompassing resolution to the claims.

A court order prevents Menu Foods from communicating with unrepresented pet owners. That means that nine months after the recall, any pet owners waiting for the promised compensation for their dead pet or vet bills for a pet that fell ill will have to wait even longer.

A statement from the company said it could not comment at this time because of the mediation process.

In March, the company said it had confirmed only the deaths of 16 pets. Various pet and veterinary organizations had estimated the death toll could be in the thousands But the actual numbers appear to be much lower than that, though much higher than Menu Foods’ original count.

The American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians commissioned a voluntary survey of accredited and commercial laboratories and veterinary clinics across North America. It tied 347 cases of pet deaths and illnesses to the contaminated food.

Of those cases, 235 were cats and 112 were dogs ranging in age from two months to 19 years. The study found 61 per cent of the cats and 74 per cent of the dogs died. The rest were either ill or had recovered at the time of reporting.

Nearly all of those cases came from the U.S., but 27 cases were reported from Canada, 20 cats and seven dogs. Dr. Dalen Agnew of the Diagnostic Center for Population and Animal Health at Michigan State University, one of the study’s authors, called the results “a bit skewed.”

“These are cases that made it all the way to a tertiary care facility and cases where owners wanted to go the extra mile,” he said.

“I suspect that there are probably at least as many other cases where the owners never bothered to go any further, to work up a complete diagnosis, because it did require money and an investment of effort and time.”

The study also found what the Animal Health Laboratory at the University of Guelph in Ontario had suggested, that melamine wasn’t the only chemical responsible for sickening and killing pets. It was actually a combination of melamine and cyanuric acid, commonly used in swimming pools to stabilize chlorine.

“Melamine alone is not toxic and cyanuric acid alone is not toxic,” Agnew said.

But when the two are mixed they form an insoluble crystal that obstructs the kidneys and causes renal failure, he said.

“You can dose cats with very, very, very high doses of melamine and there’s not a problem. And you can dose cats with a very high level of cyanuric acid and there’s no problem. But even at a low level if you mix the two, it can be fatal within days.”

It is truly an age old problem to be sure that enough water is getting into the horse. Being horses, they are not always the most cooperative. If you are used to working with dogs, the possibility of inducement comes to mind. It may come to mind with the horse as well, but, as you will find out, it doesn’t work. Doesn’t work at all.

Horses and water – it’s never easy

Horse Physiology

One of the reasons that horses and water are a concern is how the horse is built. Horses are enormous creatures with enormous muscles. They are a delight to ride or just to watch them chase each other and play. The dickens of it is that the horse sweats isotonically. That is to say, when the horse sweats, she loses water and electrolytes in a normal body mixture. The horse has chemoreceptors in her carotid arteries. These chemoreceptors check the blood passing by for too much sodium, too little potassium, etc. Since the horse sweats isotonically, all these markers being checked by these chemoreceptors maintain a normal mix. It is not the case that the horse’s blo0d becomes thick with electrolytes and low on fluids and the horse is stimulated to drink. The horse is stimulated to drink in a much more subtle manner and sometimes not until the conditions become dire.

Also, horses are living longer these days. Veterinary Medicine has progressed and conditions that would cause the demise of these beautiful creatures are now treatable conditions. There are more situations to watch for in the older horse with various compromised systems. Markers become more subtle and systems become even more fragile.

Winter and Horses in North Carolina

Here in North Carolina, it rarely gets to the freezing mark for more than a day or two. This year (2008) has already been different. There were days that were in the 60’s and a string of days in the teens and low thirties. What this means to the horse owner is that the water trough will freeze and stay frozen. Some horses don’t really care how cold their water is and will drink clean water quite readily. Other horses (they don’t wear a sign so you can’t tell by looking at them) will drink only enough to survive if the water is too cold. Often they will become remarkably dehydrated, refusing to drink water with large chunks of ice floating in it.

