Archive for the ‘Horse Health’ Category

Cribbing: What It Is and How to Deal With It

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

Have you ever walked into the barn to hear a strange grunting noise coming from one of the stalls? Do you know a horse who’s slowly eating through the fencing, his feed buckets, his stall doors? Perhaps your own horse has a cribbing habit. Horses who crib, a common issue, are not only destructive, but they’re also at risk for a number of health issues.

What is cribbing?

Cribbing, sometimes referred to as “windsucking,” is a behavior where horses latch onto a piece of wood, arch their necks, pull backwards, and let out a loud grunting noise. They’ll repeat this behavior again and again, sometimes for hours on end.


Cribbers can vary in degrees of severity; some horses crib only when stalled, whereas others will actively search out fences while in turnout for the sole purpose of cribbing. The behavior can be hard on barns; repeated cribbing will wear down wood edges, fences can be destroyed, and a cribber may even pull feed tubs from the walls.

What’s the effect of cribbing?

Besides the negative effect on the barn, cribbing takes a toll on the horse’s body as well. Cribbers may grind down their teeth from the repeated motion, making grazing more difficult and leaving them more prone to choke. Severe cribbers may prefer to crib instead of eating, so weight maintenance can become a serious issue. Cribbers may be prone to colic, and they repeatedly stress the muscles in their necks and backs. Potential buyers may be wary of purchasing a horse who cribs, so the behavior can have a negative effect on the horse’s value, as well.

Why does my horse crib?

The cause for cribbing is still up for debate among equine professionals. Cribbing is often attributed to stress or boredom, as it frequently manifests in horses who spend a great deal of time in their stalls, such as racehorses or show horses. Some veterinarians have proposed that a horse may crib to alleviate pain; the act of cribbing releases endorphins, the same feel-good chemical that the human body produces during exercise. Another theory is that horses who crib may be doing so to ease the pain of stomach ulcers.

What can I do about cribbing?

If your horse cribs, try to maximize the amount of time that he’s outside in a pasture. Providing cribbers with 24-hour access to hay can help to reduce the behavior. Treating him for ulcers (or having him scoped to diagnose ulcers) might also improve the problem, if ulcers are, in fact, the cause.

cribbingstrapConsider trying a cribbing strap to see if that makes a difference. Cribbing straps are available in a number of different styles, but they operate by pressing against the horse’s throatlatch when he pulls back to crib. Collars need to be tight to work and may rub the horse’s neck, so some owners turn to cribbing muzzles, which allow the horse to eat and drink freely but prevent him from latching onto a board to crib.

There’s also a wide variety of wood sprays and paints which are intended to deter cribbers. While applying these to a stall area might stop a mild cribber, more determined horses tend to continue the habit despite the nasty taste of the paints. If your horse will be turned out in a paddock, wood paints and sprays aren’t very feasible because of the great area to be covered.

In extreme cases surgery may be an option. The muscles of the horse’s neck are cut some are removed to make it more difficult for the horse to crib. Surgery is generally only used in cases where cribbing is putting the horse’s health into serious jeopardy.

Cribbing is an annoying, destructive behavior, but it can also do serious damage to the horse’s body. You may need to try a few different cribbing prevention techniques before you find the one that is right for your individual horse.

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Biosecurity at Horse Shows

Friday, March 15th, 2013

With the recent outbreak of Equine herpesvirus 1 (EHV-1) at the Horse Shows in the Sun show in Ocala, Florida, the fear of your horse contracting this (or other) contagious diseases while at shows is justifiable. In addition to staying up to date on the most recent quarantine information, there are many measures you can take to lessen the chance of your horse contracting a contagious disease while away at a show.

Your Horse

Before you make the decision to attend a show, be sure that your horse is in good health and current on all of his vaccinations. If he’s at all under the weather, not only should you reconsider riding him, but you should realize that such a condition will make him more susceptible to contracting additional illnesses. You’ll also be exposing other competitors to any illness he’s suffering from. If your horse isn’t 100%, make the decision to stay home.



Be sure that the trailer in which you haul your horse has been well cleaned and disinfected. Ideally, use your own trailer. If you choose to have a shipping company haul your horse, then research them carefully and only select a company which disinfects its trailers between uses.


