I walked outside to sit on my porch and enjoy the evening, when I realized that the time is fast approaching where I can not longer do so without bundling up first. I decided it was time to get ready for the winter months ahead especially for my equine friends.
I have included articles, lists, resources, etc to help you make sure you and your horse are ready for the dropping temperatures!
Preparing Your Horse for Winter
By: Dr. Lydia Gray
Hot chocolate, mittens and roaring fires keep us warm on cold winter nights. But what about horses? What can you do to help them through the bitter cold, driving wind and icy snow? Below are tips to help you and your horse not only survive but thrive during yet another frosty season.
Your number one responsibility to your horse during winter is to make sure he receives enough quality feedstuffs to maintain his weight and enough drinkable water to maintain his hydration. Forage, or hay, should make up the largest portion of his diet, 1 – 2 % of his body weight per day. Because horses burn calories to stay warm, fortified grain can be added to the diet to keep him at a body condition score of 5 on a scale of 1 (emaciated) to 9 (obese). If your horse is an easy keeper, will not be worked hard, or should not have grain for medical reasons, then a ration balancer or complete multi-vitamin/mineral supplement is a better choice than grain. Increasing the amount of hay fed is the best way to keep weight on horses during the winter, as the fermentation process generates internal heat.
Research performed at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine showed that if during cold weather horses have only warm water available, they will drink a greater volume per day than if they have only icy cold water available. But if they have a choice between warm and icy water simultaneously, they drink almost exclusively from the icy and drink less volume than if they have only warm water available. The take home message is this: you can increase your horse’s water consumption by only providing warm water. This can be accomplished either by using any number of bucket or tank heaters or by adding hot water twice daily with feeding. Another method to encourage your horse to drink more in winter (or any time of the year) is to topdress his feed with electrolytes.
It may be tempting to give your horse some “down-time” during winter, but studies have found that muscular strength, cardiovascular fitness and overall flexibility significantly decrease even if daily turnout is provided. And as horses grow older, it takes longer and becomes more difficult each spring to return them to their previous level of work. Unfortunately, exercising your horse when it’s cold and slippery or frozen can be challenging.
First, work with your farrier to determine if your horse has the best traction with no shoes, regular shoes, shoes with borium added, shoes with “snowball” pads, or some other arrangement. Do your best to lunge, ride or drive in outside areas that are not slippery. Indoor arenas can become quite dusty in winter so ask if a binding agent can be added to hold water and try to water (and drag) as frequently as the temperature will permit. Warm up and cool down with care. A good rule of thumb is to spend twice as much time at these aspects of the workout than you do when the weather is warm. And make sure your horse is cool and dry before turning him back outside or blanketing.
A frequently asked question is: does my horse need a blanket? In general, horses with an adequate hair coat, in good flesh and with access to shelter probably do not need blanketed. However, horses that have been clipped, recently transported to a cold climate, or are thin or sick may need the additional warmth and protection of outerwear.
Horses begin to grow their longer, thicker winter coats in July, shedding the shorter, thinner summer coats in October. The summer coat begins growing in January with March being prime shedding season. This cycle is based on day length—the winter coat is stimulated by decreasing daylight, the summer coat is stimulated by increasing daylight. Owners can inhibit a horse’s coat primarily through providing artificial daylight in the fall but also by clothing their horse as the temperature begins to fall. If the horse’s exercise routine in the winter causes him to sweat and the long hair hampers the drying and cooling down process, body clipping may be necessary. Blanketing is then a must.
There are a number of health conditions that seem to be made worse by the winter environment. The risk of impaction colic may be decreased by stimulating your horse to drink more water either by providing warm water as the only source or feeding electrolytes. More time spent inside barns and stalls can exacerbate respiratory conditions like “heaves” (now called recurrent airway obstruction), GI conditions like ulcers, and musculoskeletal conditions like degenerative joint disease. Control these problems with appropriate management—such as increasing ventilation in the barn and increasing turnout time—and veterinary intervention in the form of medications and supplements.
Freeze/thaw cycles and muddy or wet conditions can lead to thrush in the hooves and “scratches,” or, pastern dermatitis, on the legs. Your best protection against these diseases is keeping the horse in as clean and dry surroundings as possible, picking his feet frequently, and keeping the lower limbs trimmed of hair. Another common winter skin condition is “rain rot,” caused by the organism Dermatophilus congolensis. Regular grooming and daily observation can usually prevent this problem, but consult your veterinarian if your horse’s back and rump develop painful, crusty lumps that turn into scabs.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO KEEP YOUR FEED ROOM CLEAN?
