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What are the Most Common Equine Toxins?

What are the Most Common Equine Toxins? | p

Nearly half (44%) of all equine toxicities were due to the ingestion of poisonous plants, such as yew (seen here).

There’s no equine-specific poison control center. But if there were, what would the statistics show?

Swiss researchers recently looked into the details of reported toxicity in Swiss horses, ponies, and donkeys from 2012 to see how the figures added up and what the poisons were.

Myriam Corpataux, BSc, under the supervision of Claudia Graubner, DrVetMed, both of the Haute Ecole of Agricultural, Forest, and Food Sciences in Zollikofen presented their findings at the 2014 Swiss Equine Research Day held April 10 in Avenches.

Nearly half (44%) of all equine toxicities were due to the ingestion of poisonous plants, Corpataux said. In that region of the world, the main poisonous plants were yew, black locust, and cherry laurel. (For a better idea of poisonous plants in your area, see Plants That Kill on, or contact your county Extension agent.)

Further, one quarter of the intoxications came from gardening products, such as weed killers and rodent killers, Corpataux said.

Toxicity from veterinary products can also occur, with 15% of the year’s poisonings resulting from such medications, she said. Many of these were from deworming overdoses, but some were caused by a medication’s side effects, she said.

Other sources of toxicity included poisonous mushrooms (5%), animal venom (2%), and industrial products (2%), relayed Corpataux.

Nearly half of the intoxications occurred in the springtime, and most happened in the animal’s own environment. And although a lack of veterinary feedback prevented the researchers from knowing the outcome of these cases, they determined that about 10% were considered life-threatening.

Treatment generally involves administering the horse prescribed carbon, which absorbs the toxin, thereby preventing it from being absorbed by the body, she said. In extreme cases the veterinarian must pump the horse’s stomach.

“In the wild, horses are able to avoid toxic agents, but once they’re domesticated, it’s a different story,” said Corpataux. “Often, their paddocks or grazing areas are small. To follow their instincts, the equid can end up ingesting plants that he would otherwise have refused, if provided with enough healthy grass. Furthermore, stored forage (hay) can contain toxic plants that the equids are no longer able to recognize.

“What’s more, horses are often in close proximity to products that humans use regularly and are toxic in and of themselves; these represent a danger because the animals would never run across them in the wild,” she relayed. “So man has upset the balance between nature and equids. It’s therefore a great advantage to be able to be conscious of that and to know how to recognize the possible sources of intoxication.”


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Practical Horse Feeding for Adults

While you should always consult your veterinarian for the feeding program best for your horse(s), here are some basic guidelines to help you begin structuring your feeds and feeding program.

Horses’ diets require six essential components:

  1. Energy: Grain and hay (especially alfalfa hay) provide energy. Hard working horses, such as performance horses, need more energy.
  2. Protein: Hay, especially alfalfa hay, is a good source of protein. Young horses (usually up to 3 years of age) and pregnant and lactating mares require more protein.
  3. Vitamins: Requirement.
  4. Minerals: Requirement.  A selenium supplement is necessary in the Pacific Northwest and other parts of North America. Check with your veterinarian for their recommendation.
  5. Water: Essential at all times. Horses drink between 8 to 15 gallons per day.
  6. Fiber: Hay or pasture. Fiber (also called roughage) is essential for proper gut motility and digestion in the horse.  This should be the mainstay of your feeding program.

Putting It All Together

Practical Horse Feeding for Adults | weighing-hayPasture: Good pasture contains all of the above, with the exception of selenium. If possible, let your horse graze at least part of the day. However, too much pasture can cause serious problems for some horses while others may need supplemental feed in addition to pasture. Consult your veterinarian before turning your horse out to graze. For pasture management advice contact your local conservation district.

Hay: Hay can replace pasture or supplement a poor pasture. A good rule of thumb for feeding hay is 2% of a horse’s body weight in hay, 20 lbs. of hay for an “average” 1,000 lb. horse. Alfalfa hay has a higher protein and energy count, but for most horses grass hay or a mix of grass and alfalfa would be best. Always purchase green, leafy hay, free of dust and mold. Consult your veterinarian for questions on which hay would be better for your horse.

Grain: Grain is not necessary for most horses. Horses in training or those who cannot maintain their weight may need grain to give them extra energy. Oats or COB (a mix of corn, oats and barley) are most commonly fed. A small amount of grain (1/4 cup) is often used to “top dress” vitamins.

Salt: A free-choice, white salt block (without any other added vitamins) salt block should be provided.

