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A strong and healthy immune system is more important than anything else that you can give your horse. The old saying “you are what you eat” is very true. Nutritionists tell us that we get more nutrition from whole foods than we do from synthetic vitamins. An excellent quality feed is necessary for a healthy immune system. My favorite brand of feed is ADM. Many of you have heard of it as MoorMan’s feed. You can find more information at their website: www.admani.com. I like ADM feeds because they use high quality ingredients and list exactly what type of grains are used to make up the nutrients in the feed. Many companies buy the cheapest available nutrients that will make up the specified amount of protein, fat, carbohydrate, etc on the label. ADM adjusts the price of the feed, and keeps the nutrient grains the same. High quality feeds include digestive enzymes, lactobacillus, and probiotics in their formulas. These supplements will help your horse to have a healthy digestive tract that can get the nutrition out of the feed.
Parasites can weaken your horse’s immune system. An aggressive de-worming program will keep your horse’s immune system strong. I used to feel that a negative fecal meant that a horse did not have any parasites, and did not need to be fed a poison every two months. I have changed my mind because I am seeing so many horses that have a weakened immune system due to parasitism that respond favorably to aggressive deworming. These horses may have no adult worms laying eggs in their intestinal tract, and therefore do not have a high fecal egg count; but the immature larvae are still in the horse’s system, doing damage. I like to deworm every two months with Quest, Equimax, or Anthelcide EQ. I rotate through these wormers. I do not give Quest or Quest Plus to horses younger than two years of age. I also do not recommend Quest wormers for miniature horses, as it is too difficult to control the dose. It is important to give your horse a sufficient amount of wormer for his weight. If you have a large horse that weighs more than the highest weight on the wormer tube, you need to purchase and extra tube in order to dose your horse correctly. If you don’t give your horse an adequate amount of wormer, you will make all the worms sick, and teach them to be resistant to the wormer. You will not kill any of the worms if you give less than the recommended amount of wormer for the weight of your horse. I also like to do an annual purge with a Panacur Power Pak. Possibly due to the country of manufacture, I do not see the same results with Safeguard as I do with Panacur, even though the ingredients are listed the same. If I have a horse with a heavy parasite load, I will start out with a dose of Ivermectin, to do a slow, gentle kill first, before giving the Panacur Power Pak. If you kill too many worms at one time, you can cause impaction colic. I follow the ivermectin about two or three weeks later with the Panacur Power Pak. After the last dose of Panacur, I wait ten days and give a Quest, then wait ten more days and follow with a Quest Plus, or regular Quest now that Quest Plus has become unavailable. Then I put the horse on a deworming program of once every two months. Reducing your horse’s parasite load will keep your horse’s anterior mesenteric artery free of immature parasites. These immature parasites cause calcification and weaken the walls of the artery. They also weaken the horse’s immune system.
The protozoa that cause EPM (equine protozoal myelitis) are opportunists that sneak in when your horse’s immune system is weak. I often see a heavy worm load and EPM together. There is data that says more than 65-85% of the horses in Texas have been exposed to the protozoa that cause EPM, and yet only a few horses come down with neurological signs of the disease. My study of equine osteopathy has helped me to recognize early signs of the protozoal infection. I see horses that have atrophy of their postural muscles, difficulty maintaining their balance, and inflammation of the cerebrum magnum. Again, the immune system is everything. When a horse with a healthy immune system is exposed to EPM, the horse is able to overcome the disease. When the immune system is weak, the horse will develop the disease. Routine dentistry by an equine dental specialist will keep your horse’s teeth in good condition. Adequate chewing is necessary to digest the food that you feed your horse. If the feed is not properly chewed, it can cause choke, impaction colic, and the nutrients will not be properly prepared to be adequately absorbed by the intestinal villa. A horse should have his teeth floated once a year.
If I use supplements to boost a horse’s immune system, they will be the “whole food” type. Examples would be Karbo Combo, a product formulated by a veterinarian; Blue Green Algae, and Chlorella. Advanced Biological Concepts makes a nice supplement to aid in the digestion of nutrients called ABC Plus. Signs of a weak immune system include: poor hair coat, dry mane and tail hairs that break easily, atrophy of the postural muscles; such as the longissimus dorsi over the back, the quadriceps in the hind leg, the gluteals over the rump, and the brachiocephalicus in the neck. The horse may have a belly on him, but you can put your fingers between his ribs and palpate the bones. These horses are “unthrifty” in spite of good diet. The parasites are robbing them of their nutrition. We have looked at many “natural” dewormers. The only one that seems to have any merit is an herb called wormwood, from Buck Mountain Botannicals. There is some evidence on the internet that this product is not safe in pregnant mares, so we are avoiding it’s use in pregnant mares. We give one to two ounces of the wormwood in the feed for one or two feedings every two to three months to deal with the adult worms. We carry the wormwood from Buck Mountain at the clinic.
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