Monday, June 18, 2018

Causes of Abortion in Horses

Sometimes, in spite of all the care given to a pregnant mare, an abortion occurs.  Many abortions are naturally occurring, and some are caused by infectious agents.  A few of these causes are discussed here.
The most common cause of naturally occurring abortions is twinning.  These usually occur at 8-9 months of gestation and may be preceded by premature lactation.  The abortion of twins is caused by placental insufficiency.  Another natural cause can be an abnormality of the umbilical cord.   For example unusual length can cause torsion on the umbilical cord and can cause the mare to abort.
There is a syndrome call the Mare Reproductive Loss Syndrome (MRLS), which has occurred in several states, including Kentucky, New York, Florida, and in Australia.  This is usually seen as an explosion of early and late term abortions, stillbirths, and weak foals born that die in a few days.  While this does not occur every year, and the exact causes are unknown, it is interesting that pasture exposure to the eastern tent caterpillar is considered an important risk factor.  It is thought that there is an unknown toxin in the exoskeleton that may be a causal factor, as early and late term abortions have been caused by ingestion of whole caterpillars or the exoskeleton only.  The horses in the Australian outbreak of MRLS were exposed to processionary caterpillars.  To help prevent MRLS, pastures should be managed to prevent exposure of pregnant mares to eastern tent caterpillars.
Fescue toxicosis is known to cause reproductive problems in some mares, including prolonged gestation, agalactia, edema, premature separation of the placenta, and perinatal death.  Abortion may happen in the last two months of pregnancy due to severe edema and premature placental separation.
The most common causes of abortion in mares are infectious.  Of these, the most prevalent viral agent causing abortions is Equine Rhinopneumonitis, or Equine Herpesvisus 1 (EHV-1).  This is spread mainly through direct contact with nasal secretions, reproductive tract discharge, or the aborted fetus.  Mares do not exhibit any illness, but will abort after about seven months of gestation.  Prevention measures include preventing exposure of pregnant mares to horses attending horse shows, trail rides or other equine events, and by vaccinating pregnant mares at 5, 7, and 9 months of gestation.
Another viral cause of equine abortion is Equine Viral Arteritis (EVA).  Abortion may follow clinical cases by 6 – 29 days.  Stallions can be persistently infected and can spread the disease venereally – including natural service or artificial insemination with semen shipped cool or frozen.  Diagnosis is made by checking the history of EVA, by isolating the virus, and by seroconversion of the mare.  Prevention can be achieved by managing the breeding population to minimize viral transmission, and preventing stallions from becoming carriers of the virus.
Bacterial placentitis is the most commonly occurring form of abortion.  There are several bacteria species that can cause this, including Streptococcus equi, E. Coli, Pseudomonus aeruginosa, Enterobacter ssp, and Klebsiella pneumoniae.  Other bacteria species that can cause placentitis are Staph aureus, Strep equisimilis, Enterobacter agglomerans, and  Actinobacillus spp.
Leptospira placentitis can cause abortion at 6 to 9 month of gestation, and is thought to be the cause of up to 13% of bacterial abortion in endemic regions.  Several species of wildlife are known to harbor some leptospira species, including skunks, raccoons, and red foxes.  There is not a vaccine labeled for horses, though some veterinarians have used vaccines labeled for cattle on horse farms with severe problems with Lepto.  Please not the key words “not labeled for horses” and “veterinarians”.  Vaccines formulated for one species should not be used on another species without veterinary oversight.
A couple of other causes of bacterial placentitis include Nocardioform placentitis, thought to be caused by various groups of  gram positive, filamentous, branching bacteria, and Potomac Horse Fever (PHF). Abortions from PHF occur mid- to late gestation, and often have retained placentas. While there is a vaccine for PHF, the effectiveness for preventing abortion is unknown.
In spite of all these potential causes of equine abortion, most foals are carried full term and have a normal birth.  Using good management practices such as keeping stalls and paddocks clean, minimizing horse-to-horse contact during pregnancy, having a good client-veterinarian-patient relationship and a good health program, and a good nutrition program to keep horses healthy and well-nourished all combine to make sure that potential problems such as equine abortion are kept to a minimum.
For more information on equine abortion, the Merck Veterinary Manual is a great resource. It contains more detailed information for those wanting to research this topic further.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Hurricane Season is Here! Are you Ready?

 by Eileen Coite, Sampson County Center

With the start of hurricane season, for many of us in North Carolina (especially the eastern counties) it’s a good time for a reminder of the many steps we can take to prepare ourselves, our pets, and farm animals for the coming months.  County and State Emergency Services, American Red Cross, and response organizations across the state and country are committed to helping residents with these preparations.  Of course, we know all too well the devastating impacts of a named storm; but somehow, life gets so busy that preparing gets put off.  Hurricane Matthew is a good reminder of why this is not a good idea! 

