Routine Herd Health Today to Avoid Serious Future Problems

Unfortunately, many horse owners and managers try to cut corners to save a few pennies, and risk many dollars in treatments for a problem or disease that might have been prevented.

There is an old saying that you are “penny wise and pound foolish.” That comes from the British form of money (where a pound is like our dollar). Unfortunately, many horse owners and managers try to cut corners to save a few pennies, and risk many dollars in treatments for a problem or disease that might have been prevented. In this article from Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky, you will get a primer on basic herd health to avoid costly future veterinary expenses.

Simple procedures–such as appropriate vaccination, strategic deworming, routine dentistry and annual physical exams–can help reduce the risk of more costly medical problems throughout the year. Although appropriate vaccination does not guarantee 100% protection against disease, it does significantly reduce the risk and/or clinical signs of the disease and is essential to responsible horse ownership.


Vaccination requirements vary greatly based on age, sex, breed, intended use, pregnancy status, immune status and geographic location of the horse. There are five core vaccinations that are recommended for all horses, according to the AAEP Guidelines: rabies, tetanus, Eastern and Western encephalitis and West Nile virus. The five core vaccines are all highly efficacious when administered appropriately, and they should be given annually to healthy adult horses.

Previously unvaccinated horses, pregnant mares and foals may require additional boosters, but this should be discussed with your regular veterinarian on the requirements and timing.

Additional vaccinations that are highly recommended, but not considered core vaccines, include equine influenza and equine herpesvirus. The recommended vaccination frequency of these is highly variable depending on age, pregnancy status, intended use, exposure risk and transportation.

It is important to remember that none of the available equine herpesvirus vaccines are protective against the mutant, neurologic form of the herpesvirus.

Other vaccines that should be considered based on geographic location, risk of exposure and recommendations of your veterinarian include: botulism, rotavirus, equine viral arteritis, strangles and Potomac horse fever.

Since Kentucky is an endemic state for botulism, it is highly advised that any horse transporting to the state for show or breeding purposes be vaccinated against this disease.


In the past couple years, there has been a big change in the practice of deworming horses. This is due to the rapid buildup of drug resistant intestinal parasites in equine. It is no longer advisable to deworm every horse with the same rotation of dewormers every 60 days as previously recommended.

The three primary intestinal parasites of major concern are roundworms (arascarids), small strongyles (cyathostomes) and tapeworms. Older horses (>2) are primarily burdened with small strongyles, while foals, weanlings and yearlings can be affected by both roundworms and small strongyles.

Roundworms are the primary concern in foals and weanlings due to the life-threatening clinical disease they can cause at this young age.

Luckily, tapeworms have not yet developed resistance and are easily controlled by biannual administration of a dewormer combination that contains the drug praziquantal.

Current recommendations are to perform fecal egg counts more regularly to determine which, if any, intestinal parasites are present, then select the appropriate anthelmintic (dewormer) for that particular parasite. Unfortunately, due to the buildup of drug resistance to the current dewormers on the market, there is no longer one particular anthelmintic that is effective against all types of intestinal parasites.

The ivermectins tend to still be effective against small and large strongyles, and to a much lesser extent roundworms.

Fenbendazlole/oxibendazole and pyrantel drugs tend to be more effective against the roundworms and have very reduced effectiveness against strongyles. Roundworm eggs (parascarids) are very hardy and can survive the extreme heat and cold and thus remain viable in the environment for years. Foals and weanlings are most susceptible to them and should still be dewormed every 60 days with a suitable dewormer (fenbendazole/oxibendazole/pyrantel) and fecal egg counts performed periodically to monitor effectiveness of the dewormer.

Adults should be dewormed a minimum of two times a year (spring/fall) with an ivermectin/praziquantal combination to control tapeworms, bots,and strongyles. Deworming in adults can be done an additional 2-3 times, if needed, based on their individual fecal egg counts.


Routine dentistry is another essential aspect of responsible horse ownership even though it is sometimes overlooked. Adult horses benefit from an annual oral exam and floating of the teeth. This aids to prevent more serious dental issues from arising.

Younger horses (2-5 years of age ) should receive routine dental care annually or biannually as they can develop sharp points/hooks more quickly than adults.

General Health

Finally, a general physical exam should be done annually to look for any signs of other medical issues that may be undiagnosed or on going. This is easily done at the time of vaccinations or a dental exam. Physical exams are especially important for geriatric or immunocompromised horses since they are more susceptible to various diseases.

Hopefully by discussing these few points with your regular veterinarian, developing an appropriate vaccination and deworming program and having an annual physical and dental exam performed, you can be wise with your pennies, and pounds!






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