Clean and disinfect the showground stall before allowing your horse near it. Scrub the walls and floor with a soapy detergent, and then spray it thoroughly with a disinfectant before adding shavings. If the floors are dirt, then scrubbing them might not be possible – but apply disinfectant liberally.

Limit Exposure

Don’t allow your horse to come into contact with other horses. If you choose to graze him, do so far away from other competitors. Don’t allow him to socialize with horses – a good safety point and courtesy to other competitors, in general. Keep other people from patting your own horse – and if they question your decision, politely explain that you’re worried about the potential spread of infectious equine diseases.

Don’t forget, you need to limit your own exposure to other horses, as well. As tempting as it may be, don’t pat noses of other horses as you walk through the barns – and if possible, avoid walking through other barns altogether.

Bring Your Own Supplies

Bring your own supplies for stall cleaning, and use only them. Bring your own water buckets and scrub brush; don’t pour water from other horses’ buckets into your own horse’s buckets, and only use the scrub brush that you’ve brought.

Wash Up

Bring soap, hand sanitizer, and plenty of paper towels with you. Wash your hands before handling your horse or anything in the barn, and make sure that other people in your barn do, too. Keep disinfectant hand wipes available, and keep cleansing your hands.


Disinfect your footwear regularly, especially after having walked across the showgrounds. Rubber slip-on muck boots can be perfect for this, as you can easily disinfect them.

Be Alert

Monitor your horse closely both during and after the show. Take his temperature multiple times a day – any increase above his normal temperature is cause for concern. Watch him for coughing, nasal discharge, and runny eyes. Also keep an eye on neighboring horses for such symptoms.

By taking measures to limit your horse’s exposure to other competitors you can lessen his chance of contracting an illness while competing.

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Examining Deworming Programs

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

Worms are a huge problem in horses. If present long enough, worms can damage a horse’s internal organs and intestinal lining, result in a dull coat and poor nutrition, and cause weight loss and muscle wasting in addition to many other symptoms. There are a number of ways to combat worms, but take some time to learn about all of them to determine what’s right for your horse.


Daily Deworming

Daily deworming consists of adding a product such as Strongid to your horse’s daily grain. The daily dewormer continuously kills any worms in your horse’s system, so theoretically the worms are never present long enough to do damage to your horse’s internal organs. With daily dewormers you will still need to deworm your horse with a paste product twice a year to kill species of worms that daily dewormers do not affect.

Rotational Deworming

Rotational deworming refers to the use of paste dewormers at certain intervals throughout the year. You rotate the products with each dose to make sure that you target all varieties of worms. Each paste dewormer is only effective during the dosing – in other words, if you deworm a horse in January, he could potentially contract worms and carry those worms until he’s next dewormed again, typically 30 to 90 days later. When you deworm rotationally it’s important to make sure that all horses are dewormed within the same day or two of each other, so that they can’t continuously re-infect each other with worms.

The Case for Strategic Deworming

Parasite resistance to dewormers is a growing concern in the horse industry. In each type of parasites, a small percentage of the population is resistant to the dewormer chemicals and survives the deworming. Because the rest of the population of worms is killed by the dewormer, the dewormer-resistant parasites live on to reproduce, creating more parasites with the ability to survive the next round of dewormer. Using deworming products when they’re not actually needed contributes to the parasite resistance, and could cause a major problem for horses down the line as our current deworming products are rendered ineffective.

Testing for the presence of eggs in your horse’s manure (getting a fecal egg count, or FEC), can allow you to deworm your horse only when absolutely necessary. According to Kentucky Equine Research’s Dr. Bryan Waldridge, fecal eggs per gram (EPG) counts are “the best source of information to tailor a deworming program that is best for your farm.”

In conducting an EPG count, your horse’s manure is weighed, floated in a solution, and worm eggs are then counted under a microscope. The test can determine what types, if any, of parasite eggs are present, indicating what type of dewormer your horse would need to be treated with.  When a fecal egg count results in less than 200 EPG, a horse is considered to be a low level worm shedder, meaning that he passes relatively few worm eggs through his manure, and a pasture mate would face a low risk of worm infestation by being exposed to that horse’s manure. On the other hand, if a horse’s test reveals a count above 200 EPG, then he’s considered to be a high shedder. A high shedding horse has high volumes of worm eggs in his manure and infestation for pasture mates is a definite risk.

