Tufts Veterinary Field Service at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine cares for over 2,700 horses annually. Routine comprehensive wellness care for equine includes taking the animal’s temperature, heart and respiratory rate; listening to the lungs and the gastrointestinal tract; and developing a vaccine and deworming protocol.
The veterinarian also evaluates the horse to determine if the animal is maintaining its ideal weight and will address any potential problems or concerns that the owner has or may not have noticed. The veterinarian assigns a body condition score, a number from 1 (emaciated) to 9 (obese) as a guideline for the overall health and fitness of the horse. This score is important in assisting with nutritional guidelines to ensure that the horse is on the right path for proper health. If the animal is not at an optimal weight, recommendations such as a nutritional consultation, adjustments in the horse’s diet or running additional diagnostic tests may be discussed with the owner.
Wellness physical examinations are suggested on a yearly basis for young and adult horses and twice a year for geriatric animals over 20 years of age.
Maintaining a vaccination protocol and routine blood tests are important components to your horse’s overall health. It is recommended that every horse should be vaccinated annually against rabies; eastern and western equine encephalomyelitis; tetanus and West Nile virus. The American Association of Equine Practitioners offers guidelines for each of these core vaccinations. Similar vaccines are recommended for foals, but the intervals for inoculation differ, as they will require an initial booster on most vaccines.
Tufts Veterinary Field Service may also recommend additional vaccines and can design and individual protocol based on a horse’s risk factor(s). For example, show horses are also recommended to receive vaccinations against flu-rhino and strangles. See the risk-based vaccination guidelines.
The Coggins test is a blood test to determine the presence of Equine Infectious Anemia (EIA). EIA is a non-contagious but potentially fatal blood borne disease, typically spread between horses by biting insects, such as horse and deer flies. EIA can also be transmitted through contaminated needles, syringes, surgical equipment or infected blood transfusions. Many symptoms of EIA can be nondescript, including fever, weight loss, lethargy and anemia. There is no treatment or vaccine for EIA, so surviving infected animals must be kept at least 200 yards from non-infected animals until they test negative for EIA.
It is generally recommended to perform a Coggins testing annually. All horses transported across state lines must have a negative Coggins test within 12 months of movement.
To obtain a health certificate, a horse must pass a veterinary exam for contagious diseases and have a current negative Coggins test.
There is no such thing as a “one size fits all” program for equine parasite control. Tufts Veterinary Field Service uses fecal egg count (FEC) results as its basis for creating individual programs. A FEC is a quantitative technique of mixing weighed or measured quantities of feces with a known volume of flotation solution to examine a measured subsample microscopically to identify the eggs of various parasites that can be present the gastrointestinal tract. This allows for the calculation of the type of eggs being passed per unit weight of feces (e.g., eggs per gram, or EPG).
And while all equine harbor some worms because of the self-perpetuating cycle of fecal contamination and pasture grazing, high egg numbers in the feces based on FEC translate into large numbers of infective stages on pasture. This can potentially result in higher parasite numbers in the horse, with a greater likelihood of disease. The FEC can also be influenced by the horse’s age or immune status, time of year, age of the parasite population, and the residual effects of recent deworming.
Tufts Veterinary Field Service recommends performing an FEC each Spring and Fall, in order to create an accurate, individualized deworming protocol, based on the needs of the horse. If a horse owner detects any problems with weight loss or diarrhea, it is advised to call Tufts Veterinary Field Service to examine the horse as soon as possible.
At least one to two times per year, Tufts Veterinary Field Service recommends completing a comprehensive examination of a horse’s teeth. Concerns of weight loss, dropping of food, the aging of the horse, resisting the bit, head tossing or a bad smell omitting from the mouth may indicate a problem in need of treating. Instead of manually grinding teeth, Tufts Veterinary Field Service performs both manual and power floating, which involves smoothing off the sharp enamel points that arise on the sides of the premolars and molars. Power floating can be less stressful for the horse, faster and helps correct severe problems. After discussing the dental issues with the owner and a physical examination is performed, the horse is sedated and given a full oral examination to identify problems. Floating is typically done as an on-farm procedure.
Wolf teeth are known as the first premolar teeth in horses. They usually erupt into the mouth between five and 12 months of age, but do not continue to grow or erupt into the mouth throughout life as do other cheek teeth. Approximately 70% of horses will develop wolf teeth. If necessary, Tufts Veterinary Field Service can perform the extraction of these teeth.
Horses over 20 years of age can develop special issues leading to challenges with maintaining proper weight and nutrition. While cataracts in older horses can cause disorientation, confusion and walking problems, reduced gastrointestinal motility can contribute to nutrient absorption concerns.
Geriatric horses are recommended to have more frequent oral examinations – a minimum of two per year. It is also recommended to monitor Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction (PPID), commonly referred to as Cushing’s disease, with an Thyrotropin Releasing Hormone (TRH) stimulation test, as well as any other issues that can be present with this disease.
PPID is the most common endocrine disorder in horses. Symptoms of PPID include changes in hair coat; increased water intake and urination; lethargy; loss of muscle mass, pot-bellied appearance, chronic infections; hoof abscesses; excess or inappropriate sweating; infertility or lack of estrus cycles; abnormal mammary gland function; and can predispose to laminitis if hyperinsulinemia (high levels of insulin in the blood) is involved.
Based on the results of the TRH test, Tufts Veterinary Field Service can make adjustments to the areas of concern for the horse, such as exercise routine, diet modifications or follow up care if necessary.
Tracking for the identification of a horse can assist in recovery in the event the animal runs away or encounters a natural disaster, as well as to protect owners in instances of disputes, during repurchase exams and for breeding confirmations. Many associations, such as the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) require microchipping.
This minimally-invasive procedure only takes a few minutes and can be done on a horse of any age with sedation to make the animal comfortable if necessary. Some horses will even stand quiet through the microchipping procedure with the bribe of a peppermint.
Microchipping is performed by clipping and cleaning the area on the left side of its neck, followed by inserting a 14-gauge needle under the skin and into the nuchal ligament, and then injecting an approved 15-digit chip.
Ivan Craig Embree
Dairy Production & Management
Small Ruminant Medicine, Surgery and Reproductive Technologies, Dairy Herd Health
David M Hernke
Dairy Production Medicine, General Surgery
Erin E. King
Dairy Production Medicine, Farm Animal Welfare
Kevin A. Lindell
Assisted Reproductive Technologies and Dairy Herd Health
David J. Matsas
Large Animal Medicine and Theriogenology
Lindsay B Philips
Farm Animal Welfare
Equine Respiratory Diseases (IAD, EIPH, RAO)
Eugene C. White
Dairy Production Medicine Advanced Reproductive Technologies – Bovine
Julia G Wilkinson
Equine and Small Ruminant Medicine and Surgery