Or perhaps vaccinations and worming are the problem…
The answer is complicated. Traditionally horses in the United States are dewormed every few months, vaccinations are conducted twice a year and many horses are treated for ulcers for a month at a time. It’s standard.
Yet all three of these have something in common: they may help create an inflammatory response in the body. Inflammation is natural and helps to fight injury and illness, but when it becomes systemic- traveling through the entire body and staying there for a long period of time- it can result in neurological symptoms, touch sensitivity, cellulitis/stocking up, and other major symptoms if left untreated.
The Silent Symptom
Inflammation in the body can appear as many other symptoms which are typically seen.
Recently I went to a saddle fit evaluation where the owner, a teenage boy, wanted to make sure his saddle was fitting correctly because of lack of muscle and behavioral issues. When I arrived, the horse was fidgeting on the cross ties. As I walked around him he turned his hind to me in defense. More, when I reached out later to touch his shoulder gently, he whipped around and bit at me.
This is not a normal reaction for any horse. The owner thought the horse hated him for months and my heart broke a little.
There are a few red flags I saw that made me guess inflammation contributed to the issue:
- He had been treated for ulcers in the spring, for over a month.
- He was sensitive to touch.
- He was not gaining weight.
- He was defensive and uncomfortable being handled.
Yes, this can be a number of issues but the vets, barn owner, and client were mystified. The massage therapist said he was sore. He was, but upon a physical examination it didn’t appear to be muscular in nature. Luckily, I happened to have my thermal camera in my truck. We pulled it out and as I suspected, the young horse was lit up like a Christmas tree. Heat permeated his body and from the owner’s story likely had been there for months.
Looking at Diet
The truth is, I have seen this time and again so it wasn’t surprising. Both my horses have neurological issues and there are on a regimen to fight inflammation and flares daily.
I keep my horses on vitamin E and omega 3 supplements to fight inflammation, support musculoskeletal health and improve muscle building. I also don’t prefer grain which can be high in sugar, inflammation’s best friend. Instead, I am transitioning to a forage only diet with alfalfa and hay pellets. The final piece to my puzzle is including a high-quality probiotic like the one from FullBucket Health to improve the immune system and gut health.
Adjusting the diet has been a game changer for my own horses. I always recommend consulting your veterinarian or nutritionist when making a change for your own animal. In addition, there are some things to avoid in the first 4 weeks reducing the systemic inflammation:
- Avoid vaccinations which can cause an immune response and inflammation as a result.
- Avoid deworming your horse during this time. Order a fecal test but try to deworm during November/December and use an herbal wormer like Silver Linings Herbs, which is easily palatable and effective.
- Avoid massage, chiropractic, PEMF and acupuncture at the onset. Instead, give the diet change a few weeks and find a bodyworker who is familiar with lymphatic drainage techniques to help you before resuming your regular modalities.
Once the symptoms have subsided, usually about 4 weeks, you can resume your usual routine. My veterinarian and I have found a deworming schedule and vaccination schedule that works for us, so contact your veterinarian because they are an integral part of your wellness team.
The good news is my own horses, and several client’s horses, have bounced back and become happier, healthier horses on the ground and in the saddle.
Trust me, your horse will thank you!