Selenium: Consult your veterinarian to see if you live in a selenium deficient area. Selenium should be supplemented to all horses in the Pacific Northwest. LMF Super Suplement, Horse Guard, Dynamite and Northwest Supplement are examples of supplements containing adequate amounts of selenium. Pure selenium is also available from your veterinarian.

Water: Fresh, clean water should be available at all times. In cold weather be sure that your horse’s water is not frozen or too cold or they may not drink an adequate amount.

Keep in mind: All hay and grain should be weighed on a daily basis. Store feed where horses cannot accidentally get into it and consume amounts dangerous to their health. Feed horses in a manger or on the stall floor. It is most natural for horses to eat with their head lowered to help with clearing their respiratory system. Feeding on sand or muddy ground can lead to ingestion of dirt causing serious digestion problems. A horse should never be fed hay or grain which is moldy, dusty, weedy or contains foreign objects. Horses should be fed a minimum of twice a day–three times a day is better.

Evaluating a moderate body condition: To determine if your horse is in good body weight, your horse’s coat should be shiny. Eyes should be bright and alert. Ribs can be felt just beneath the coat. Backbone or hipbones should not protrude.

Keeping warm in winter: A couple extra pounds of hay fed on extremely cold nights is the best heat source you can provide your horse. Body heat generated by eating and digesting fiber and forage helps keep your horse warm.

Final note: One final cost-saving suggestion; avoid over or under feeding by always weighing hay (and grain)! Feeding by eye or scoop is not accurate and wastes feed–and money.

Link to article


Switching Horse Feeds Safely

Horse owners sometimes find it necessary to change their horse’s feeding program–fluctuations in temperature, season, and performance level are just some of the reasons. But with the known link between diet changes and health conditions such as colic or laminitis, how can owners safely transition their horse’s feed without negatively affecting his health? Don’t worry. We’re here to help.

Switching Horse Feeds Safely | horse-eating-from-haynetAccording to the National Research Council’s Nutrient Requirements for Horses, any changes in the amount or form of feed—including grain or concentrates, hay, and pasture—should be made gradually due to the horse’s sensitive digestive system. Gradual feed changes lessen the risk of colic due to digestive upset.

Additionally, the digestive system needs time to adapt to diet changes in order to best utilize nutrients in feed. For example, when adding fat rapidly to a horse’s diet, researchers identified an increased amount and greasy texture of feces; however, when they added fat slowly, these effects diminished.

When planning a feed change for your horse, consider these research-based tips:

  • Grains: If you’re simply increasing the amount of grain your horse consumes, researchers suggest increasing the ration at a rate of one-half-pound per day. This is especially important when feeding high-starch diets. Conversely, grain reductions should be done gradually over a one- to two-week period, subtracting about a quarter pound every other day. If you’re changing the type of grain your horse consumes, the transition should take five to seven days. Replace 25% of the current feed with the new about every other day until completely switched over.
  • Hay: There is very little published data on changing hay types or amounts. Still, it is best to make these changes gradually, especially when switching hay types (from a grass to legume variety, for example), replacing 25% of the ration with the new forage every couple of days.
  • Pasture: When turning horses out onto lush pasture, limit their grazing time for several days to avoid digestive upset. Increase the amount of turnout time by one to two hours per day until they’re turned out for the desired time (be it all the time or just until they’re brought in for the night). Nutritionists also suggest turning out horses with a full stomach (achieved by feeding hay prior to turnout) to try to reduce their grass intake.

If you’re working with a veterinarian to manage a growing horse or an animal with certain health conditions, they might recommend changing feed at a different rate, depending on the individual scenario. If you have questions about switching feeds for a particular horse, consult an equine nutritionist or veterinarian to implement a safe method.

Take-Home Message

Switch your horse’s feed type or amount gradually over a period of time to minimize his risk of digestive upset. Plan any nutrient-dense dietary changes, such as lush pasture or grains high in starch, carefully to avoid health problems such as colic or laminitis, and to allow for maximum nutrient digestion.


One Size Doesn’t Fit All

My searches for the “just right” saddle have never been simple. Long before the availability of different tree widths, I rode a very round, mutton-withered, aged grade pony mare in 4-H and regional hunter shows. An all-purpose pony, she had run barrels, traversed trails, and circled the Western pleasure ring. We threw on her a surreptitiously fitting all-purpose English saddle from our motley collection—one which I promptly outgrew. The right saddle, which we special ordered, took many moons to arrive (I clearly recall opening a tiny Christmas present containing a catalog photo of the saddle). When the beautiful specimen of leather and brass arrived, we kept it for the rest of the pony’s long life—it fit her and only her.

