Preventive Horse Health

There are many factors in maintaining a healthy horse: housing, nutrition, hoof care, exercise and disease prevention. Most people think that the equine practitioner treats only sick or injured horses, but the truth is that veterinarians also practice preventive medicine and help keep horses and other animals healthy and free of disease, especially in the wake of such recent mosquito-borne outbreaks as West Nile Virus.

The key to keeping your horse healthy is to establish a complete health care program that begins with a physical examination by a veterinarian. The best time to call a veterinarian to see your horse is before you have an urgent problem. It’s a good idea to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian when you are able to be present during the examination. Think of the equine practitioner’s visit much as you do a visit with your own doctor or with your child’s pediatrician. Being present during the exam allows you to share concerns and ask questions as well as listen to the veterinarian’s observations about your horse.

A typical preventive medicine program for a horse in New Jersey would include a yearly physical examination by a veterinarian, annual vaccinations, and frequent de-worming. Annual vaccinations against Tetanus, Equine Encephalitis, Influenza, and Rabies are very important. Your veterinarian may recommend other vaccines depending on what local infectious diseases are currently present. Horses that compete in racing or shows should be vaccinated several times a year against infectious respiratory diseases.

Vaccines against West Nile Virus and Equine Protozoal Myelitis (EPM) are the newest weapons your veterinarian can offer to help protect your horse against these two very serious and sometimes fatal diseases. West Nile Virus first appeared in New Jersey in 1999. It is mosquito-borne and can affect both horses and humans. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has announced that this disease is probably going to get a foothold in North American, with cases reported as far north as Canada and as far south as Florida. Meanwhile, EPM has been diagnosed in horses throughout North America, but it is especially prevalent in the eastern half of the United States. Horses with EPM can have mild neurologic signs such as trembling, or they can become severely affected and be unable to stand.

In addition to vaccinations, a regular de-worming schedule is important to your horse’s health. Most veterinarians recommend worming at least every three months, depending on the number of horses sharing a pasture and the type of worming medication used. Rotating wormers is also suggested and should be discussed with your veterinarian since parasites are seasonal and effective parasite control requires strategic use of the various medical products that are available.

If you rarely speak to your veterinarian about your horse’s health, now might be a good time to start. Each season brings different health issues. Your veterinarian can help you winterize, summerize, and autumnize your horse.

If you need a veterinarian, please visit the Find a Veterinarian page for a list of member veterinarians in your area.