Horse parasites can take a variety of forms from lice infestation in the coat to internal gut parasites that ravage the horse's digestion system, sapping all nutrients from his feed and weakening his immunity.
The risks of non-treatment include severe colic and even death.
Lice are rarely seen on a well-kept and nurtured animal but are often present when an animal is purchased from an auction or recovered by welfare societies following owner neglect.
Gut parasites or "worms", on the other hand are always present in small quantities in the majority of horses and will be almost impossible to eradicate completely due to the fact that eggs are often consumed via grazing.
What Are The Different Internal Horse Parasites?
The main types of internal horse parasites are:
Small Redworm (small strongyles)- these absorb themselves into the gut wall. They are up to 2.5cm long, thin and can range in colour from white to red. Small redworm larvae are picked up through natural grazing.
Large Redworm (also of the Strongyles family and often called "blood worms") - these were once the most critical parasite affecting horses because the migrating larval stage damage the lining of the arteries. Most commonly seen in youngr horses, these are also most often responsible for deaths if left untreated for any length of time. The are approximately 1/2inch - 2inches in length.
Tapeworms - these are present, to a greater or lesser extent, in the majority of horses and can grow to an incredible 3ft long. They wrap themselves around the gut, causing damage to the bowel, intestine and digestive tract. Tapeworm can affect horses at any time during the year not as previously understood mainly in Spring and Autumn.
Roundworms - these can be incredibly over a foot long and look like white or cream garden worms. They are often found in young horses who have not previously been treated. Most horses outgrow their susceptability to these parasites by the time they mature (around 4-5 years of age).
Bots - these are the larvae of the Bot Fly. Tiny white eggs are laid on the horses coat (mainly neck, shoulders and leg areas) in early summer and are ingested by the horse when he licks his coat. The eggs can be removed by carefully scraping off with a Bot knife but routine oral worming will help to eradicate these larvae even if the horse ingests them.
What Are The Signs of Worm Infestation?
A horse affected by severe worm damage will often display a staring flat coat. If the skin is gently pinched together it will not fall back straightaway - this evidences is a common side-effect of worms - dehydration.
Additionally, the horse's ribs may protrude while the belly is distended - giving the animal a rather "pot-bellied" appearance.
He may have huge appetite and eat everything in front of him but the food will likely be of little benefit to his health as the parasites prevent effective digestion. His droppings may also be much looser than normal and although worms will not always be visibly present in the droppings, eggs almost certainly will be.
The worm cycle is continued as other horses pick up the eggs while grazing which then hatch inside the stomach, thereby perpetuating and increasing the infestation.
Horse Parasites - Prevention and Treatment
The best form of treatment is preventative and relies on two key elements:-
to ensure droppings are not left on the ground to allow larvae and eggs to be consumed by the horse.
Having a regular, structured Worming Treatment Programmeadministered simultaneously by every owner sharing either field or stabling facilities.
Making sure everyone treats their horse at the same time is absolutely imperative as this will maximise the effectiveness of the treatment and reduce the likelihood of re-contamination. Exceptions to this will be young foals and pregnant or lactating mares who should only be wormed on the advice of your veterinary surgeon.
There are a number of anti-parasite drugs widely available these days that offer a multi-parasite treatment rather than buying different drugs to combat each type of parasite, however always choose one that is suitable for equine parasites.
Depending on the manufacturer's recommendation for usage, worming treatments should be administered as a rough guide at least every 3-4 months. Many parasites become more prevalent as the seasons change, winter to spring for example creates ideal breeding conditions for larvae as the winter chills make way for damp humid days.
Treating your horse routinely every quarter makes sense for the pro-active management of the condition and will prevent longer-term damage caused by the invisible build-up of internal parasites.
What Treatments Are Available?
The most commonly known treatments include drugs such as Ivermectim, Moxidectim and Fenbendazole among others.
Horse Parasite Treatments such as Wormers can be purchased from your Veterinary Surgeon or a reputable Agricultural Feed Merchant. Always check the date of expiry of the treatment prior to purchase.
Traditionally routine treatment is administered in one of two ways. Either by an oral paste or by a powder mixed in with bucket feed.
Oral paste is given to the horse by means of a syringe placed into the corner of the mouth, depositing the paste onto the back of the horse's tongue.
If you have never done this before, ask a friend to hold the horse while you administer the paste - placing it too close to the front of the mouth will result in the horse spitting it all back out all over your feet.
Safely dispose of any unused portion of the treatment and the container in which it was supplied, making sure that any spillage is cleared away thorougly. Take care not to contaminate any water supply as worming drugs are poisonous and can be fatal if ingested by humans, dogs or poultry.
It is a good idea to rotate the drug-based types of wormer used for your horse to prevent the parasites becoming resistant to one particular treatment.
For a nominal sum, your veterinary surgeon can send off a sample of your horse's droppings for laboratory analysis (also known as a "worm count"). The results of this will help you use the most appropriate Anti-Parasite treatment for your horse.
Horse Parasites - How Much Does Treatment Cost?
The short answer to this is alot less than the vet's bill that will arise if you don't treat your horse routinely.
Treatment for horse parasites are highly effective if administered correctly and costs are as follows:
Powders/Granules - £5.00 - £6.00 per sachet.
Gels/Pastes - £6.00 - £18.00 per syringe.
The manufacturer's recommended dosage should ALWAYS be followed by thoroughly reading the instructions prior to treating the animal.