What is Gastrointestinal Parasites ?
There are many species of these silent killers that can infect your horse. Out of the many, the three main ones are small strongyles, tapeworms, and roundworms. These three can be deadly to your horse and because of the severe health risk to your horse it is strongly advisable to have a routine of parasite control in place to protect your pet. Of vital importance are the supply of clean water and a source of good quality feed available for your horse.
Internal parasites can cause extensive damage to your horse but are hard to detect. Prevention is the best form of management to prevent permanent damage.
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Symptoms of Gastrointestinal Parasites in Horses
- Extended stomach
- Colic – stomach pain
- Reluctance to move around
- Hanging the head and looking depressed
- Dull appearance to the haircoat
- Cyathostome can form cysts in the colon wall and damage the lining causing inflammation
- Stomach bots are the larvae of botflies – technical name Gasterophilus
- Tapeworms - Anoplocephala perfoliata
- Roundworms -Parascaris equorum
- Threadworms Strongyloides westeri
- Pin worms - Oxyuris equi
- Strongylus vulgaris
Causes of Gastrointestinal Parasites in Horses
- Foals can be infected from their mother’s milk so ensure your mare has been treated
- Grain or feed thrown on the ground – keep it up in a feeder to prevent infestation
- Lack of proper paddock management – mowing or rotating the pasture
- Over grazing and not removing the horse manure
- Lack of proper parasite program for your horse
- Low grade or contaminated feed
- Fly infestations
- Unclean water
Diagnosis of Gastrointestinal Parasites in Horses
If your horse is demonstrating any of the symptoms listed, your veterinarian will give your horse a physical examination. There will be many physical signs that may indicate to parasite infection, such as infection around the tail, anus, and surrounding skin. If your horse has been rubbing on the fence to ease the irritation, bald patches on his hair coat will be apparent. Going by the appearance and general health, then through microscopic analysis of the horse droppings, the veterinarian will be able to ascertain what type of parasite is affecting your horse. He may do a parasite egg count from the manure which provides a sample of the worm egg. Counting the eggs allows your specialist to determine the extent of the infestation. Checking for eggs on the coat especially around the rear end can assist diagnosis. Once the cause is established your veterinarian will help you to set up an effective treatment plan and he may suggest methods of pasture management which will aid in prevention.
Treatment of Gastrointestinal Parasites in Horses
Your horse will be put on a deworming program as soon as the cause and type of parasitic infection is determined. No deworming product will ever be one hundred percent effective but controlling parasites is the goal. Your horse will flourish with fresh untainted water, clean quality feed, pasture control and maintenance, and a regular prevention parasite control program. Deworming can be administered in a few ways. One is with the use of an oral paste syringe, adding it to the feed in either powder or pellets, and via a stomach tube. The right dosage is the key to success and is based on the weight of your horse. You must make sure your horse eats or swallows the dose, as some horses have a habit of spitting the medicine out.
Recovery of Gastrointestinal Parasites in Horses
The deworming program is the start back to good health for your horse, but there are other factors that you need to do to keep your horse as free from parasites as possible. Manure is the primary way that parasites are transferred, so picking up the manure, mowing, and harrowing paddocks regularly will cause any manure in the pasture to be spread out and open to the heat and air. While parasites are good at withstanding the cold, they do not last long in heat or in drying conditions for long. Paddock rotation and keeping the number of horses per pasture to a minimum will keep parasites at bay. Giving your horse a good brushing or a combing will help remove any eggs in your horse’s coat. Set up an effective parasite program with the help of your veterinarian to prevent further episodes. A fecal egg count (from manure samples) which is done via a veterinarian, will determine what parasites are affecting your horse and to what extent.