Vet notes

The sea­son change brings sev­eral vet­eri­nary warn­ings to be on the look­out for, says Kather­ine Hall MRCVS from Min­ster Equine Vet­eri­nary Clinic

Your Horse (UK) - - CONTENTS -

As sea­sons change, our equine vet dis­cusses po­ten­tial ar­eas of con­cern to be alert for

SEPTEM­BER GOES HAND in hand with more leaves to sweep, rapidly de­creas­ing day­light hours and rid­ing af­ter work will soon be a dis­tant me­mory. The chang­ing sea­son brings cer­tain health warn­ings too, which you need to be aware of in or­der to aid a smooth and healthy tran­si­tion for your horse. “Dur­ing the au­tumn months most horse own­ers will be chang­ing their man­age­ment style,” says vet Kather­ine Hall. “This brings with it a few risks that ev­ery­one needs to fac­tor in.”

Acorn poi­son­ing

Acorn poi­son­ing is a big­ger threat at the end of a long, hot sum­mer like this one. This is be­cause when grass is scarce, horses are more likely to eat them. Like rag­wort, acorns are toxic and horses don’t tend to con­sume them un­less they’re hun­gry and spend a lot of time turned out. Tox­i­c­ity lev­els vary from year to year, but if you spot any acorns at all, it’s best to keep your horse away from them. “Toxic acid in acorns causes dam­age to the horse’s liver and kid­neys, some­times in­duc­ing colic,” warns Kather­ine. Acorn poi­son­ing can be fa­tal. If your horse con­sumes a large amount and shows clin­i­cal signs of poi­son­ing, call your vet im­me­di­ately. SYMP­TOMS IN­CLUDE: Colic n De­hy­dra­tion n Dull coat n Loss of ap­petite n Fre­quent uri­na­tion n De­hy­dra­tion n Con­sti­pa­tion n Slow or ir­reg­u­lar heart rate You need to pre­vent your horse from be­ing able to ac­cess acorns that have been blown off trees, so don’t turn him out in a field with an oak tree. At the very least, cor­don off the area with elec­tric fenc­ing to keep your horse away. If your field has oak trees, con­sider let­ting pigs graze it first. Pigs love acorns and can eat them safely. This tech­nique is used in the New For­est ev­ery au­tumn when up to 600 pigs and piglets are let loose to guz­zle the acorns and keep the ponies safe.

Atyp­i­cal my­opa­thy

An­other threat that should be on ev­ery horse owner’s radar is atyp­i­cal my­opa­thy. This deadly con­di­tion comes from a tox­i­c­ity poi­son­ing sim­i­lar to acorns, ex­cept this time horses be­come ill from in­gest­ing the leaves and seed pods that fall from sy­camore trees. SYMP­TOMS IN­CLUDE: Mus­cu­lar weak­ness and stiff­ness n Dark urine n Colic-like symp­toms n Shiv­er­ing n Sweat­ing n Fa­tigue As with acorn poi­son­ing, the best way to pre­vent atyp­i­cal my­opa­thy is to pay close at­ten­tion to your horse’s pas­ture and the sur­round­ing fields. If you know there are sy­camore trees in the vicin­ity of his field (re­mem­ber the seeds can be car­ried in the wind), then reg­u­lary in­spect the field and re­move them. It’s also worth sup­ply­ing your horse with ex­tra for­age to make him less likely to eat any fallen seed pods he may come across. If there are sy­camore trees in his field, then fence them off as soon as pos­si­ble.


Vets see a sharp rise in episodes of both im­paction and spas­modic colic due to changes in diet, the weather and amount of sta­bling time. “When peo­ple start bring­ing their horses in to spend more time in their sta­ble, the big­gest risk is go­ing from grass, which has a high wa­ter con­tent, to hay, which is dry,” ex­plains Kather­ine. “Im­paction colic is caused by a block­age in the small in­tes­tine, so the in­crease in dry for­age and ab­sence of wet­ness can lead to ob­struc­tions form­ing.” Sta­bling and lack of ex­er­cise can also slow gut mo­bil­ity, lead­ing to a higher risk of an im­paction. Im­paction isn’t the only type of colic that horses are at risk of de­vel­op­ing. Sea­son changes in­crease the oc­cur­rence of spas­modic colic too. “Spas­modic colic is caused by disor­dered move­ment of the gut and tends to hap­pen when an owner swaps their horse onto hard feed and dif­fer­ent for­age,” says Kather­ine. “It takes a while for the bac­te­ria in the gut to get used to pro­cess­ing the new feed, which is why you must al­ways make changes grad­u­ally. Sud­den changes in­crease the risk of colic con­sid­er­ably.” SYMP­TOMS IN­CLUDE: Sweat­ing n Kick­ing or bit­ing at the stom­ach n Ly­ing down or rolling re­peat­edly n Look­ing un­com­fort­able and re­luc­tance to eat n Paw­ing the ground n Re­duced or no pass­ing of drop­pings The best way to re­duce the risk of au­tumn colic is to make man­age­ment changes, par­tic­u­larly re­lat­ing to diet, slowly. Any changes made to for­age and sta­bling should be grad­ual too, ide­ally over three to four weeks, to give you and your horse the best chance of avoid­ing any hic­cups along the way. Damp­en­ing hay helps ease a horse’s tran­si­tion from grass. Grass is full of nu­tri­ents, so bear this in mind when adapt­ing your horse’s diet.

Watch out for acorns in your field as they are poi­sonous to horses NOVEM­BER 2018


To help pre­vent New For­est ponies from suc­cumb­ing to acorn poi­son­ing, pigs are de­ployed to eat the acorns The on­set of Atyp­i­cal my­opa­thy is rapid and, in some cases, fa­tal

Horses with colic will roll fre­quently and kick or bite their stom­ach

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