Health Plan and Regular Veterinary Care

Icon of a book What Your Horse Needs,…

All horses need a health plan and regular veterinary care.  Regular and ongoing veterinary care is important to ensure that a horse stays healthy. Veterinarians should be contacted anytime there is a concern or doubt about abnormal behaviour and signs of disease or illness.

Disease Prevention

The most common way that infectious diseases are spread is when a new horse that is a carrier of the disease is housed or placed with other horses. A veterinary examination is recommended prior to purchasing a horse. Depending on where the horse has originated from, the veterinarian may advise that specific tests to be conducted to rule out infectious diseases. All new horses should be quarantined from resident horses after they arrive, as advised by a veterinarian. 

Source: Equine Guelph 

What do veterinarians do?

Veterinarians provide guidance on housing, nutrition, humane handling, and management; and, when necessary, provide humane euthanasia. Sound knowledge of animal physiology and behaviour gives veterinarians the perspective that allows them to assess animal care balancing science and ethics to protect the well-being of animals.

Horse being checked by veterinarian
Figure 4.4: Horse being checked by veterinarian
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An Ontario organization, Equine Guelph, identifies basic information about vaccinations. 

 “It is important to remember that vaccines cannot prevent disease. Vaccines perform best if the disease challenge is minimized. In some instances, vaccination does not provide protection against infection but merely decreases the severity of clinical disease. Vaccination serves to increase resistance against certain diseases in individual horses as well as horse populations.”

Source: Equine Guelph 

Vaccinations can be a critical aspect of controlling infectious diseases because, in many instances, owners cannot prevent exposure. A vaccination program is most effective when it is planned to meet the particular needs of a horse and its owner.

Setting up an effective and strategic vaccination program means: 

  1. determining what diseases to vaccinate against; 
  2. identifying which horses will most benefit from vaccination; and
  3. finding out when they will most need the protection that vaccines provide

A veterinarian provides guidelines for a vaccination program that supports the owner and horses.

Being Prepared to Provide First Aid

All horse owners should keep a basic first aid kit. Most of the items are easy to find at home. Other medications or equipment may be needed under certain conditions.

Click the PDF icon (below) to download a copy of the Horse First Aid Kit Checklist created from recommendations by Equine Guelph.

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Whenever there is a serious wound, call a veterinarian. First aid is the treatment given as soon as an injury or illness is observed. This is done to relieve the distress of the animal and prevent further injury while waiting for the vet.

Source: Equine Guelph

Parasite Control

Every horse owner should have a program of parasite control. Internal parasites (worms) can damage and even kill a horse. The signs of this internal damage can be difficult to recognize because the changes happen slowly. A parasite control program depends on where and how horses are managed, housed and used. A parasite control program can include pasture and manure management.

Signs of parasitism in horses include: 

  • poor body condition;
  • rough hair coat (especially in foals);
  • weight loss or stunted growth
  • mild to moderate abdominal distension;
  • colic
  • diarrhea

A horse needs people who watch for signs of parasites and work with a veterinarian to de-worm the animal.

Control of parasites is key to maintaining feed efficiency and horse health. Parasite control programs can vary, but can include:

  • fecal examinations (to identify worm burden and estimate levels of shedding of strongyle eggs of individual horses);
  • regular deworming of all horses or targeted treatments of horses known to have a high parasite burden;
  • fecal egg count reduction tests (to assess the efficacy of individual drugs used); and
  • good pasture management (e.g. prompt manure removal, composting to kill parasite eggs, pasture rotation).

Source: Recommended Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Farm Animals – Horses (©2018)
Used with permission, Equine Canada™

What does the Code of Practice say about veterinary care for horses?

  • Horses should be observed as often as required to ensure that they are healthy. Mares close to foaling should be observed at least twice daily for health and signs of foaling. Upon the arrival of a new herd member, horses should be monitored frequently and checked for injury. 
  • Owners and managers should develop a health management plan, to ensure nutrition, housing, disease prevention, detection and treatment. Consultation from a veterinarian may be necessary. 
  • A parasite control program to prevent parasite related disease must be in place. 
  • Hooves should be trimmed as often as is necessary to maintain the health of the foot. 
  • Horses’ teeth should be examined at least annually. Horses showing signs of dental problems must be examined and treated.
  • When horses require medication, it must be administered as directed by the veterinarian or manufacturer. Only medications approved for use in horses should be administered. 
  • A health record, including any treatment or medication, should be kept for each horse. 
  • Sick or injured horses must receive veterinary treatment immediately. 
  • Under no circumstances should severely sick, injured, blind or disabled horses be transported to a livestock auction. Unfit horses must not be transported, except for veterinary diagnosis or treatment. 
  • A veterinarian should be consulted prior to any attempt to move a downed horse. 
  • Suspicion of a reportable disease as defined by the Health of Animals Act (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) must immediately be brought to the attention of a veterinarian

Source: Recommended Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Farm Animals – Horses (©2018)
Used with permission, Equine Canada™

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