Sunday, June 3, 2012

As the Worm Turns: Managing Parasite Burdens in Your Horse

Most who own horses are aware that horses play host to a varying degree of parasite burdens. Life for the parasite living inside your horse is pretty comfy. Its needs are being met as the horse provides the amenities of warmth and fine dining, which allow the parasite to grow and develop, while causing problems for your horse. The life of a parasite is cyclical and its existence relies on its ability to perpetuate its life cycle by living and reproducing in the horse, with eggs being expelled outside in dung, and reinfesting the horse again as the horse grazes.

While this cycle cannot be stopped, it can at least be slowed down and effectively controlled with a two-prong approach of smart farm management practices and fecal egg count monitoring, with use of deworming agents when parasite load numbers require intervention. Many horse owners maintain a regular de-worming program by administering deworming agents on a six-to-eight-week schedule or via a daily feed-through supplement; however, it has recently been suggested that parasites are becoming resistant to these medications, and it may be best to use them only when parasite numbers are high.

Fecal egg count monitoring for each horse will allow you to tailor treatment for each individual horse. Not every horse will carry the same parasite load, so it only stands to reason that treatment regimens should be administered based upon the amount of infestation maintained by each horse. You would not want to treat a horse with a low count as you would one with a high count. Treatment should not be considered a "one treatment program fits all" regimen.

Probably the most important weapon, and generally the one easily overlooked, in parasite management is using wise farm management practices. The beginning life cycle of parasites begins outside the horse, when egg infested dung lies on the ground and horses graze near the dung ingesting the parasite once again. Parasite numbers on the ground can be greatly reduced by removing dung from the pasture or by breaking the piles up and exposing the inside of the pile to sunlight. For larger pastures, mowing or dragging the will break these piles up. If you arm yourself with a wheelbarrow, utility trailer, and a stall cleaning fork, you can pick up dung piles in smaller pastures.
While it may be difficult for many seasoned horse owners to back away from using the repetitive deworming program, you may want to chat with your veterinarian about fecal egg count/parasite load based treatment, just to see if this new regimen may be best for your horse.
Happy trails!

By: Darlene M. Cox (