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