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9 Unexpected Factors That Could Be Causing Your Horse Stress

By Horses, Performance/Competition Horses No Comments

9 Unexpected Factors That Could Be Causing Your Horse Stress

Have you ever been to a rodeo or horse show and witnessed — or experienced first-hand — a horse bolt from the arena as if they were being chased by a predator?

Short-term stress allows horses to respond to their environment, like running away from a thunderous bang, and particularly if the horse has not been properly trained and desensitized to that sort of stimuli. However, if a horse remains stressed for a long period, they may start to exhibit dramatic changes in behavior and other health problems.

A horse can feel stressed or anxious about environmental or social triggers. Stress can appear during their daily routine or in new or fast-paced situations like events. As an equestrian, it’s important to get to know your horse and their stress triggers, along with the methods you can use to reduce those stress responses.

What Does a Stressed Horse’s Body Language Look Like?

Like people, every horse responds to stress differently. What stresses one horse may not bother the next, and how each horse responds to a stressor may be different, too.

Prolonged stress can negatively impact a horse’s health, potentially causing:

  • Weight loss.
  • Gastric ulcers.
  • Colic.
  • A weakened immune system.
  • Erratic behavior.
  • Other behavioral changes.

As a horse owner, you can likely tell when your horse is a bit off. Observe your horse’s body language and look for the following tell-tale horse anxiety symptoms:

  • Weaving and stall walking: Many equestrians are familiar with the anxious tic some horses have, called stall weaving or walking. Horses who stall weave — a rhythmic swaying resulting from the shifting of weight between hooves — are usually anxiety-prone, bored or stressed. 
  • Shaking or trembling: When a horse shakes or trembles, their skin looks almost like it has ripples moving across it, and the ripple effect is often accompanied by visible twitching, too. This can occur anytime a stimulus triggers a stress response, including while riding, being led or standing.
  • Eye rolling: Eye-rolling typically happens when a horse is afraid, and it’s usually accompanied by shaking or trembling.
  • Backing into a corner: When your horse is frightened in their stall, their natural response is to get as far away from the trigger as possible, so they’ll back themselves into a corner.
  • Rearing: A stressor may trigger your horse’s fight-or-flight response, and when they feel like they need to fight, they’ll rear to defend themselves.
  • Spooking or bolting: When the horse feels like they need to run, they’ll spook and bolt, even while being ridden.

These signs can either be short-term or long-term, depending on the trigger.

Other Signs of Stress in Horses

In addition to the above, your horse might also show some of the following when they are feeling stressed: 

  • Yawning: No one knows exactly why horses yawn, but yawning may release a stress-coping endorphin that helps horses relax.
  • Tooth grinding: Horses grind their teeth for many reasons, including when they feel anxious or are in pain. If you notice your horse is grinding their teeth, and they don’t have any dental problems, then they might be feeling stressed.
  • Poor behavior: If you notice your horse practicing new behaviors like spooking easily, bucking, biting, rearing or pawing, then they may be reacting to a stressor.
  • Excessive sweating: Just as humans get sweaty palms during anxious situations, horses sweat when they’re nervous, too. As their heart rate accelerates and their breathing increases, they’ll begin to sweat and show other signs of stress, like weaving or tooth grinding.

As you notice these stress symptoms, take note. See if you can find a common denominator to your horse’s stress responses so you can treat the chronic stress appropriately.

10 Unexpected Factors That May Be Causing Your Horse Stress

Pinpointing your horse’s stressors can be a bit tricky. In many cases, a horse’s stress levels spike as the result of a dramatic change in their environment or daily routine — but that’s not always the case.

Here are some other factors that may be contributing to your horse’s chronic stress.

1. Separation From Herd Mates

Horses are herd animals. If you think about their natural instincts, horses stick together both for social interaction as well as protection against predators. Although your horse isn’t in the wild, they may still feel a natural anxious response when they’re isolated in their stall or alone in a pasture.

Your horse may feel anxious because they feel vulnerable to predators, even with no immediate danger around them.

2. Large Events

Just as you feel nervous before a performance, your horse likely feels nervous, too. At an event, there’s an assortment of stressors that may cause your horse to display anxious behaviors. Event stressors include:

  • Being surrounded by other horses.
  • Feeling separated from their herd mates.
  • Picking up on a rider’s anxiety.
  • Being in a new environment.
  • Not having access to feed or water.

The unfamiliar and hectic environment of an event causes many horses to feel anxious because they’re separated from the comfort of their daily routine.