The following tips are specific to some of the most important members of our family…our animals. Please make sure your animals have been vaccinated for the most common disease concerns of this area.  Having vaccinations will not only be helpful if they were to need sheltering, but also if they were to get loose during or after a storm, not to mention they need everyday protection from these diseases. Your veterinarian should be your first source for advice as to what is needed, but here is a list of what he or she may include for your horse as well as your farm pets: 

Dogs: Distemper/Hepatitis/Parvovirus/Parainfluenza (DHP PV) combination, Bordetella (kennel cough), rabies, and heartworm prevention.
Cats:  Feline Upper Respiratory Viral Combination (FVRCP), rabies,
Feline Leukemia
Horses and other equines:  Influenza, Rhinopneumonitis, Eastern & Western Equine Encephalomyelitis (EEE & WEE), tetanus, rabies, strangles, West Nile
Virus, and a current (yearly) negative Coggins Test for Equine Infectious Anemia

In addition to having your animal vaccinated, here is a checklist of other items to consider and prepare for in your disaster plan:
1.     Keep a collar and tag on animals that should normally wear collars. Have a halter with your horse’s name on it and your phone number. Small tags similar to those for pets can be used. Microchips are another option for companion animals.  Talk to your veterinarian about this option of permanent identification to help if your animal is lost.
2.     Identify several possible locations where you can take your animals, should you have to evacuate.
3.     Start a buddy system with someone in your neighborhood, so they will check on your animals during a disaster, in the event you aren’t home.
4.     In addition to your regular supply of animal food have at least a week’s supply on hand to be used during a disaster.
5.     You should have at least a week’s supply of water in storage at all times for your animals.
6.     Take several pictures of the animals and keep these pictures with your important insurance papers that you would take if you needed to evacuate.
7.     Talk to your vet before a disaster strikes to see if he/she has a disaster plan and could assist you with sheltering.
8.     Know where the animal shelters or animal rescue organizations are in your area or region.  

Hopefully, this finds you already prepared for the season, but if not, please take the time now to make final preparations!  For more information on preparing your family, including pets, for hurricane season, contact your local Cooperative Extension Center or County Emergency Management office.  Other helpful websites to visit for hurricane preparedness tips are:,,, and


Monday, June 4, 2018

Safety Concerns for Certain Forages

Horses have unique digestive tracts which can lead to sensitivities to certain forages. Unless there is nothing else to eat, most animals will avoid harmful plants because they are generally unpalatable. It is important to give horses access to a variety of high energy, protein-rich hay and pasture. This is especially important for high performing horses. Horses not being worked should be fed lower quality feed to avoid problems with weight and blood sugar. There are some forage situations that should be continually looked for regardless of your horse’s activity level.

High nitrate concentrations in forages is seen in young and rapidly growing plants, plants that have been fertilized with too much nitrogen, and in stressed plants (during and after a drought). Nitrates in the plant are converted to nitrites in the hindgut (cecum) which can be absorbed into the bloodstream and convert hemoglobin into methemoglobin preventing the release of oxygen. Ruminants (cows, sheep, and goats) are more susceptible to nitrate poisoning than horses because of the ruminant digestive system. Certain weeds can be nitrate accumulators meaning they uptake more nitrogen than they can convert to protein leaving excess nitrates in the plant tissue. Lambsquarter, redroot pigweed, curlydock, and johnsongrass are all weeds that are nitrate accumulators. Symptoms include difficulty breathing, bluish mucus membranes, and weakness.

Sorghums species include sudangrass, sorghum-sudangrass, and johnsongrass. Sorghums contain cyanogenic glycosides with concentrations varying among species and should not be fed to horses. If fed, horses can get cystitis (a urinary tract disease), mares can abort, and foals can be born with contracted tendons.

Endophyte-Infected Fescue
In endophyte-infected fescue, the endophyte lives in the plant and has a positive influence on the plant’s growth by helping defend the plant from pests among other things. The endophyte produces ergopeptide alkaloids which are toxic to horses when eaten as fresh forage and as hay. The alkaloids cause vasoconstriction of blood vessels. Symptoms from eating endophyte-infected fescue include abortion, decreased conception rates, prolonged gestation, weak foals, stillborns, thickened placenta, and decreased milk production. Another symptom can be fescue foot which is when there is the loss of feet, ears, and/or tails due to the vasoconstriction. If you are grazing fescue pasture and feeding fescue hay make sure it is endophyte-free.

