Our horses are a target for many evil creatures that are capable of damaging, or even killing, our beloved horses.
We can’t completely eliminate parasites but we can certainly do our job to prevent, minimize, and manage.
April was parasite prevention month and I was planning on this being our monthly topic but since I got so busy I had to push it back a few weeks.
The truth is we are facing a grim future with our horses and the majority of horse owners are still resistant to change. Small strongyles, the most common of the equine gastrointestinal parasites, have become a menacing issue over the last several decades.
In the late 80s/early 90s it was proven that small strongyles were becoming resistant to particular anthelmintecs. Now, nearly 40 years later there is widespread resistance shown in almost all dewormer classes…AND NO NEW DRUGS.
I’ll say it again, we have not seen any new anthelmintics in forty years and there is nothing new in the works.
I’ve always had some concerns about parasite resistance but it didn’t start bugging me (I’m so punny) until Tiger. I got Tiger’s fecal samples last spring and gasped when I saw a result of 1572 eggs/g.
Let’s rewind a minute….
Horse owners are encouraged to send out fecal samples to determine the need for deworming as a way to slow the drug resistance within a herd. The results will tell you how many eggs are being shed in each gram of excrement. Normally anything below 200eggs/gram is acceptable. When counts exceed 200eggs treatments are needed.
I ran to the tack store immediately and grabbed a Pancur Powerpac and administered a double dose every morning before breakfast. After 2-3 weeks I send out another sample to make sure it was effective.
Tiger’s fecal results came back even worse, at 1574. Essentially the $70 Powerpac was completely ineffective and the parasites were 100% resistant to the dewormer. That’s when I got super worried and dove in head first.
Any horse owner with basic knowledge would reasonably be very concerned about their horse with high egg counts. I manage my pastures decently…could be better, but there are many with much worse pasture hygiene practices than myself. My other horses have all tested negative with every sample. So why is Tiger such a high shedder?
It’s also reasonable to be concerned that I cannot rely on the Pancur Powerpac to help the parasite reduction. With only four anthelmintic drug classes I’m already down to 3 and who knows what else is going to work/not work? I used Quest Plus and it did the trick, but what happens when that no longer does the job? What next? What happens if my unicorn becomes too heavily burdened with parasites and I’m powerless against them?
I have done research and picked the brains of vets and researchers. I’ve attended seminars and asked questions. I recently attended a seminar led by Dr. Martin Neilson so very possibly could be one of the world’s leading parasitologists in equine studies. The seminar was incredibly helpful, educational, and even out my mind at ease a bit.
A study performed in …… tested the correlation between fecal egg counts and the actual parasite burden. The study showed that horses who shed less than 200 eggs per gram are not likely to have a heavy parasite burden. That makes sense. What was particularly interesting, however, was that horses with counts ABOVE 200epg had NO CORRELATION to parasite burden. Some were heavily burdened but several others were not.
So a high fecal egg count doesn’t mean Tiger is heavily burdened and going to get sick on me.
A high fecal egg count does mean that I want to watch my pasture management, however. More eggs and give ride to more parasites. I don’t want the horses grazing where the eggs are hatching….and if I can help it I don’t want them hatching at all or near the horses.
I normally pick manure in my lower paddocks but drag the upper pasture. This year I am managing things a lot differently with what I have learned.
Horses tend to have a higher parasite burden in winter and spring. They can survive longer in winter and prefer the moist environment of spring. For this reason I do not drag my pastures in spring unless the horses are staying off the pasture for several weeks. This year I dragged my two lower paddocks and the horses were off both for months; now they graze one of the smaller paddocks during the day and it’s closed off at night (to prevent overgrazing).
My upper field is about 2.5 acres. I have been putting my round bales up there and allowing the horses access there. I normally don’t worry about the manure up there but this year I picked it all entirely clean before the grass grew too tall. I’m not taking any more chances.
I have had several wild ideas about how to help support Tiger’s lack of immunity to parasites. I have gone so far as to run my wild ideas past Dr. Martin Neilson and other researchers in the industry. They follow my reasoning but there is no research done (yet) to support my ideas. Perhaps I’m onto something perhaps not.
For now I am giving Tiger some heavy probiotics to see if it makes a difference, I’ve done two fecals so far this year and he has been negative (they were 3-4 weeks post deworming but that’s better than it has been last year for sure). I will be curious to see what his counts are before I deworm again.
Most importantly is I am making a greater effort to practice EVEN BETTER pasture management. That is the one thing we all can rely on to help prevent our horses becoming ill with resistant parasites.