If your horse is a low level shedder, then he probably only needs to be dewormed twice a year, greatly reducing the amount of chemicals to which you will need to expose him. High level shedders need more frequent deworming.

The benefit of having a fecal egg count conducted on your horse is that it may reveal that you can do much less deworming than you were doing before, saving you in both money and trouble. According to Dr. Waldridge, a study from Denmark revealed that horses “tend to be consistent in the amount of worm eggs shed in their manure,” meaning that if your horse is a low shedder, he will likely continue to be a low shedder, and vice-versa.

If you’ve never had a FEC done on your horse, talk to your veterinarian. Your vet can help you decide what’s best for your horse and can help to tailor an appropriate deworming program to your situation. Factors such as pasture maintenance, climate, exposure to other horses, and general barn up keep all affect your horse’s exposure risk, so have a discussion with your vet about the best and most effective deworming strategy for your horse.

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Prepping for the Show-Ring Coat

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

Now is the time to start preparing for a sleek, glossy coat that will turn heads in the show ring. Chances are your horse has started shedding, but he probably still has remnants of his fluffy winter coat. Here are some things you can do to help your horse develop a beautiful coat for the show ring.

Shedding Strategies

When it comes to helping your horse shed out, grooming tools are your friends. Equip yourself with a sturdy currycomb and a shedding blade and get to work. Grooming blocks can also help with the shedding process, so stock up on a few.

Elbow grease is key in helping your horse shed out. Curry him thoroughly to work loose the dirt and dead hair, brush him down with a stiff brush, and then use your shedding blade and grooming block on him. Follow up with another brushing to clean his coat and then rub him down with a soft cloth to remove any remaining dirt and to polish his coat.

It can be helpful to have designated “shedding clothing” which you wear only while shedding out your horse. Hair clings to everything, so a lightweight jacket or sweatshirt that you throw on just before grooming and remove before going home can help to keep the horsehair out of your car, home, and everywhere else. Also stock up on some pet hair remover rollers to help keep the hair under control.

Heat things up

Increased heat and light will further promote your horse to shed his coat naturally. Turn him out without a blanket on warm spring days and you’ll likely find that he’s rolled repeatedly on the grass and has probably shed out and loosened a portion of his coat at the same time. He’ll also probably have gotten quite dirty, but the extra grooming session will give you another opportunity to further shed out his coat.

Feed for health

A healthy coat depends on a healthy diet. Make sure that your horse is receiving adequate nutrition from your feeding program (you might choose to consult with an equine nutritionist or your vet on this). Follow a regular worming program, or have your horse’s fecal egg count checked, since internal parasites can have a negative effect on your horse’s health and can result in a lackluster coat.

Consider adding oil to your horse’s diet to add shine to his coat, but carefully consider what type of oil you feed your horse. Oils contain two types of fatty acids, which are Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids have fewer inflammatory properties than Omega-6 acids, so you want to feed an oil with a high ratio of Omega-3’s to Omega-6 acids. Such oils include soybean oil, flaxseed oil, and even canola oil. Avoid corn oil and vegetable oil, as these contain high amounts of Omega-6 fatty acids. Kentucky Equine Research recommends feeding at least one-half cup of oil daily to promote a shiny coat.

Coat color preservation

As we head towards summer, owners of black horses may find that the sun fades and washes out their coats. Feeding one tablespoon of paprika per day to black horses is a popular strategy to keep their coats black, but remember that paprika can result in a positive drug test at horse shows, so pull your horse off of the paprika at least two weeks prior to any shows.

To preserve the color of a dark horse’s coat you might also consider turning your horse out at night and keeping him in during the day. If your horse is turned out during the day, try to feed hay in shaded areas to encourage your horse to stay out of the direct sunlight for a few hours. Ultraviolet-protectant fly sheets can be another option for turnout.

Start preparing now and your horse will have a stunning, shining coat come your first show of the season.

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Taking Your Horse’s Vital Signs

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

Knowing how to take your horse’s vital signs is imperative in an emergency, and it’s a skill that you should practice ahead of time. Although there’s a range of vital signs considered “normal” for a horse, it’s important to establish a base line so that you know what’s normal for your individual horse.


A horse’s temperature is typically between 99 and 101 degrees Fahrenheit. A higher temperature, especially during the winter, can indicate fever and infection.

