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November 2019 - Equine Welfare

No animal lover wants to hear or see abuse, but it’s a subject that we are often faced. Join us in November as our expert, Dr. Alina Vale answers your questions concerning equine welfare, neglect and abuse.

Click here to read this month's questions and answers.

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Winter Weather Care for Your Horse

  1. We have two retired, much loved horses, a 33-year-old Appaloosa whose sire lived to 40. She has arthritis from too many barrels, and is currently well managed with Bute twice a day. She responds well to gentle ground work and her appetite is normal. The second horse is a Palomino Quarter horse, gelding, now 30. He is healthy, although keeping weight on is his challenge. My question is: what are the indicators that their quality of life is diminished to the degree that I should consider calling the vet? I very much appreciate your time and input. (View Answer)

    To be honest, I would probably have your equine veterinarian out either way for a couple of reasons: 

    1. A thorough physical examination will help identify any additional/underlying health issues as well as any contributing factors.

    2. Typically, animals that are on long term Nsaids, such as Bute, Banamine, etc… need 1-2x/yr bloodwork to further evaluate overall liver and kidney function, since Nsaids are metabolized by the liver and excreted by the kidney, long term use of Nsaids can lead to dysfunction if not used judiciously. Likewise, some baseline senior bloodwork will help to further evaluate horse and identify any additional health concerns or contributing factors.

    3. Working closely with your veterinarian may help to tailor the horse's pain management protocol. Furthermore, a veterinarian will help determine if the horse may benefit from any neutraceuticals such as joint supplements and/or omega 3,6 fatty acids which when used together not only slow down the progression of Osteoarthritis/Developmental Joint Disease, but also help to drive down the need to medicate for pain/inflammation.

    When we talk about quality of life (QoL) issues, we typically look at several parameters:

    1. Ability to ambulate and the presence of pain and/or lameness.

    2. Appetite: can be an early indicator (albeit, non-specific and somewhat subjective parameter) that something is amuck.

    3. Attitude/energy level (changes in, development of new behaviors, presence of depression/lethargy etc..) 

    4. Control of bodily functions (defecation, urination, limb placement, etc..)

    5. Does the horse still participate in and gain enjoyment from the things they once use to, does the horse still interact with and gain enjoyment from interactions with their owner/family (this, too, may be a subjective parameter, and is also subject to the individual demeanor of the horse)

    In general: the owner is going to be the best judge of QoL (based on the aforementioned parameters), since they see the horse everyday, but working closely with the veterinarian can help to identify any deficits in QoL as well as identify any subtle changes that might be present. Christine Tuma, DVM, Bull Valley, Illinios

  2. We live in Southern California and don’t often blanket our horses in winter. At what temperatures should we use their blankets? 45degrees or below is our current cut off and was wondering what you would recommend. (View Answer)

    I knew I would get this one! The age-old question of "to blanket, or not to blanket," is a question I struggle with every year as a horse owner myself!

    Typically, in early fall, horse’s coats get a little thicker as they naturally begin to grow more hair as the days get shorter. There are no scientific rules about what temperature a horse should have a particular blanket, but if one decides to do so, there are several considerations to keep in mind:

    1. Remember that when temperatures drop, horses have an increased energy (calorie) requirement to stay warm. Horses ferment fiber in their large intestine, and a byproduct of this process is heat. Thus, more hay added to the diet will help keep the horse warm during cold months. This process only works for hay (NOT grain!). As a general rule, a 1% increase in energy requirement is needed to replace energy loss from cold weather for each degree the temperature falls below the horse’s critical temperature. This temperature will vary between individuals because of fat cover, hair thickness, acclimatization of the horse to cold, wetness, and wind-chill. Research has indicated that horses with a full, dry winter coat can still stay comfortable when temps are as low as 10 degrees Fahrenheit.

    2. Adaptation to cold is also an important factor to consider as horses are fairly hardy individuals that have evolved (without our help) to be able to withstand the cold. The climate typically changes gradually in most areas, so horses have time to adjust and acclimate to temperature changes (and decreasing hours of daylight) and develop an appropriate coat. If one opts not to blanket, the horse will grow its coat naturally. If blanketing, you will be committing to doing so for the remainder of the season since the horse will not have the opportunity to develop a naturally insulative coat once you start.

    3. As long as the horse isn’t shivering and its coat is dry, it is probably doing well! It is still important to monitor the horse’s well being in the cold, and to help out with some extra warmth if needed. Whether a horse is blanketed or not, it still needs some kind of shelter from the elements (stall or run-in shed). Horses in a shelter conserve up to 20% more body heat than if completely exposed to the elements, so providing adequate shelter is key.

    4. Condition of the horse: very old/very young horses have more trouble conserving/maintaining heat, so consider blanketing them first. Sick, debilitated, thin or underweight horses will have similar challenges, so consider blanketing them as well. Horses that are clipped, will obviously need a blanket in a warmer temperature than a horse with a full winter coat as well, so I would consider blanketing those individuals sooner rather than later. If your horse has any medical conditions, consult your veterinarian to further discuss their blanketing needs.

    5. As a horse owner myself, my personal criteria for blanketing (my otherwise healthy and fairly lean-ish horse and donkey) are as follows:

        --<20 degrees is typically my cut off; if it drops into the 'teens, they are likely getting a blanket. The caveat being, that if its cold in the am and expected to warm up as the day progresses, I typically will skip the blanket. And as an aside, I think my <20F cutoff is generous, meaning that research has shown that horses can tolerate much lower temps (see above) quite well when allowed to properly acclimate.

        --Is precipitation in the forecast? Typically, horses can tolerate cold OR wet quite well, but if it's going to be cold AND wet (freezing rain, heavy snowfall, ice, etc), then I choose to blanket.

        --Wind and windchill: if it's going to be an exceedingly windy day as well as cold, I will typically blanket.

        --YOUR schedule: if you've got a long day and won't be able to get back home to blanket or throw them some more hay (to stay warm), I would suggest blanketing on those occassions provided it's cold enough to justify putting it on (see above). Christine Tuma, DVM, Bull Valley, Illinios