Alfalfa Hay and Blister Beetles
There are six species of blister beetles associated with alfalfa and hay. They are black, grey, or grey with yellow stripes. The striped blister beetle is most associated with hay poisoning. The adult beetles feed on the leaves of various plants including alfalfa and soybeans and are attracted to flowering plants. They contain the toxin cantharidin which causes irritation that can blister the skin and internal body surfaces. In horses, this can cause colic, diarrhea, and blood in the stool and urine. The beetles are more likely to appear later in the summer (starting in July) so the first cutting of alfalfa is less likely to contain the beetles than later cuttings. Alfalfa should be harvested before it flowers to decrease the chance of a blister beetle infestation. It is important to make sure you are getting hay from the first cutting and that the hay was harvested prior to flowering. Inspect any alfalfa hay for beetles before feeding.

Horses are especially susceptible to mold and fungal toxins. These usually come from hay that was baled at a higher moisture or hay that is allowed to sit out in the elements. This can be an issue with the first cutting because it is cut when rain is frequent and optimal drying conditions are not common. If you have hay that was baled at a higher moisture do not stack those bales. It is best to get the bales under a shelter and keep them spread apart to encourage air flow which can help dry them out a little more. Hay should be stored and fed in structures that prevent the bales from getting wet. It is best to only feed the amount of hay that will be consumed in one day.

Poisonous Weeds
Poisonous weeds can sneak up in pastures so it is important to know how to identify them. Some weeds of concern in North Carolina are cocklebur, johnsongrass, pigweed, lambsqaurter, and bittersneeze weed. Again, most animals will only eat poisonous weeds if there is nothing else to eat. Good pasture management can help prevent these weeds with the correct stocking rate, utilizing pasture rotation and rotating before the horses are allowed to overgraze the pasture. Soil fertility is also important when trying to eliminate weeds. Taking soil samples of your pastures will tell you what the current soil fertility is and what to add to have correct fertility for the grass you are growing.

Please contact your local Extension agent if you have any questions about the topics listed in this article.  

Monday, May 21, 2018

Getting ready for Farrier and Vet Visits

Veterinarians and farriers are some of the busiest people I’ve ever met in my whole life.  That’s why it is so important for you to do everything in your power to be ready for their farm visit.  Being ready will help to make the time they spend on your farm as quick as possible.

Of course, you can’t control someone else being late because of emergency calls, but you can make sure that you are ready.  When you know someone is coming to examine your horse, make sure to get him in the barn early.  Half an hour early normally gives you enough time to get settled in case issues come up.  Your horse should have its halter on its head and the lead line ready and close at hand to attach it too.  Getting your horse in the barn may take the longest time, so once that is done, you can move on to getting other things ready.  If you are struggling to get them in there, you may want to drop a little feed in their bucket and then shut the door on the stall after they go in.  A vet or farrier should never have to wait while you struggle to catch your horses.  Keeping them running free in the pasture until they arrive is unacceptable!  Even worse, your vet or farrier should never have to catch your horse for you.  They are professionals and need to focus on the job they are called out there for.  They may not ever return to your farm, if it is a struggle to catch horses every time. 

You want to make sure that your farm is ready.  Unlock your gate and open it if that is possible.  Make sure you have enough space for the vet or farrier to turn around or pull-through with their large truck.  You may need to move other vehicles or objects, so they can get in and out quickly.  Is your annoying dog that continually jumps on people or gets in the way penned up?  A lot of times horses are scared of dogs and your dog running around them while they are being examined may create undue stress.  Dogs like to eat hooves that the farrier cuts off and will get under your horse or between their legs to get it.

You may need to brush your horse before the visit, if your horse is covered in hair or dirt.  This will allow your vet to be able to see your horse easier and help to keep their clothes clean.  It’s good to go ahead and spray fly spray on any horses getting examined or worked on if there are numerous flies or gnats flying around.  Flying and biting insects only serve to distract your horse.  It’s also good to make sure there are bright lights in the barn and a place where they can get out of driving rain if needed.
Make sure all your horses have good manners, even young ones.  Your horses should be able to receive injections, medications, and oral exams.  You and other people should be able to pick up and touch feet and legs, as well as ears and head.  Horses need to learn at a young age how to walk on a lead line.  You should never let your horse eat grass or be given treats while being worked on.  This is distracting to the horse and teaches bad manners.  Giving them treats after the visit is always the best option, so they remember the visit as a positive experience.