To take your horse’s temperature, secure a string to the end of the thermometer to keep it from getting lost. If you’re using a mercury thermometer, shake down the mercury. Lubricate the tip of the thermometer with Vaseline. While standing close to the horse’s hip, not directly behind him, pull his tail to the side and insert the thermometer into the horse’s rectum. Tilt it slightly toward the ground and hold it there – mercury thermometers need to be left in place for at least three minutes, but digital thermometers are faster and can be removed once the beep signals the reading is complete. Be sure to clean off the thermometer with a paper towel and rubbing alcohol – this is especially important to prevent the spread of disease if the horse is sick.


A horse’s normal resting pulse is about 40 beats per minute. If the horse is very fit, his resting pulse may be lower than that. Any resting rates between 44 and 60 beats per minute are serious, and rates above 80 are critical and require immediate veterinary attention. If you’re taking your horse’s pulse after he’s exercised or while he is excited, then you can expect that his pulse will be a bit above 40 beats per minute.

The pulse is often taken by listening to your horse’s heart behind his left elbow and on the left side of his chest. Using a stethoscope can allow you to hear your horse’s pulse clearly. Place the stethoscope against your horse’s chest, just behind his left elbow. Experiment with the positioning and the amount of pressure you use until you can clearly hear his heartbeat. For the most accurate reading, count the beats (each lub-DUBH counts as one beat) for a minute. Alternatively you can count the beats for fifteen seconds and multiply them by four.


Horses typically take between eight and twelve breaths per minute when resting. With exercise this rate will increase, so take your horse’s respiration rate when he is at ease and at rest.

Because a horse’s respiration rate is so low, it’s best to calculate the breaths taken over the course of a full minute. Watch your horse’s nostrils for flaring, or watch as his sides extend and contract to count each breath. An inhalation and exhalation count as one breath.

If you suspect your horse is ill or injured, then while you take his respiration you should also be on the lookout for any signs of troublesome breathing such as abnormal noises, labored breathing, or excess effort required to breathe.

Mucous membrane color

Your horse’s gums should typically be pink. Familiarize yourself with what your horse’s gums normally look like. In the case of an emergency, pale or deep red gums can both indicate shock. Purple or blue gums are indicative of low oxygen levels and toxicity, and very yellow gums can indicate an issue with a horse’s liver.

Capillary refill time

If you press your finger firmly into your horse’s gums, the area should return to its normal color within 1 to 2 seconds. If the refill time is as long as 3 seconds, this can be a sign of dehydration or shock.

Gut sounds

Your horse’s stomach continuously makes sounds as it digests. These sounds are best heard back toward the flanks. Carefully place your ear against your horse’s stomach, just past his last rib. Use caution – this can be a ticklish area for horses. Listen for a minute or so, and you should hear multiple gut sounds. The absence or decreasing of gut sounds is concerning, since it can indicate a problem with your horse’s digestion, including colic.

Take your horse’s vital signs regularly to establish an accurate base line and to keep yourself in practice. Consider posting these, along with emergency contact information, on your horse’s stall door in the event that you’re not present during an emergency. Knowing what’s normal for your individual horse can provide you and your veterinarian with important information in a medical emergency.

Different Types of Hay

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

Alternative Types of Hay

With drought conditions plaguing most of the United States, hay is scarce and prices are on the rise. Many horse owners are turning to different types of hay as a result. Let’s take a look at some of the less common types of hay which may provide a perfect alternative for you and your horse.


Bahiagrass hay actually does well in drought conditions, as it grows best in sandy soil. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, bahiagrass originated in South America but it’s been introduced to the United States as an alternative hay crop due to its ability to thrive in the drought conditions in which other hays flounder. Bahiagrass currently ranges from Texas to the Carolinas, up through Arkansas.


A word of warning if you plan to feed bahiagrass hay: The seedheads of bahiagrass hay are often infected by ergot, a fungus. Ingesting large amounts of ergot-infected hay can cause pregnant mares to abort their foals, and can be toxic if fed to cattle. If you have pregnant mares, do not feed them bahiagrass hay.