- Making sure that the feed is not expired!
- To ensure that nothing is rotting or moldy: Mold spores cause colic. Colic, well, is not only expensive but deadly.
- To keep wildlife out: Many little critters carry diseases that can seriously impair your horse’s health. Diseases such as EPM is passed through opossum urinating on feed, hay, grass, etc and your horse ingesting it.
- Checking the feed bins: Ensuring that all feed bins are sealed and have no holes or ways for wildlife to crawl inside. This is also important to ensure that the containers are air tight so that mold and other bacteria doesn’t get in or grow.
- Supplements and Medications: Checking the dates on medications and supplements to ensure that they are still safe to administer to your horse.
- Cleaning the feed buckets: This is important to make sure that there is no mold, fungus, bacteria etc growing on the inside of your buckets. It is also important if you have used any of your buckets to give medication or supplements to ensure another horse’s feed isn’t being contaminated.
I had the vet run some blood work on Luck and Chance as a precaution, because of the “Panic Grass” in Virginia has been causing liver failure in horses, and because I like to do a full work up every 6-12 months.
Chance’s Blood Work
INTERPRETATION OF RESULTS
Elevated Potassium (6.6 mEq/L):
“Low levels commonly indicate loss through excessive sweating, or through kidney or intestinal disease. Low levels may also be found in young foals with bladder damage. Increased sodium levels are usually a sign of dehydration” (http://www.minstervets.co.uk).
This was the most worrisome in regards to the potential immediate issues that could ensue because of the low platelet count.
“Glucose is the source of the body’s energy. It is measured in suspected cases of equine metabolic syndrome and sometimes in cases of equine Cushing’s disease. Blood glucose may also be measured as part of a glucose tolerance test, assessing small intestinal function” (http://www.minstervets.co.uk).
Levels 2-3x the highest number in range are considered significant according to vetstream.com. Levels are easily increased due to poor handling techniques as well as lab error.
According to Dr. Christine Woodford and Carla Baumgartner on vipsvet.com, “Elevations of CPK and SGOT are indictors of muscle inflammation–tying-up or rhabdomyolysis. The term “rhabdo” means muscle and “myolysis” means rupture of muscle cells. The CPK and SGOT are very sensitive indicators of skeletal muscle damage, and they rise in concentration proportionally with the amount of damage. A bit of timing is required in order to obtain the most sensitive results; CPK rises (due to its leakage from muscle cells into the blood system) approximately six to eight hours after the onset of muscle inflammation, and SGOT rises after approximately 12-14 hours. The absolute peak of CPK concentration and the time it takes to return to normal are important indicators of the severity of muscle damage and the response to therapy.”
Elevated MCV: Is the average volume of red blood cells.
- Indicates immature RBC in circulation (suggests regenerative anemia).
- Very rare in the horse, but may observe increasing MCV within normal range as horses increase erythropoiesis.
According to Vetstream.com, “Macrocytosis (increased MCV) resulting from release of immature RBC from the bone marrow during regeneration is very rare in the horse therefore the MCV is less useful in the horse than in other species.”
Elevated MCH: Is the average amount of hemoglobin in an individual red blood cell.
- Hemolysis, if intravascular in nature .
- Errors can occur during processing
Luck’s blood work
Elevated Potassium: Potassium can become elevated for a number of reasons.
According to Vetstream.com,
- 98% of potassium is intracellular.
- Changes in serum or plasma potassium levels reflect fluid balance, rate of renal excretion and changes in balance between intra- and extracellular fluid.
- Hypokalemia increases membrane potential, resulting in hyperpolarization with weakness or paralysis.
- Hyperkalemia decreases membrane potential with resulting hyperexcitability.
- Results can be false due to processing time (ie: if the lab waited too long to process blood sample)
- Immediately after high intensity exercise.
- In association with clinical signs in horses with hyperkalemic periodic paraysis (HYPP) .
- Bladder rupture (neonate) .
- Hypoadrenocorticism [Pituitary: adenoma] (rare).
- Metabolic acidosis.
- Acute renal failure .
- Extensive tissue damage (especially muscle).
- IV potassium salts, eg potassium benzyl penicillin, potassium chloride .
- Phacochromocytoma (rare in the horse).
- Chronic diarrhea.
