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Straight from the horses mouth

Health Risks for Horses in Autumn

As beautiful as autumn-time can be, the recent colder weather can also bring with it a number of seasonal health risks that could affect your horse. So we spoke to local vet, Lily Witchell from Rowe Equine in Wotton-under-Edge. Here’s what she had to say:

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“The changes that we see through the autumn months can lead to a variety of conditions that horse owners need to be aware of. Changes in feeding and activity levels can lead to colic, and too much exposure to wet ground can leave legs vulnerable to mud fever.

“Worming treatments are also important at this time of year, and Atypical Myopathy is a potentially fatal condition linked to the ingestion of sycamore seeds.

“Please read my more detailed comments on each of these conditions below, which I hope will help you know how to prevent some of these things happening to your horse, or recognise the symptoms should your horse become ill. If in doubt, always call your vet for advice.”

Colic:

The change in weather can increase the risk of horses developing colic due to a number of factors. ‘Colic’ refers to pain in the abdomen and is most commonly caused by changes in the gastrointestinal system. Horses which were previously turned out 24/7 may start to be stabled for longer periods of time, resulting in a change in routine, feeding and activity levels. Colic caused by a large intestinal ‘impaction’ (blockage) is more common during the transition to increased stabling, largely due to changes in horses fluid intake. Making sure that fluid intake is maximised whilst stresses to the horse are minimised can reduce the risk of an impaction occurring.
Spasmodic colic is a form of colic which is usually mild and can be caused by stress and changes in routine/management. Horses suffering from spasmodic colic can usually be treated effectively with pain relief and antispasmodic drugs administered by your vet.

Ways to reduce the risk:
-Soak hay to help hydrate horses which aren’t keen drinkers.
-Add water to hard feeds to help increase water intake.
-Ensure drinkers/buckets/troughs are not frozen over.
-Make any changes in feed gradually.
-Add in small amounts of new feed at a time whilst cutting back on old feed.
-Make sure horses teeth are routinely rasped to avoid oral pain and ensure roughage is adequately chewed prior to swallowing (most horses require yearly maintenance rasps but each individual is different).

If you are worried that your horse may be suffering from colic call your vet for advice or a visit.

Atypical Myopathy/Seasonal Pasture Myopathy:

This is a condition linked to the ingestion of sycamore seeds which contain a toxin that leads to severe muscle damage. This is a potentially fatal condition and so early recognition and hospitalisation are essential. At risk horses are those which are young (<3yo), in poor condition, are turned out on poor pasture and are not in regular exercise.

Signs of atypical myopathy:
-Severe muscle stiffness/weakness, shaking and collapse
-Dark coloured urine
-Reduced appetite
-Colic like signs

Ways to reduce the risk:
-Check pasture for sycamore seeds (seeds can travel a long way on the wind so the absence of a tree in the field does not mean there won’t be seeds)
-Fence off sycamore trees/avoid turnout in fields with sycamore in the autumn/winter.
-Supplement with hay on poor pasture (horses will generally not choose to eat sycamore seeds if there is an abundance of alternative food available)
-Reduce stocking density in paddocks (overcrowding leads to bullying and horses at the bottom of the pecking order are more likely to resort to poorer areas of pasture with a higher concentration of seeds)
-Do not cut down the tree if horses are going to be turned out on the pasture in the near future (stressed trees produce more toxin in their seeds)
-Reduce turnout time if sycamore seeds are found and there is no alternative pasture.

If your horse is showing signs of Atypical Myopathy call your vet, fast action in these cases is essential to increase the chance of survival.

Mudfever:

The bacteria which cause ‘mudfever’ thrive in a wet, warm environment. Cases of mudfever are much more common in autumn/winter as horses legs are more likely to be wet for long periods of time. The severity of mudfever can vary and not all cases will require veterinary attention.

Recommendations:
-Avoid washing off legs every time horses come in from field, bacteria like moist conditions and therefore making legs damp (especially with hot water) will encourage them to thrive.
-Brushing off dried mud is a good alternative to washing off legs post turnout.
-If legs are washed, use cold water and make sure they are then towel dried thoroughly.
- Mudfever scabs harbour bacteria which will continue to cause reinfection, it is therefore important to remove scabs (either by softening with an antibacterial wash or an emollient cream).

If limbs become swollen, hot, painful or lameness is seen then it is best to have the vet out who can provide systemic and topical treatment.

Worming:

Autumn/winter is the time we need to treat horses for tapeworm and red worm. The best way to monitor a horses worm burden and generate a worming plan is to carry out worm egg counts (WEC) at routine intervals throughout the year.

Red worm:
During the winter months red worm larvae (small strongyles) can invade the walls of the large intestine and become dormant, at this point we cannot detect their presence on a WEC.
The use of a wormer effective against red worm is recommended in winter.

Tapeworm:
Tapeworm eggs are not reliably picked up on a WEC.
The use of a wormer effective against tapeworm is recommended in autumn/winter after the first frost (usually Nov/Dec)

Recommendations:
We recommend performing a WEC every 3-4 months throughout the year to monitor worm burdens and allow us to decide if/when your horse needs worming.
Use a wormer effective against both tapeworm and red worm in Nov/Dec after the first frost (contact vet for advice on appropriate product to use)

Clipping:

Autumn means time to dust off the clippers for many owners and for those with horses who are less than compliant to be clipped it can be a stressful time.
We have a wide range of sedation available to us and can tailor a sedation plan to suit your horse, whether that is a sedative paste or intravenous injection of sedative agents.
Clipping doesn’t need to be stressful for horse or owner and it is often better for the horse to have a good experience under sedation rather than become stressed without.

“I hope you have found this article useful. Autumn is a wonderful time of year to enjoy your horse, so I hope you can all do so without having to worry about the health of your horse.”

Lily Witchell BVM BVS MRCVS

Rowe Equine,
Bradley Green,
Wotton-under-Edge,
Glos.
GL12 7PPTel: 01453 844 337