South Shore Equine Clinic & Diagnostic Center
Equine Veterinary Services South Shore Boston Massachusetts

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Bits & Pieces: January 2007

Herpes Virus Outbreak

Winter Horse Care & Health

Inside SSEC

Upcoming Events

Herpes Virus Outbreak (EHV-1)

As many of you have heard, there has been a recent outbreak of the neurological form of Rhinovirus (which is a herpes virus) in Florida.  Apparently, a horse shipped to the states from Europe had a fever while under quarantine in the USDA NY Animal Import Center.  He was determined to be disease free and was then shipped to Florida with a load of horses.   Upon arriving in Florida, a few others became ill.  Two or three died or were euthanized within the week, all being diagnosed with the neurological strain of Rhinovirus.  Since that time, more horses have died or were euthanized due to high fevers and neurologic signs.  Unfortunately, the horses from the original shipment had already spread out in Florida, and the shipping truck had made a return trip to the north.  There are now ten states which have been notified of possibility having an exposed horse shipped within their boundaries.  The New England states, including Massachusetts, are on that list. 

Current recommendations include making sure your horse is kept up to date with a rhino vaccine, at least twice yearly.  If your horse is not quite right, or if you are concerned your horse may have been exposed somewhere, start taking temperatures twice daily.  There is a temperature spike early in the course of the disease.  A nasal swab which tests for the virus DNA can be done (a PCR test), to diagnose the presence of the virus.

The virus has been isolated in one horse located in Fairfield, Ct.  Strict quarantine measures have been taken to stop any spread of the disease.  Quarantine appears to be only way to stop the spread of the disease at this point.  Please call us if you are concerned your horse is at risk.  Failure to take strict measures puts your horse, as well as other horses at risk.

Click HERE for more information on EHV-1 outbreaks

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Winter Horse Care & Health

South Shore Equine Clinic & Diagnostic Center - Winter

As the cold months of winter close around us, concern for our horse's health and condition becomes more pressing.  Aspects of management that are most important are temperature maintenance, nutrition and hoof care.  By monitoring these, keeping your horse in top health can be easy and trouble-free.

Horses, unlike ATV's, cannot be put up on blocks for the winter just because they are not being used.  Horse health care is a year-round process, and vaccination schedules, parasite control programs, and other care should be continued throughout the winter.  Here are some reminders about horses' winter needs for good ventilation, nutrition and exercise.

Barn Maintenance

Fresh air and/or good ventilation are major requirements for horses.  Horses can tolerate considerable cold if they can move around and are dry.  Avoid drafts, but allow sufficient air exchange to move stale air, humidity, and ammonia out of the horse's environment.

Keeping stalls clean is necessary to keep ammonia levels low.  Research has shown that by the time ammonia build-up in stalls reaches levels that we can smell, the gas is already sufficient to damage horses' lungs.  Dust and mold, too, can initiate or aggravate allergies (most notably heaves) and irritate respiratory membranes, making horses more susceptible to respiratory infections and bronchitis.

Barns are generally kept more closed up in the winter than in the summer.  This will keep the interior a bit warmer than the outdoors.  However, DO NOT shut every door and window.  A little bit of fresh air is necessary to prevent build-up of dust, mold and ammonia fumes in your horse's indoor environment.  Open a window at either end (but not enough to cause a draft) or several on the same side.  Shutting your barn up tight as a drum is the perfect prescription for respiratory disease.

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Feeding/Turnout

Horses should be allowed outside where they have an area for adequate exercise and access to a run-in shed, free-choice quality hay, salt and/or electrolytes, and water heated to a temperature of 60° F.  Horses that are not in competition need not be kept in a restrictive environment.  Pull their shoes and trim their hooves regularly.  Let their hair coat grow out if they are going to be turned out.

Most horses will not require grain if the hay is of good quality.  Hay generates more heat than grain does during digestion and thus is more helpful in maintaining body heat during cold weather. Next, check your feeding system and ration.  This will depend a great deal on the amount of work your horse gets.  Well-cured grass hay is sufficient.  You may add a grain concentrate to this if your horse requires one.  If your horse starts losing condition, increase the energy content of his ration - not the protein.  Energy is calories, and that is where the horse will draw fuel to maintain body heat.

Water

Several studies have shown that warming water to at least 60° F will increase water consumption by 40 to 100 %.  Dehydration (lack of water) is the number one cause of impaction colic in horses, and reduced water consumption due to cold weather combined with a diet of dry feed is a recipe for it.  Warming the water is much more effective than feeding bran, linseed meal, or other so-called laxative diets.  A horse will drink 6-10 gallons of water a day, so it is crucial that he has a fresh and clean source at all times.  Through the colder months, this will mean chipping the ice out at each feeding, a tedious but essential task. 

Blanketing

When talking about winter horse care, the topic of blanketing always comes up.  If your horse is generally going to 'hang out' for the winter (in his pasture, though, so that he still keeps moving) or just go for an occasional easy hack, he will be just fine with a long winter coat and no blanket.  Just be careful to monitor his weight by feeling for his ribs through the hair.  If he starts to get a little thin, increase his hay and consider adding a blanket through the coldest periods.

Hoof Care

Do not forget the hooves!  Growth of the hoof wall is determined by nutrition, and during the cold months, this goes toward maintaining body condition, not excessive hoof growth.  Consequently, many owners believe they can forget the farrier until spring arrives.  This is not in the best interest of your horse.  The hoof will probably grow at least a small amount and need balancing to keep its proper shape and avoid any unnatural wear.

Fitness

When working your horse in cold weather, warm up slowly and thoroughly before asking for serious work.  In the cold, most horses are more cinchy when being saddled, so be sure to move them before mounting.  Attempting to maintain some level of physical fitness will decrease the time needed to get the horse in shape for the coming season.  Riding three times a week for an hour at a walk and trot will help maintain a baseline of fitness.  Use this time to increase flexibility by doing suppling exercises at the walk and trot, and eventually the canter.  Increasing suppleness and fitness will reduce the incidence of lameness.  Hot horses need to be cooled out thoroughly, and then brushed so that the hair stands up before turning them back out.  Fluffy hair traps air and keeps the horse warm; hair plastered down flat or wet lets body heat escape.

If you anticipate weather changes and adapt the work schedule, turnout schedule, and feeding programs accordingly, there is no reason not to enjoy your horses throughout the year.

(Information adapted from the University of Illinois, College of Veterinary Medicine; petcaretips.com; pedlar.com)

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