Teff hay is quickly becoming a popular summer hay alternative, according to the University of California, Davis. Teff is appealing as an alternative hay because it grows quickly and when planted in the late spring it can be harvested multiple times over the summer, producing a high yield. Teff is threatened by frost and has to be planted only after the possibility of frost has passed. Its nutritional value is very close to that of timothy hay, making teff hay a possible alternative to the traditionally-fed timothy hay.

Bermudagrass hay

Bermudagrass hay

Bermudagrass hay is a leafier hay which has a nutritional value that’s comparable to the nutritional value of coastal hay. According to the University of Florida, bermudagrass hay was introduced about ten years ago. It was developed to be hardy and tolerant of sandy soils, allowing it to grow in drought conditions. Although sensitive to the cold, warm-season bermudagrass hay is currently grown across 25 to 30-million acres as forage for livestock.



Coastal hay, sometimes referred to as coastal bermudagrass, is quite common, since it’s a hearty hay which is easily grown in the southern regions of the United States. Coastal hay grows tall and its nutritional value is close to that of early season timothy hay. When dried, coastal hay turns to a golden-brown color.

You might consider exploring some of these alternative hay options if the cost of hay is becoming prohibitive. No matter what kind of hay you purchase, be sure that the bales are dry, and that they’re mold- and parasite-free. Always store bales away from your barn if at all possible, and never purchase more hay than your horses will eat in a year, since after a year it will lose nutritional value.

When switching your horse over to a new type of hay, make the introduction slowly – gradually combine small bits of the new hay with your horse’s old hay. Increase the amount of the new hay while simultaneously decreasing the amount of old hay that your horse is fed gradually, over the course of a week or two, until your horse is fully transitioned to the new hay.

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A Closer Look at Teeth Floating

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

It’s pretty routine: Often when vets come out to administer spring shots, they’ll check over your horse and float his teeth if necessary. Some owners prefer to have an equine dentist work on their horse’s teeth. But what exactly is going on in your horse’s mouth? Is hand floating really better than power drilling? And should you be finding an equine dentist instead of your vet?

Why Equine Dentistry Is Necessary

Your horse’s teeth are constantly growing, and the grinding motion your horse uses to chew sometimes results in uneven tooth growth. Your horse’s teeth may develop sharp protruding hook, and some teeth may become angled, so they don’t match up properly. This can result in difficulty chewing, and can cause pain when a bit is placed in your horse’s mouth, so regular dental maintenance is necessary.

There are a number of other conditions which may require dental work, including extractions of broken, loose, or diseased teeth.

The Effects of Unmaintained Teeth

If a horse’s teeth are not maintained regularly, they can cause many problems and much discomfort. If ridges or hooks on a horse’s teeth are left unchecked, it will become more and more difficult for him to chew. He will get less nutrition from his feed because he cannot break it down properly, and you might notice partially chewed wads of hay left behind in his stall.

Pain can also result, as the hooks and ridges can press into the side of his cheek, making haltering and bridling painful. Horses with unmaintained teeth can be slow to accept the bridle, and may fuss with the bit and be reluctant to take up contact.

How Do I Know If My Horse Needs Dental Work?

Signs that your horse may need dental work include:

• Dropping feed from his mouth while eating
• Head tossing while riding
• Chewing at the bit uncomfortably
• Leaving balls of partially chewed hay in his stall
• A strong foul odor coming from his mouth or nostrils
• Any discharge from his mouth or nostrils, or swelling in his mouth area
• Unexplained loss of body condition

Equine Dentists Versus Veterinarians

The choice between using your veterinarian for dentistry or bringing in an equine dentist greatly depends on your situation and your vet. The popularity of equine dentists has increased due to the appeal of their specializing in the equine mouth. Equine dentists do not necessarily have veterinarian training, so give this some thought if sedatives and other medications are required for your horse’s dentistry. While equine dentists should have extensive education not only in the equine mouth but in the horse as a whole, you’ll want to verify the training and education a dentist has received with each individual you consider. On the other hand, if your veterinarian has taken continuing education courses or specialized courses in the equine mouth, you might have strong confidence in his or her abilities to provide great dental work for your horse.

If you’re looking for an equine dentist, check with your vet first, as he or she may know of multiple reputable equine dentists. If your vet cannot refer you to someone, the International Association of Equine Dentistry offers an online registry of certified equine dentists.

