DAZED by DEWORMERS
Road apples, horse pucky, poop, feces, crap, horsesh… by any name it’s a big part of life and a particular management issue for horse owners. How can it be that something so mundane causes so much trouble? We actually should be thankful for poop. If you've ever had a horse with impaction colic, you know what I mean. Poop gets a bad rap, but it’s really only the messenger for more problematic stuff, like parasite infestation, that affects animal health in a big way. Tape worms, round worms, pin worms, blood worms, gummy worms, sour gummy worms. The list seems endless. And then you add management protocols…. Fecals, *FAMACHA scores (in goats and sheep), drenches, pastes, and feed throughs. No wonder livestock owners look dazed in the dewormer isle. With that in mind, let’s touch on the challenge that is parasite management in the horse.
Recent scientific literature promotes the practice of annual fecal parasite evaluations and deworming according to test results. We agree that this specific approach is best and encourage clients to have us perform annual fecal tests for all their animals. We deviate from published recommendations though, by also advising clients to deworm their horses at least quarterly with a paste / purge dewormer even when the fecal test reports low or no parasites. Why? Because fecal tests are not perfect, they are indicators that reflect effectiveness of treatment more than the actual number or species of parasite present in the animal. So why do the testing at all? Because parasites are always with us at some level whether we like them or not. Our goal is to keep them at minimal numbers and low infection levels year round in each individual animal. Each individual horse has its own particular metabolism, its own immune competency, its own “host specific” issues that affect how many and what kind of parasites it hosts. Treatment is not about eliminating parasites, it’s about minimizing the parasite numbers. In some animals just a few of the wiggly buggers will send them into repeated bouts of colic, others are much more tolerant and show no signs of problems even with infrequent deworming. However, parasite repercussions can be insidious, causing anything from unthriftiness to actual death. One of the first things we look at in a horse presenting with non specific “ADR” (ain’t doin’ right) is their parasite load. So since we aren’t parasite clairvoyants, our best management recommendations are to both treat AND test; deworm regularly and then check our work by performing yearly fecal examinations.
Now let's talk poop patrol. Deworming is only one of the tools we use to keep our horses healthy. Another biggie is environmental management. It’s the same goal, keep the environmental parasite load to a minimum. The job is fairly straightforward and simple, but it is not easy and it’s definitely relentless. As we move into the wet of winter it will get more challenging, so pull on your tall boots and do the best you can. Think of deworming and checking its effectiveness with fecal testing as a cost effective insurance policy, since inside all that horse pucky there lurks several types of parasites doing their own survival thing. By the way, if you’re a science nerd, there are some really interesting reports that show the impact of parasites on animal evolution and genetic selection over time…. Even parasites have a role to play in the circle of life, we just want to be sure it’s not a detrimental one to the individual animals under our care. Happy poop scooping and fecal floating!
*A nod to our small ruminant clients… FAMACHA© is a diagnostic test to help small ruminant owners identify animals that require anthelmintic treatment specifically for parasites that cause anemia. The tool is a card that matches eyelid color to anemia levels, an indicator of clinical barber pole worm infection.
Click the link to find more in depth information on parasite management on our website.