One Size Doesn't Fit All |

After I converted to eventing in the years following, my own conformation became the issue. My lanky Thoroughbred with his relatively “normal” back was fairly easy to fit, but finding a saddle that wouldn’t trap my long thighs between knee roll and cantle proved nearly impossible. Another wrapped-up catalog photo Christmas later, and I had my next right saddle. Years later it sits unused because, while it fits me like a glove, most horses I ride these days are wide-backed draft crosses.

So it’s always seemed to me that horse people make concessions: Fit the rider, or fit the mount. Catch riders or professionals at the shows had one saddle they used on every horse, with support teams carrying necessary pieces of equipment to make it work for each one. In riding schools and collegiate tack rooms, I saw saddles labeled with school horses’ names and carefully retrofitted to the named animal, but not without an array of requisite foam accouterments, trimmed to various shapes and compressed from use to different widths.

Thankfully for our horses (though not necessarily our bank accounts), selecting a properly fitting saddle has become even more complex in recent years, and rightfully so. Our sources for the sports medicine article in the Feb. 2014 issue, who are studying a variety of facets of saddle fit, remind us: Horses come in an endless variety of shapes, and manufacturers have come up with a host of saddle design options to accommodate them. Comfort and ease of motion are crucial, lest they end up sore and lame as they haul us around and perform.

So while fits of yesteryear involved carefully setting saddles on clean horses’ backs, taking care not to leave girth marks on the billets, our experts now freely urge us to take test rides to see how the horse moves and how we feel before purchase.

And we must keep in mind how our horses’ bodies change; just as it doesn’t make sense to buy a full wardrobe immediately before marathon training, or any other event that might alter your physique significantly, it’s best not to fit a saddle to your horse before he’s reasonably fit and conditioned. And it’s essential to check fit periodically for the same reason.

A good fit still means searching carefully for that perfect match and hanging on to it when you find it.

Column originally appeared in the February 2014 issue of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care.

Link to article


Spring Checkups for Seniors

Believe it or not, spring really is approaching. It’s admittedly hard to believe in many parts of the country right now—including here in Lexington, where we’ve just had several more inches of sleet and snow dumped on us—but that means it’s time to start planning for our senior horses’ spring shots. And what goes better with spring shots than a spring checkup.

Since it’s advisable for horses to get their spring vaccines in advance of warmer weather and mosquito season, Dorado got his spring shots and checkup just a few days ago. My veterinarian and I aim for around March 1 for his vaccines and checkup each year, since it’s entirely possible for mosquitoes to show up in our area by mid- to late March.

Spring Checkups for Seniors |

So when the vet arrived last week, he first took a good look at Dorado’s eyes. Since senior horses can develop a number of ocular issues, such as senile retinopathy (age-related non-inflammatory damage to the retina) or cataracts, it’s good practice to carefully examine aging horses eyes for changes. Fortunately, Dorado’s eyes still looked great on this year’s exam.

Our vet also took a quick look at Dorado’s teeth to ensure they still looked in good shape. Since we just floated them in the fall, all still looked good there.

Next, the vet pulled his stethoscope out and listened to Dorado’s heart and gastrointestinal tract to make sure everything sounded good, and he checked Dorado’s remaining vital signs—including his heart rate, temperature, and mucous membrane color. Again, all was well!

Then we brought Dorado outside for the rest of the exam. Our vet took a look at Dorado’s body condition out in the open and was very pleased with how he’s weathered this winter. And then, because he had a fairly substantial injury a few years ago, we always do a quick lameness exam to ensure we’re still on the right track with keeping him sound. First our vet watched Dorado jog without flexing him, and then did some flexion tests. I was thrilled to see him jog sound after each test.

Finally, it was time for the real reason for the vet visit: vaccines. Each year, our vet reviewed what to watch for after vaccination and where he placed each shot. Then, he pulled some blood for a Coggins test and headed on his way. Another successful checkup for Dorado was in the books.

Keep in mind—many veterinarians suggest that senior horses should have checkups at least twice per year. In an article on wellness exams on, Dr. Harry Werner (DVM) explained that “this schedule allows for early detection and monitoring of Cushing’s disease, renal or liver dysfunction, chronic lameness, and nutrition concerns, as well as ensuring proper attention to the dental needs of the older horse.”

Do your senior horses have regular checkups? What does your veterinarian look for?



Mare Gestation Calculator

Are you wondering when your pregnant mare will foal? Use our Mare Gestation Calculator to find out! The average gestation length in the mare ranges from 320 to 362 days; most mares will foal within 330-345 days of successful breeding. However, mares have successfully foaled with gestation lengths outside this range.

Please Note: The Mare Gestation Calculator is intended for use only as a foaling date estimation tool for horses. It does not consider differences between individual mares.

Link to Calculator