3. Changes in Exercise or Diet 

Depending on your horse’s personality, they may feel stressed when changing their slow-paced training to a rigorous training schedule with high-intensity exercise. It’s the human-equivalent of enjoying a jog every once in a while, to jumping into a professional athlete’s training schedule. Even people who enjoy working out can find this lifestyle change exhausting.

Your horse may also feel stressed when you change their diet. If your horse is accustomed to a feeding schedule, they’re going to get hungry and expect their meal at a certain time. If it doesn’t come when they expect it or isn’t the meal they’re used to, it may increase anxiety.

4. A Poor Diet

Feeding your horse a diet that doesn’t meet their nutritional needs can make your horse feel unfulfilled and evoke stress. Horses require a well-balanced diet of:

  • Carbohydrates.
  • Fats.
  • Proteins.
  • Vitamins.
  • Minerals.

Additionally, horses need a balance between the fiber from forage, like grass and alfalfa hay, and grain to help their digestive systems operate at their best. If your horse’s diet is too high in grain content, however, it can create excess gas in their hindgut, causing discomfort — which can contribute to stress.  

5. Old Trauma

If your horse experienced something traumatic in the past, their trauma could resurface as a response to a current-event trigger, even years after the traumatic event occurred. This is especially true for rescue horses who survived a less-than-friendly background.

Diagnosing old traumas can be difficult because you don’t know the full extent of their past experiences, but you can learn your horse’s triggers over time and work on building their trust to reduce their anxious response.

6. Boredom

Some horses find boredom anxiety-inducing, especially horses on stall rest. Horses are meant to be active, so being in their stall for long periods of time can make them feel restrained and restless. 

Bored horses tend to be stall walkers and weavers, which may be your first clue that your horse is stressed. Your horse may also play with their water buckets or back into a corner to protest their boredom.

7. Housing Conditions

Your horse’s housing conditions can cause them stress, too. For instance, if you move your horse to a new boarding site or move them to a new pasture they’re not used to, the unfamiliar surroundings can be a lot for them to process. Similarly, if there are loud noises and frequent traffic where you are boarding your horse, they can feel stressed as well.  

8. Limited Pasture Time

Regular turnout is important to horses’ health and reduces their stress while in the stable. While in a pasture, horses have access to forage, water, their herd and enough space to roam and stay active. Limiting your horse’s pasture time can evoke a stress response, so try your best to avoid keeping them in their stall for hours on end.

9. A Busy Transportation Schedule

Some horses, namely performance horses, have a busy schedule traveling from one event to another. Even if your horse has been to the showgrounds before, they may feel anxious because they:

  • Feel confined in the moving trailer.
  • Are away from their herd.
  • Don’t have access to their usual hay and water.
  • Face new locations and experiences.

Some horses don’t mind traveling, while others struggle even to make it on the trailer. If you know that trailering causes your horse stress, consider making some adjustments to your transportation routine, such as making stops along a long route to walk them, to make them feel more comfortable.

10. Reproduction

Mares may experience fluctuating stress levels during the different stages of their reproductive cycle. When in estrus, a mare experiences minute changes — like frequent urination and lower activity levels — that can be uncomfortable, resulting in increased stress.

Pregnant mares may feel uncomfortable, too. You may notice a pregnant mare biting at her stomach, pacing, pawing and sweating as a result of stress and pain, particularly right before and during birth. Usually, the discomfort and stress resolve after foaling. These symptoms should always be carefully assessed, as they often share characteristics with colic.

What to Do If Your Horse Is Experiencing Stress

A certain level of stress is normal for horses. But, if you notice that your horse’s stress levels are going up and they’re constantly on edge, you might need to make some changes in their environment or daily routine.

If your horse is experiencing stress, here are some ways you can reduce their anxiety.

1. Establish a Routine

Having a sporadic daily routine can make things seem new and intimidating for your horse. With a daily routine, horses can adapt to familiar stressors — like being in their stall and riding in an arena — and feel more comfortable with their surroundings.

Try your best to keep your horse’s feeding schedule, meals, turnout time and exercise routine consistent to help reduce their stress levels.

2. Work With an Experienced Trainer

During your lesson, an experienced trainer can notice subtle changes in your body language that may be causing stress in your horse, like:

  • Tense shoulders.
  • Tight hands.
  • Too much or too little contact.
  • Misplaced heels.

As a rider, you can work on your breath, control and contact with your horse to make training more comfortable and stress-free for you both.