Power Floating Versus Hand Floating

There are two ways to float a horse’s teeth: By hand with a speculum, or by use of a power drill. According to Kentucky Equine Research’s article, “Equine Dentistry: Benefits of Proper Care,” recent advancements in both equine sedatives and the tools available have significantly improved the field of dentistry. According to Dr. Jack Easley, “there is a battery powered oscillating float and a cable driven drill that has burrs made for the end that can do in minutes what it used to take hours to do.” Power floats give vets and dentists the ability to quickly make significant changes to the horse’s teeth, and they can make accessing the back of a horse’s mouth easier.

Some people are hesitant to use power drills, though. Power drills can quickly alter teeth, and in the wrong hands such power, if used too liberally, could be potentially harmful to the horse. Power drills also require that the horse be sedated. Chances are that your vet or dentist already has a preference of power drills versus hand floating, and some practitioners use both, choosing the best method on a case-by-case basis.

Equine dentistry is advancing and becoming more complex, so educating yourself about your horse’s dental needs and the options available to you will prepare you to make the best choices for your horse.

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Interview with Dr. Jennifer Smallwood, DVM- Part 2

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

In case you missed Part 1, Jennifer Smallwood, DVM, recently sat down with us to talk about the vital information a breeder should know. Dr. Smallwood received her Bachelor’s Degree in Animal Science from Texas A&M University, and graduated from the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine in 2003. She specializes in equine reproduction, sports medicine, acupuncture, lameness, and track practice; she provides mobile ambulatory service and emergency services to the Kentucky Bluegrass Region.

Below are more of Dr. Smallwood’s answers to important foaling questions.

Q: Warning signs with a newborn foal

A newborn foal’s normal heart rate is between 60 and 120 beats per minute; if the foal has a heart rate below 60 beats per minute then that’s not normal and you should call your vet. Also watch for foals that don’t want to nurse or which are nonresponsive, appearing “zoned out.” Membrane colors that don’t perk up within a minute are another indication that there might be a problem.

Q: Do I need a vet out to evaluate the foal?

Yes, always have a vet out to evaluate the foal within 8 to 12 hours of its birth. When we come out to do our new foal exam we perform a basic physical and look for congenital abnormalities, such as cataracts or defects in the soft palette. We take blood, do a CBC to check the white blood count, and we do an IgG (more about that below). We also evaluate the mare for tearing and udder development.

One very important aspect of the exam is that we check the foal for any fractured ribs – these can be life-threatening if they puncture a lung or a heart, so you should never turn a foal out before he’s had his physical exam.

Q: Does the foal need an IgG test?

Yes, we draw blood for both a CBC and an IgG on foals. The IgG, or immunoglobulin test, measures the antibody level of a foal’s blood. We want the foal to have a level of at least 800, as a lower measurement means the foal will be susceptible to infection and illness. I like to see levels of over 1200. If the level is low, in the 400 range, then we give the foal plasma to help raise the antibody levels. We come back and recheck the next day, and if the level is still low, then we’d give the foal more plasma.

Q: Is there anything else you feel that a breeder should know?

Have your mare vaccinated 4 weeks before she’s due to foal to boost her antibody level. Deworm her, or do a fecal, a few months prior to her foaling date.

Most importantly, have a plan: Have a trailer hooked up to a truck, and if you don’t have a trailer, then know how you’ll handle an emergency. Will your neighbor haul the mare? Will you call a van? If so, have that number ready. You’re under a very tight window of opportunity if things go wrong.

Running a Neonatal Isoerythrolysis screen, or NI screen, on your mare before she foals is also a great idea. The NI screen tests to make sure that the mare isn’t producing antibodies to the foal. If the test is positive and the foal is allowed to nurse once he’s born, then he will start to become anemic. Although more common in certain breeds, the condition can occur in any breed. The NI test is inexpensive and it’s really good to know the results; it’s costly to treat a foal who’s allowed to nurse on an NI-positive mare, but it’s easy to deal with if you know your mare has tested positive.

Mares with Caslicks procedures (suturing the upper part of the vulva closed as a measure to avoid infection during pregnancy) will need to have those sutures removed prior to giving birth. This is typically done at the same visit when the vet pulls blood for the NI screen.