Consider the horse that is getting up in age. Teeth that were once sparkly clean and perfect have suffered the ravages of age and the idea of putting ice water on a cracked tooth becomes a very effective negative reinforcement. And, since horses lose water in an isotonic manner (see above), they can become very dehydrated before it becomes noticed in the winter. Your veterinarian will be able to help you determine if your horse is adequately hydrated. Just to ‘see him drink’ is not at all the same as having him drink enough to stay healthy.

A horse in a paddock and stall is basically locked in to what could be a heaven or not. The only option for water is what you the caretaker offer. It is a good idea to have some benchmark of how much your horse drinks on a normal, regular, not much happening day. Then, with that in mind, you can make a knowledge-based guess on whether he is drinking enough. Just in general, that amount is more than you think. A horse is a big animal.

In the winter, there are trough heaters that prevent the water in the trough from freezing. Often this is enough to allow the horse to drink as needed. For those poor souls with tooth problems or gum problems, water at 40 degrees F is just too cold. Older horses will more readily drink warm (warm to the touch of your hand) water when offered. The problem here is hauling water. For those who haven’t had the pleasure recently, water is heavy. And, for some reason, it wants to spill. But, the horse needs to drink the same amount of water when it is winter as when you measured above. Else, you risk dehydration colic. A horse, for all his magnificence, is a very delicate creature.

Summer and Horses in North Carolina

The summer here in North Carolina gets hot. A horse cools himself by sweating, often profusely, and ultimately, panting. The amount of water consumed by a horse per day in North Carolina in the heat of the summer is huge. Now, you still want to know what consumption is normal for your horse.

One problem you will face is keeping the water trough clean. In 100 degree weather, in the sun, all sorts of microflora grow in the water trough. And, they grow quickly. It is common to see a trough with some sort of reddish, greenish slime attached to the sides of the trough. Doesn’t matter what the identity of these microbes are, empty the trough and scrub it till it’s clean. There is an on the farm test for water – the ‘would you drink that?’ test.

The horse will easily get dehydrated if the only source of water is that trough with the multicoloured slime on the sides. He will take a sip when he cannot stand it anymore, then only just a little. Remember, he is a your responsibility and this is his only choice for any hydration. The solution here is both easy and hard. The easy part is that all you have to do is empty the trough and scrub it sparkling clean. The difficult part is that it is hard work to do that. In North Carolina, that procedure has to happen at least once a week. More often if the trough looks dirty . . . would you drink that?

Progress of Medicine

2000 BC – Here, eat this root.
1000 BC – That root is heathen.
Here, say this prayer.

1850 AD – That prayer is superstition.
Here, drink this potion.

1940 AD – That potion is snake oil.
Here, swallow this pill.

1985 AD – That pill is ineffective.
Here, take this antibiotic.

2000 AD – That antibiotic doesn’t work anymore.
Here, eat this root.

Wisdom of Shih Tzu

Shih Tzu is a long lost and very distant relative of the much revered and insightful Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, whose vision affects us still

Regarding pleasure and bliss

  • You can rub my belly if you need to
  • You aren’t done yet
  • My bed isn’t soft enough. It needs to be fluffed a little more.
  • I may need another pillow to adjust myself just right.
  • Or, maybe, you can make room for me on your bed.
  • Move over. It’s warm where you are.
  • Ahhhhhhh

Regarding nourishment

  • I want the good stuff
  • You fed me that yesterday. I want new stuff. I can tell that came out of the refrigerator.
  • What about that food on your plate. Are you better than me?
  • Yes, that cute little plate with my picture and your food on it is just right.
  • Please heat it up for me. I like my food warm.
  • Ahhhhhhh

Regarding the exquisite outdoors

  • It’s raining, I’ll wait.
  • No, really. I’m good. I’ll wait.
  • Oops. That wasn’t me.
  • Don’t I look just precious in this little raincoat?
  • Yes, I DO have to wiggle while you dress me.
  • Ow, that’s too tight in the armpit. You have to fix it or I’ll squeal ‘dog abuse’
  • Yes, I DO need to wiggle while you undress me.
  • Oops. That wasn’t me either.
  • Please heat up my bed for me.
  • Ahhhhhhhhh