- Diuretic therapy, especially potassium-losing diuretics.
- Excess bicarbonate/lactate therapy.
- Chronic liver disease .
- Acute renal failure (polyuric phase) .
- Recovery from severe trauma.
- Metabolic/respiratory alkalosis.
- Prolonged anorexia.
- Recovery period after high intensity exercise (30-60 min after).
- Parenteral feeding.
In combination with clinical signs and results of other tests results could signify the following;
* Donkeys tend to have 3x higher levels then horses. This means that in stead of the typical equine range being 1-35 U/L a typically donkey’s range would be up to ~105 U/L. Lucky’s test showed he had 120 U/L which is still elevated but not much. It took sometime to get Luck from the field when the vet arrived- he ran around non stop. The excitement and anxiety could be the cause of the elevated levels.
Katherine Wilson, DVM, DACVIM, of the Virginia–Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine (See more at: http://equusmagazine.com/article/decode-horses-bloodwork-27122#sthash.sc4J1ISJ.dpuf) explains “RBC count is probably the least helpful information because horses usually don’t have big changes in red blood cell numbers. It is not uncommon for horses to have an RBC count a little lower than normal range, however. The term we use for low RBC is anemia, but unless the count gets very low, a horse doesn’t necessarily need to be treated for that condition. A lot of diseases or any chronic long-term disease can cause mild anemia. Usually if we see mild anemia on the bloodwork and the horse has other issues, the anemia is just an indication that we need to fix/treat another problem.”
Low or Elevated Values
- Splenic contraction.
- Polycythemia (rare) .
- Consider causes of anemia
- Blood loss .
- Hemolysis (i in vivo or artifact).
- Decreased bone marrow production.
- Poor technique at sampling.
- Poor handling and storage of samples.
- Poor technique in laboratory.
Elevated Hemoglobin (19 g/dL):
According to vetstream.com, Thoroughbred and other “hot-blooded” horses Hemoglobin range differs from other equine- the thoroughbred range = 11.0-19.0g/l.
Elevated Hematocrit (54 %):
Elevated levels could be due to;
- Splenic contraction.
- Polycythemia .
“A measurement of the relative amount of red blood cells present in a blood
sample. After blood is drawn, a small tube is filled and centrifuged to separate the heavier
blood cells from the lighter white blood cells and the even lighter fluid (plasma or serum)
portion. A higher than normal reading generally indicates dehydration (same number of
cells in less plasma volume) or may be due to splenic contraction secondary to
excitement or the demands of exercise. A low reading may indicate anemia, though not
invariably. Highly fit athletic horses may normally have a slightly lower hematocrit at
rest due to an overall more efficient cardiovascular system. Evaluation of true anemia in
horses requires several blood samples over a 24-hour period” (Susan Garlinghouse, 2000/ http://www.equinedoc.com/PrideProjectInfo.html).
It took sometime to get Luck from the field when the vet arrived- he ran around non stop. The excitement and anxiety could be the cause of the elevated levels.
According to horseprerace.com, “Low levels indicate depletion and are often a predisposing factor, along with dehydration, in fatigue, muscle cramps, colic, synchronous diaphragmatic flutter (“thumps”), diarrhea and other symptoms of exhausted horse syndrome. Even seemingly normal or high-normal levels may in reality be lower, but appear higher due to concentration secondary to dehydration as measured by total protein and albumin levels. Therefore, levels at the lower end of the normal range should be evaluated relative to concurrent dehydration.”
More information on your horse’s blood work
The vet suggested that I add water to Luck’s and C’s feed in case their values are due to dehydration. She also explained that some of the values may be a result of running around in the field right before drawing them along with anxiety.
The anxiety and running around seemed fair but I am hesitant on the dehydration portion. Yes, I know it is winter and that horses are less likely to drink as much water. But if it were due to dehydration then the Albumin would be low as well. But, the blood work revealed that the Albumin was 2.8 (Luck) and 3.2 (Chance). These values are within the normal range…. that being said, the results could also be due to lab handling especially the Potassium levels.
While speaking with my uncle Jerry (the horse whisperer), he suggested adding a salt block to the horse’s feed. This will increase the horse’s thirst which will get them drinking more. I also added heated water buckets so that the water won’t freeze and in case they are less inclined to drink when the water is cold.
In order to feel comfortable about my horse and donkey being healthy, I will have more blood work done this week to make sure everything is in fact okay.