Horse Care

How, why and when to deworm your horse

Deworming your horse is a critical component of equine health care.

Horses are susceptible to various internal parasites like roundworms, tapeworms, bots, and strongyles. These parasites can infest the horse’s gastrointestinal tract and other organs, leading to health issues.

Parasites interfere with nutrient absorption, leading to malnutrition and weight loss.

Deworming helps ensure that your horse can fully benefit from their diet by keeping the parasite population under control.

Heavy parasite loads can cause colic (abdominal pain), diarrhoea, and other gastrointestinal problems. Regular deworming reduces the risk of these conditions.

Some parasites, like large strongyles, can migrate through the horse’s body, potentially causing organ damage and life-threatening conditions.

A horse with a high parasite load can suffer from a weakened immune system, poor coat condition, and reduced stamina and performance.

Deworming contributes to the overall well-being and performance of your horse.

Parasites can be spread through manure and contaminated grazing areas. Deworming helps control the spread of parasites within a herd.

In many equestrian facilities and competitions, regular deworming is a requirement to maintain the health and safety of all horses.

It’s essential to follow a deworming schedule tailored to your horse’s specific needs, as overuse or misuse of dewormers leads to drug resistance among parasites and because regular deworming has long been the standard practise, resistance is becoming a serious problem.

Regular veterinary check-ups and faecal egg count tests help in creating an effective deworming program with a reduced risk of creating resistant parasites.

What are faecal exams?

Faecal exams, specifically faecal egg counts (FECs), are a vital tool in modern equine parasite management, offering several advantages over a regular, interval-based deworming approach.

Faecal exams for horses involve analysing a sample of your horse’s faeces to identify and count the number of parasite eggs present.

This process provides insights into your horse’s worm burden.

  1. Procedure: You collect a small sample of fresh faeces and take it to a veterinary clinic or lab. There, it’s examined under a microscope to identify and count parasite eggs.
  2. Egg Count: The results are usually given as eggs per gram (EPG) of faeces. This count indicates the level of infestation and helps in determining the need for deworming.

There are clear advantages of faecal exams over interval-based deworming.

FECs allow for targeted deworming, meaning only horses with a high parasite burden are treated. This is more efficient and healthier for the horses than treating all horses at regular intervals.

Overuse of dewormers is leading to parasites developing resistance.

By using FECs to guide deworming, the use of these drugs is minimised, slowing down the development of resistance.

It can be more cost-effective in the long run, as unnecessary treatments are avoided.

Regular faecal exams help monitor the overall health and effectiveness of the deworming program.

It’s a good way to check if the dewormers used are effective against the parasites present in your horses.

Some horses naturally have stronger immunity to parasites and consistently show low egg counts, while others may be high shedders. Faecal exams help identify these individuals for more tailored management.

By reducing unnecessary deworming treatments, faecal exams contribute to a lower environmental impact of equine management.

In some scenarios, such as with young foals or in certain herd situations, a more regular deworming protocol may be necessary due to their different parasite risks and immunity levels.

Also, certain parasites like tapeworms and encysted small strongyles are not reliably detected in standard fecal exams, so strategic deworming may still be necessary.

Consult your local vet, who is familiar with the situation in your area and can offer you the best advice on how to treat your own horse.

Fecal exams offer a more informed, responsible, and sustainable approach to equine parasite management compared to a blanket, regular deworming schedule.

They should be part of a comprehensive parasite control program, designed and monitored by a veterinarian, tailored to the specific needs of each horse and the overall herd.

How to train your horse to take the deworming medicine.

Training your horse to accept, not just deworming, but any kind of medicine will make treating them a lot easier in the long run.

To train your horse to accept the administering of medicines, there are a few things you can do to make it go smoothly.

Always practise before you actually need your horse to use this skill.

  1. Make sure your horse can be handled safely. Getting a head collar on, touching all parts of the horse (in this case, especially the head and face), picking up the feet nicely and standing still are all basic skills for any horse.
  2. Crack your horse’s mouth. Stick in your thumb as you do when preparing your horse to accept the bit and keep it there for a few minutes. You horse should not throw their head up and seek to get away from the touch, rather simply open the mouth and relax the jaw. This paves the way for using syringes.
  3. Use a syringe with apple sauce. An old, washed deworming syringe will do just fine, but you can buy one at tack stores or pharmacies as well. Fill the syringe with apple sauce and give that to your horse as you would a dewormer. This makes your horse get used to the syringe bringing something that tastes good. When you finally need to give medicine, you can have two syringes and alternate the apple sauce with the medicine, making it a more pleasant experience for your horse. If you have a syringe with a large enough nozzle, you can even push a pill in through the front, and give it to your horse with the apple sauce, reducing the chance your horse will spit it out.
  4. Remember to reward your horse for giving you the behaviour you want. Practise with your horse often in small sessions, so that by the time you need to perform a procedure, your horse already knows what’s expected of them.

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