Gastrointestinal parasite infestation is one of the most common and most dangerous conditions that negatively impact equine health. A heavy dose of parasites will keep an adult animal from thriving and a foal from developing normally. Horse wormers kill internal worms; both chemical and natural formulas are available. Because there are many different organisms to fight and because varying the formula for successive treatments is recommended, it’s important to know the options and how each product works.
The number of organisms that live at least part of their lifespan inside horses is daunting. There are large and small strogyles, tapeworms, bots, and ascarids (roundworms). Less common but still potential problems are lungworms, threadworms, pinworms, hairworms, and large-mouth stomach worms. Fecal and blood tests can tell owners which parasites are present in their animals’ systems.
There are also physical signs of moderate to heavy infestation. Any time a young horse on adequate feed and good pasture doesn’t grow rapidly, play hard, and look good, worms should be one of the first suspects. Horses with dull coats, lack of energy, lack of condition, frequent bouts of colic, and diarrhea may be exhibiting signs that parasites are robbing them of nutrition.
Owners should know which worms are prevalent in their locality. These may change with the seasons. For example, bot flies lay their yellow eggs on legs, chest, and underbelly in the summer. The eggs are ingested by the horse when they scratch themselves, and the larvae hatch inside the stomach. This is not a problem that early spring worming needs to address. Overgrazed pastures lead to more reinfestation, so worming will have to be more frequent.
Most owners use chemical products for worming that target parasites that are common to the area or that have been found in tests. Some broad-spectrum wormers like Ivermectin get many species. You can check the labels to see which parasites each product addresses, or you can let your veterinarian decide what you should use.
Non-chemical approaches include pasture rotation. If a pasture is allowed to rest for six months, most viable eggs and larvae will die off. Regular mowing and dragging can help expose larvae to predators and sunlight, which reduces the problem. Picking up droppings frequently can eliminate reinfection altogether in some areas. It’s recommended to feed hay and grain in troughs – up off the ground – to reduce the chance that the animals will ingest eggs and larvae.
Diatomaceous earth is a natural powder made up of microscopic fossils. Mixing this with feed is effective, natural, and gentle; it’s especially helpful for very old animals which have become sensitive to strong worming chemicals. There are herbal and homeopathic mixtures that can be used. More conventional commercial products come in paste pr pellet form for occasional or daily use.
Addressing parasite problems is an essential part of regular care. Even those who keep their fields parasite-free need to have regular fecal tests done to make sure some new threat has not crept in. It’s a complicated subject but one that is easily researched online if you don’t want to depend on your veterinarian’s knowledge.
Knowing why, when, and how to worm horses is an important skill for those who are responsible for keeping them in tip top health.
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