3. Get More Exercise

Getting enough exercise keeps your horse physically and mentally healthy. Some horses thrive on a busy schedule with plenty of exercise, especially horses who have a natural workhorse mentality and are prone to boredom. 

It’s important for a rider to listen to their horse’s body language and develop a training regimen that corresponds with their energy level. You can also encourage exercise by allowing your horse more time in their pasture. 

4. Acclimate Your Horse to Different Conditions

Gradually transition your horse to a new training schedule and daily routine, if needed. If you transition your horse too fast, their stress levels will spike and have the opposite effect. But, if you give your horse time to familiarize themselves with a new routine, they’ll eventually welcome the changes and experience less stress.

Gradual acclimation may also help for specific triggers, like fear of clippers or being loaded into a trailer. Present the trigger below the fear or panic threshold. Allow your horse to respond, likely with curious snorts and pawing. Over time, your horse will learn to trust the item or experience. 

Wild horses use acclimation to feel comfortable in their environment, which is why gradual acclimation for domestic horses is often successful. Comparatively, avoid flooding your horse with too much trigger-related stress, or else it can increase their fear.

5. Use Supplements

Pro Earth Animal Health offers an all-natural supplement — Zesterra® — that aids in the prevention of stress-induced conditions, such as gastric ulcers or colic.

Zesterra® is made of 100% natural ingredients that stimulate your horse’s appetite and water consumption. It provides a balanced environment where healthy microbes can effectively break down nutrients for better absorption. Because of its all-natural ingredients, Zesterra® is fit for all stress-prone equine, including performance horses, foals, donkeys and mules.

You can feel comfortable adding Zesterra® to your horse’s diet either daily as a preventative measure or as-needed when you know that your horse will face stressful situations, such as trailering or showing.

Visit Pro Earth Animal Health Online for More Tips on Managing Your Horse’s Stress

At Pro Earth Animal Health, our mission is in our name. We are a team of passionate horse and cattle owners who strive to deliver high-quality, all-natural supplements to boost your animal’s health and keep them healthy for a long time.

Our veterinarian-approved equine product, Zesterra®, is a special formula we use on our own horses — especially those who are prone to stress. Visit our website and browse our other helpful tips for managing your horse’s stress levels, and shop for Zesterra® online or at a store near you!

Sources linked:

  1. https://proearthanimalhealth.com/causes-and-effects-of-stress-in-horses/
  2. https://proearthani
  3. ▲9malhealth.com/top-10-tips-for-improving-your-horses-nutrition/
  4. https://proearthanimalhealth.com/travel-related-ulcers/
  5. https://proearthanimalhealth.com/trimesters-1-3/
  6. https://proearthanimalhealth.com/zesterra/frequently-asked-questions/
  7. https://proearthanimalhealth.com/what-is-a-microbiome/
  8. https://proearthanimalhealth.com/blog/
  9. https://proearthanimalhealth.com/product/zesterra/

Stress Management in Calves

By Cattle, Cow-Calf No Comments

Stress Management in CalvesIn the cattle industry, stress among livestock is one of the top issues producers face. Stressors can hinder the overall productivity and health of cattle. Calves may be even more susceptible to the adverse effects of stress. Fortunately, producers can take steps for stress management for a calf to reduce its stress levels.

Jump to Key Section

What Is Stress?

Stress refers to the symptoms that result from an environment or situation that is not normal for an animal. Think of stress as an external influence that impacts the homeostasis of a system. Stress can manifest physically and psychologically in cattle. Some of the physical changes that occur as a result of stress are the release of cortisol, adrenaline and other hormones. A psychological manifestation of stress is fear of specific objects, environments or situations.

Causes of stress include:

  • A triggering event
  • Socialization
  • Hunger
  • Sickness
  • Injury
  • Thirst
  • Fatigue
  • Temperature extremes

Fear can come from triggering events such as restraint, transportation, handling, neglect, noise, unfamiliar objects and a variety of other causes. As such, restraint and handling are two of the most significant topics of concern when it comes to lowering cattle stress.

High levels of stress, especially prolonged stress, can have long-term negative impacts on cattle, such as a weakened immune system, reduced reproduction, weight loss, digestive upsets, inflammatory reactions and reduced feed consumption.

Stress can make cattle unhappy and unhealthy, resulting in less productivity and the potential for disease outbreak. Animals instinctively want to maintain homeostasis, which means they may respond to external changes to re-balance the body’s internal system. For example, when experiencing heat stress, cattle may drink more water and seek out shade. Collectively, we call these stress-reducing behaviors thermoregulation.

