One of the most valuable ways to keep your horse healthy is to limit its exposure to potential diseases and parasites. Simple steps can be used to help insure a long healthy life for your horse. Often people take for granted that if a horse is vaccinated against a disease and dewormed regularly, it is guaranteed not to get the disease or have parasites, however, this is not the case. Relying solely on vaccinations and deworming to keep your horse free of disease can result in disaster.
Vaccinations only boost the immune system so that when an animal is exposed to a disease its body can more effectively fight the infection. There are many reasons a vaccine can fail to protect an animal from the disease it was vaccinated against. Virulence or aggressiveness of the disease, the level of antibody response of the individual horse, how routinely a horse is vaccinated, the age of the horse, and other illnesses are all factors that may decrease the effectiveness of vaccines. The same is true for deworming programs. Even horses dewormed every two months can still have parasites. The reasons are that no dewormer kills 100 percent of all parasites, parasites can develop resistance to the drugs and often the drugs can not kill the parasite in many stages of its life cycle. Preventing contact with diseases and parasites should be the most important part of your preventative care program. Use vaccinations and deworming to stop any problems that slip through the cracks.
Ideally, any new horse coming onto the property should be quarantined for approximately two weeks and observed for any signs of illness. “Quarantining” consists of an area away from the main group of horses where there is no physical contact between horses (rubbing noses, sharing waterers, etc.). Placing the pens a distance such as 100 feet from other horses will decrease the chance of transferring bacteria and viruses from one horse to another through coughing and sneezing. Seek veterinary attention when you suspect a horse is sick so that diseases can be promptly identified and treated, as well as to reduce the chance of other horses becoming infected. If your horse does become sick, it has likely already infected the neighboring horses. Don’t move the neighboring horses somewhere else so they can infect healthy horses. Limit contact between horses whenever possible and don’t allow them to rub noses with every horse while going down the barn isle. Consider each horse you meet as a potential carrier of disease and try to limit unnecessary exposure.
Some simple steps can also help decrease the amount of parasites that your horse encounters. First, remember that most parasites are acquired by eating feed that has become contaminated by fecal matter. It only makes sense that removing manure from pens daily, trying not to graze your horse on grass where other horses have passed manure, and deworming horses before they are brought onto your property all help to decrease the risk of infection.
In general, use common sense and basic sanitation as your first line of defense to prevent exposing your horse to disease and parasites. Keep your horse’s vaccinations current and deworm routinely but don’t rely on them solely to keep your horse healthy. Finally, always get prompt veterinary attention if you suspect that your horse is sick to protect your horse as well as others.