Interview with Dr. Jennifer Smallwood, DVM- Part 1

Friday, February 1st, 2013


For the first-time breeder, foaling season brings with it a host of questions. Jennifer Smallwood, DVM, recently sat down with us to talk about the vital information a breeder should know. Dr. Smallwood received her Bachelor’s Degree in Animal Science from Texas A&M University, and graduated from the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine in 2003. Dr. Smallwood specializes in equine reproduction, sports medicine, acupuncture, lameness, and track practice; she provides mobile ambulatory service and emergency services to the Kentucky Bluegrass Region.

Below are Dr. Smallwood’s answers to important foaling questions.



Q: What should my foaling kit include?

  • Thermometer
  • A non-constrictive tail wrap, such as a brown gauze wrap
  • Clean exam gloves
  • Clean towels
  • Naval solution or iodine
  • A bucket with cotton and warm water to scrub the mare
  • Clean scissors


Q: Do I really need to give the foal an enema?

Yes, I would absolutely give an enema. It’s inexpensive, and a good insurance measure. Enemas are given to foals to help with the passing of the meconium, the earliest stool that a foal will pass. The meconium is dark and hard and in rounded balls, and there’s more of it than you would think would be in there. You want to get that moving.

Milk poop, resulting from the foal’s nursing, will look tanner in color and have a different consistency. I feel that things are going great if I see milk poop from a foal in the first 10 or 12 hours; it means that the foal got right up and nursed.


Q: How should I treat the foal’s navel?

Under no circumstances should you ever cut the navel with a blade or with scissors; always let it break on its own. You need to wear clean exam gloves any time you handle the navel. Dip the navel in iodine or in chlorhexidine naval solution twice a day for at least three days. I prefer to use the chlorhexidine solution, because iodine can irritate and crack the navel, making it susceptible to infection.


Q: How long before the foal should stand? Nurse?

A good rule of thumb is that the foal should be standing within an hour, and he should nurse within 2 hours. He should also be passing meconium within two hours.


Q:How long should it take for the mare to pass the placenta?

I tell breeders to give the mare three hours to pass the placenta. If she hasn’t passed it within three hours, then you need to call the vet. A good trick is to tie up the placenta with hay string or to put it in a bag and tie it up. This avoids the mare dragging it around and stepping on it, and it will keep it intact so you know how much of it she’s passed. The weight of tying up the placenta will also help the mare to pass it.


Q: How do I know if something is wrong during foaling?

During the first stage of labor, the mare heats up, will probably get up and down, can get a little sweaty, and just generally acts a little colicky. Stage 1 lasts up until the water breaks, which is the beginning of Stage 2.

Once Stage 2 begins with the water breaking, things move very quickly. The average duration of Stage 2 is twenty to thirty minutes; if you go over that time frame then something’s not right. You should see two feet pointing down, not up, followed by a nose. If you see the sole of the feet facing the sky, or if you see no feet at all, something is wrong and you need to call the vet.


Q: Red bag signs and what to do

“Red bag” refers to the placenta separating from the wall of the mare’s uterus prematurely. When this happens, the oxygen supply to the foal is cut off and the foal is in dire need to get out. You have to break the membrane to get the foal oxygen. The membrane is a lot tougher than you think; you can’t just punch through it with a finger, so it’s a good idea to have a pair of clean scissors in your foaling kit. Red bags are extremely time-sensitive.

Red bags are characterized by a darker velvety red appearance to the membrane, rather than the purply pink kind of look that’s typical. A lot of people panic and call something a red bag that wasn’t a red bag, and it can be hard to tell what is – or isn’t – a red bag without experience. Generally you’ll see a really darker red, velvety appearance because what you’re looking at is the side of the membrane that was attached to the placenta.


Q: What is a dummy foal?

A dummy foal is a term for a foal who’s suffered any degree of a hypoxic (without oxygen) event during the foaling process. We often see dummy foals with red bag foalings, but sometimes we see dummy foals with regular foalings, too.

Dummy foals exhibit symptoms of a slowed or flawed development. Most commonly dummy foals don’t have a great sucking reflex, and they’ll act like they don’t know where to get milk, or how to get it. Sometimes we see “gut” dummies where their GI tract doesn’t want to function, or it doesn’t have normal function. Their intestines don’t want to move forward, and this can be life-threatening.

These symptoms don’t necessarily display themselves immediately; foals can “dummy out” within the first 72 hours after birth. A foal’s functioning can deteriorate over the 72 hours; a foal who was able to suck on day 1 might have lost that ability by day 3. GI issues don’t normally display themselves until the day after foaling.

