Taking Medication

Here’s a question for you all.

How do you trick your right-now-they’re-annoyingly-clever horse into taking tablets or medicine?

Be it hard tablets, powders or wormers, horses are very good at sniffing out the medication and eating around them or totally rejecting any attempts by you to administer it.

I’m sure those of you with such horses have a trick or two up your sleeve. I want to know them!

For hard tablets, I’ve bored a hole in a carrot or apple and given it to the unsuspecting horse.

Most horses accept powder medication in a tasty feed. Sugar beet is a favourite for mixing it in for those with a sensitive palate.

What are everyone else’s tricks?

Liver fluke

At a clinic a couple of weeks ago one rider informed me that her horse was recovering from liver fluke so when she needed to have a breather, they would.

It occurred to me that if I’m really honest, I don’t know that much about liver fluke. So I did some reading and thought I’d share it with you all.

Put basically, liver fluke is a collective name for flat parasitic worms that live in the livers of numerous mammals, including horses and humans.

Liver fluke has become more prevalent in recent years due to wet summers and mild winters. So whilst horse owners don’t need to  routinely check and treat for liver fluke, it’s important to be aware that horses grazing on heavy, poor draining land with other species (sheep in particular) are at a higher risk of liver fluke.

The liver is one of the most resilient organs, so symptoms of liver fluke can be hard to spot until the horse is very unwell. The most common sign of liver fluke is chronic anaemia, but soft dung, a dry coat, oedema, weight loss and jaundice can all be observed. Unlike sheep and cattle, liver fluke in horses s rarely fatal.

You can detect liver fluke through a faecal worm egg count done between February and May, and a blood test. Unlike sheep and cattle, there aren’t any licensed medications to treat liver fluke in horses; the only way is to use medication that is prescribed off license by the vet. This means that the vet will tell you to use the medicine in a different way to the instructions on the label or for what the medicine has be licensed for.

I looked up the life cycle of liver fluke, and here is Farmers Weekly’s description. I can’t really improve on this explanation so you might as well hear it from source.

It’s flat, leaf-shaped and a pale brown colour, with tiny sharp spines that irritate the liver tissue of animals. The adult, which is usually about 2cm to 3cm long, lays its eggs in the bile ducts of the liver.

The egg passes into the intestine and is excreted via the manure. If the eggs enter water, they hatch into small larvae known as miracidia.
These swim around until they find a small water snail on a leaf near the riverbank. After entering the snail they encyst (enclose themselves in a sac) and become dormant.
After about six weeks, they hatch into tiny tadpole-shaped cercariae. These attach themselves to water plants, usually grass, where they encyst again into metacercariae.
When the plant is eaten by the animal, the metacercariae penetrate the intestinal wall, enter the abdominal cavity and start eating their way into the liver.
After another six weeks or so, they make their way to a bile duct to reproduce.

In all, liver fluke is usually not too serious in equines due to their natural resistance, but it is tricky to treat and could take a couple of months for them to regain full health. So if your grazing is with cattle and sheep, near rivers and on heavy ground, it’s worth bearing liver fluke in mind and testing for it annually.

Worming Horses

It’s the time of year that we all have to start thinking about worming our horses for tapeworm. But isn’t it all a logistical nightmare?

There are so many trains of thought; natural worming, strategic worming, getting faecal egg counts, tactical worming, poo picking … I could go on.

When we were younger the yard owner used to come down onto the yard with a list of horses and her large bottle of wormer around her neck, wielding a gun in her hand. The very large worming syringe, obviously. She would make her way around the yard and fields, ticking off horses as she dosed them – one squirt for the ponies, two squirts for the middlies, and three squirts for the big horses.

There was very little calculating in this approach, which was very blanketed, but at least you knew all the animals were wormed at the same time. 

Of course we didn’t poo pick the forty acre fields, and I don’t suppose the chemical in the wormer changed year on year, but we all survived and our ponies did too.

I got such a shock when I went to college and learned about different worms!

For example, you should worm against bot fly eggs after the first hard frost using ivermectin or moxidectin… I thought bot flies were just large, annoying hovercrafts that deposited eggs into the skin; the fact that horses could ingest them by licking themselves didn’t occur to me.

Getting back on subject; when you look at all the different types of worms horses can have, the chemicals that target them, and the time of year in which to effectively worm against them, you could end up worming your horse once a month! This is called the strategic worming approach because you are worming against worms that are active at that time of year.

Then of course comes the criticism that by over worming you create super worms, who are resistant to all wormers, and that you are flooding the environment with too many chemicals, as well as clocking up a huge bill.

So what on earth is the answer?

At the moment, the answer seems to be to have a faecel worm count done and then worm according to the results. But tapeworms don’t show up on worm counts so you either need to have a blood test done or worm with pyrantel in April and October regardless.

It’s all very complicated though; particularly if you have more than one horse.

I was mulling all of this over this morning and came up with this.

Currently I have two geldings of a similar age in the same paddock which I poo pick daily. So I worm every six months for tapeworm (that’s coming up which is why I was thinking about it) and I have decided to have a worm count done on one of the horses this time. Then I can make sure the wormer I choose also has the correct chemical to target whatever other worms they have.

Both mine are in the low risk category I think because they are not youngsters or veterans, and have limited opportunities for contamination from other horses and they have a clean field. Plus the fact that the sheep and goats wander through the field, hopefully ingesting some worms and removing them from the cycle.

However, after some thought I decided that if I owned a livery yard I would enforce a yard policy, where horses had egg counts taken twice a year – spring and autumn, and then everything was wormed simultaneously, but I think I would also offer a more intense worming programme for younger horses, or those with a history or worm burdens, where they could have further worming treatments. I feel this wouldn’t be guilty of over worming horses, yet I don’t think the horses’ worming would be neglected and you could be sure that you weren’t wasting diligent owners time and money, whilst promoting the more forgetful owners.

I think I would also require paddocks to be poo picked weekly, as a minimum, to help manage the land and manage the worms. It would then be easier when it comes to field rotation because all the paddocks would be clean and the horses on a similar worming regime. That’s the biggest risk to those who have to pay close attention to their horse’s worming programme as some people aren’t as conscientious over cleaning paddocks and some horses may be due treatment, whereas others have had it in the last month, which can lead to cross contamination when rotating fields.

It can be really difficult to effectively and economically worm a large herd of horses, but the blanket approach isn’t necessarily the best as horses are individuals. You could almost break the horses up into small groups depending on their risk category, field companions, and field management  technique and then create programmes for each group. I do tend to feel that it’s best for yards to adopt a programme as it is easy for private horse owners to forget, or delay worming their horse; as well as the fact that a yard can buy in bulk and benefit from any discounts which can be passed onto the livery owners.

It would be interesting to know what other yards have as their policy, and also whether horses have to be wormed upon arrival, as well as I’m unsure of the value of that at the moment.