It’s good to be able to tell your vet any changes in your horse’s condition.  Knowing the temperature, pulse, and respiration rate can help them diagnose problems.  It’s really important not to wait until a small problem becomes a big one.  If you are not sure about a problem, with most vets and farriers, you can take a picture of it and text it to them for advice.  If they need to come out, they will have a good idea about what equipment and meds they need to bring along.  Many vets get complaints when an animal dies and the client still has to pay a bill, however, if the vet had been called earlier when it was a small problem, they might have been able to save the animal.  A vet must still bill for his expenses and travel whether the animal recovers or not.  So, the sooner you get help, the better!

Planning ahead for your vet and farrier visits will make for a positive experience for you, your horse, and your professional.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Feeding the OTTB

With the exciting conclusion of the Kentucky Derby last weekend (Yay Justify!), I thought it was worth mentioning that the requirements for race horses and those coming off the track into a more sedate lifestyle can differ quite dramatically. If you're thinking about an off the track Thoroughbred (OTTB), you've probably considering the training your horse will need to go through to be let down, the adjustments you may have to make, and the excitement of the next step for a "retired" horse. It's equally as important to consider the feed and nutrition of that animal.

When racing, the ideal body score for the horse is 4-5 out of 9. This is slightly lower than our pleasure or performance horses. The exercise levels of these animals is intense and as such, energy is the most important nutrient in the racehorse's diet. Minerals, especially sodium, chloride and potassium, are supplemented much like we drink Gatorade when you know you're going to be sweating a lot. Vitamins and water are also very important in the diet of these sport stars. Grain is often more than 50% of the diet, high in sugar and starches, and about 8% fat. Gastric ulcers and upset are common when feeding racehorses because of the high amounts of carbohydrates and sugar/starch in the diet.

Once your horse comes home as an OTTB, there are some dietary changes that need to be made. The horse is no longer performing at such intense levels, at least not right away, so you have to take that into consideration when feeding. Often the body score of the animal needs to be increased and their topline refined. Additional protein and fat will help with muscle development and body condition. Forage should make up the majority of your OTTB's diet, instead of grain. This will help keep the hindgut healthy and working properly. You have to give your horse time to adjust to this new diet. A gradual decrease in calories is important so that your horse doesn't lose weight. Grain can be used but should be fed in smaller amounts per meal to prevent too much digestive upset.

If you have further questions, contact an equine nutritionist or veterinarian to help design an appropriate diet for your specific horse.
This link has some extra information as well:

The information for this article was adapted from

Monday, May 7, 2018

Useful Apps for Horse Owners

There is literally an app for everything - for the most organized to the least organized horse owner!

Calculate your horse's weight

  • Why is this important? - Knowing your horse's weight is crucial for health management.  It not only allows you to give accurate dosages of medication, but also helps you monitor and control their seasonal weight change.
    • HorseWeight - Free
      • This app was developed by the University of Minnesota and sponsored by Zoetis.  It allows you to choose between breeds for greater accuracy.  All you need is a measuring tape.
    • Equiscale - Free

      • Similar to HorseWeight, all you need for this app is a measuring tape to measure the length and heart girth of your horse.  If you have any young horses, this app can be helpful since it allows you to choose between a weanling, yearling, and an adult horse.

Body Condition Score for your Horse

  • Why is this important? - Much like monitoring your horse's weight, monitoring their Body Condition Score (BCS) is equally important.  BCS can affect a horse's reproductive capability, performance ability, work, health, and endocrine system.
    • HorseBCS - Free

      • This app was developed by Purdue University, University of Nebraska, and Extension and teaches the user about where and what to look for, as well as what the BCS Scale (1-9) means.  It also records the BCS of your horse, so you can monitor their BCS overtime. 

Trail Ride Tracker

  • Why is this important? - While I might not necessarily say tracking your trail ride is IMPORTANT, I will say it is fun!  There is something satisfying about seeing a map of your total route after a long day in the saddle, not to mention, the extra data on speed, pace, and distance can help gauge how fit your four-legged partner is.
    • Horse Riding - Free

      • There are a lot of free trail riding apps.  Just search "Horse Trail Riding Free" in the app store and half a dozen will come up.  If you're looking to burn off some of your horse's winter weight, Horse Riding provides more data on speed and pace.  However, if you are looking to explore new trails, then HorseGlobe or Southern States Trail Riders might be a better fit.