Have some questions stay tuned for Part 2 or ask us on Facebook!

Guest Post: Equine Recurrent Uveitis

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

Equine Recurrent Uveitis(ERU) is also called moon blindness, periodic ophthalmia, or iridiocyclitis. Many clients I speak to are familiar with the term moon blindness, but they don’t really understand the disease, what causes it, and how we treat it. It is a complex disease with potentially serious consequences.  It affects all ages and breeds of horses, but certain breeds, Appaloosas for example, are more commonly affected than others.

The term uveitis means inflammation of the uveal tract. The uveal tract is defined as the iris(the colored part of the eye), the choroid, and the ciliary body. Together the components of the uveal tract maintain a steady intraocular pressure and supply the eye with blood and nutrients. When the uveal tract becomes inflamed, pressure inside the globe is altered, the pupil constricts, and the flow of blood and nutrients to the eye is disrupted. As you can imagine this is a serious condition that needs prompt medical intervention. Common clinical signs of uveitis include pain, sensitivity to light, corneal edema(bluish tinge to the eye), redness or watery eyes. If your horse has a blue iris normally, his eye may change colors to yellow or green. This happens because the inflammation inside the eye changes the refractive index of the light entering the globe. Severe cases can have fibrin clots or adhesions in the front or back(behind the lens) part of the eye.  One or both eyes may be affected to varying degrees. In some cases clinical signs are severe and obvious, in others they are insidious. In these insidious cases I think it is helpful to stand in front of a horse and look at the direction and symmetry of their eyelashes.  Eyelash asymmetry especially in an ERU case can indicate mild ocular pain because a horse may be holding his eyelids barely shut  compared to the contralateral eye.

The causes of uveitis can be organized  into three categories: traumatic, systemic, and immune mediated(ERU). Basically any trauma to the eye has the potential of resulting in a reflex inflammatory response within the eye. Systemic causes would be a bacterial, viral,  or parasitic disease that makes the horse systemically ill, and subsequently develops uveitis. The third category, equine recurrent uveitis, is different from the previously mentioned two categories because it occurs repeatedly.  Regardless of the initial cause,  the “flare ups” are due to over activation of the horse’s immune system in response to active immune cells such as T-lymphocytes.

The goal of treatment is to reduce the inflammation as quickly as possible. Typically atropine is used topically to dilate the eye. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications are typically given either intravenously or by mouth, and sometimes are given topically. Steroids are given topically and commonly intravenously, intramuscularly, or by mouth to aid in anti- inflammatory efforts. In my opinion, steroid absorption through the cornea is poor especially in an inflammatory state. I frequently administer systemic steroids for a few days in severe cases. In some cases tests for specific causative agents, Leptospirosis or Streptococcus for example may be run as well. If an infectious cause of the uveitis is diagnosed, then appropriate systemic treatment for the infectious agent is indicated.  In my experience, duration of treatment is quite variable from case to case. Also,  it is not always the most severely affected eyes that require the longest treatment. Each case is different as each individual’s immune system is responding in a different way to an inciting cause that we often can never diagnose. In addition, in ERU the interior structures of the eye become damaged and don’t function as well as they should making successful treatment more and more difficult.  In some individuals, cyclosporin(an immunosuppressive agent) is implanted intraocularly.

Predicting when or if a horse will relapse is next to impossible.  Some horses have one case of uveitis and never have another case. In most of these individuals, we never diagnose what “agitated” their immune system to cause the episode.  Other horses who have ERU have periodic “flare up” of uveitis a few to several times per year. These cases can be very frustrating and as with every case of uveitis it is imperative to recognize that every moment there is intraocular inflammation, damage is being done to the interior of the eye that can result in permanent damage.  Potential complications from ERU include cataract, lens luxation, glaucoma and blindness.

Dr. Jennifer M. Smallwood is an equine veterinarian in the Bluegrass Region of Kentucky, specializing in the areas of reproduction, sports medicine, acupuncture, lameness, and track practice. She also travels routinely to other states to provide acupuncture services. Dr. Smallwood received her Bachelor’s Degree from Texas A&M University where she received cum laude honors in the field of Animal Science. She attended the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine, graduating in 2003.