Thermoregulation has its limits. For one, thermoregulation is easier for animals on hot days than cold ones. A cow can only do so much on its own to reduce stress from external factors. Because stress can have a significant negative impact on a herd, owners should take steps to minimize stress among cattle.

Effects of Stress on Cattle

How does stress affect the overall health of cattle and calves? What are the implications of stressed cattle on growing livestock and the quality of life the cows have? The following are effects of stress on cattle.

Effects of Stress on CattleReduction in Feed Intake

When cows suffer from stress, they may experience a loss of appetite. When cattle are coping with high temperatures in hot weather, for example, they consume less feed. This reduction in feed intake can decrease a cow’s production of fatty acids and cause ruminal acidosis.

Lower Energy Levels

A decrease in the rate of consumption of feed also leads to lower energy levels in cattle. Cows and calves become lethargic and less productive. The fat content in a cow’s milk may also become compromised, as well as their milk production.

Weight Loss

Stress can also lead to weight loss in cattle. In cold weather, the loss of an insulating layer of body fat can make a cow or calf more susceptible to the frigid conditions. The animal may not be able to keep itself sufficiently warm or be productive.

Reduced Conception Rate

When cows feel stressed, the success rate of insemination drops. Producers will have fewer calves and productivity will slow.

Reduced Production of Milk

When stressed, dairy cows may also produce less milk. Heat stress, which typically occurs in summer months, can be a cause of reduced milk production. Because stress causes a loss of appetite, cows have less energy and aren’t able to produce milk at the same rate. This lack of productivity can have a significant impact on a producer’s livelihood, making this a sign of much concern.

Small or Premature Calves

Another effect of stress on cattle is that calves may be born premature or small. Stress among cattle could make growing viable, productive livestock more difficult for producers.

Weakened Immune System

Prolonged stress can also result in a weakened immune system in cattle. Cortisol levels increase due to stress, compromising the animal’s immune system. As a result, stressed cows and calves are more likely to get sick.

Though vaccines are common in the livestock industry to prevent disease, a stressed animal has a less effective response to pathogens than an unstressed one. Often, a stressed animal with a large concentration of cortisol will still not have an effective immune response, even with a vaccine. This animal can still get sick and spread diseases to the rest of the herd.

Calves are particularly susceptible to contracting diseases from other cattle, so ensuring the entire herd is healthy is especially important to maintain healthy calves.

Diseases

Stress-related diseases include coccidiosis, pasteurellosis and Mannheimia haemolytica. The cow’s immune system typically keeps these under control. When an immune system becomes compromised by stress, however, this may result in the animal contracting one of these diseases.

Pasteurellosis is more common in calves, especially those that are being weaned. Weaning can be a stressful time on calves, and this stress can leave these young animals vulnerable to disease. Pasteurellosis is frequently a cause of economic loss. Mannheimia haemolytica causes lung infection and a form of pneumonia in stressed animals.

These diseases may cause the following symptoms:

  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Nasal discharge
  • Coughing
  • Rapid breathing
  • Morbidity

Young animals are also more vulnerable to coccidiosis. This parasitic disease tends to occur when calves move from a pasture to a feedlot. While the animal is unlikely to die, it will likely have a low production rate. Symptoms may include:

  • Dehydration
  • Malaise
  • Emaciation
  • Diarrhea that may include mucus and blood

Cows and calves can face severe consequences when suffering from stress. A stressed cow can become less productive, sick or even die. To prevent disease or loss among your cattle, you should know the signs of stress in cattle.

12 Signs of Stress in Cattle

What are the signs of stress in cows? To keep your livestock healthy, happy and productive, you should be aware of the symptoms of stress in cattle. Knowing what to look for will allow you to deal with an animal’s stress as soon as it manifests and improve the conditions of the animal’s environment.

1. Respiratory Issues

Sick cow symptoms often include respiratory issues. Calves are especially vulnerable to breathing problems, particularly in cold weather or climates. Respiratory issues could result from heat stress, cold stress or sickness. Breathing problems can be one of the most telling signs of stress in calves.

2. Standing While Other Cows Are Lying Down

Is your cow or calf behaving abnormally compared to the rest of the herd? One sign of stress in cattle is standing while the other cows are lying down.

3. Frequent Urination

When stressed, cattle may urinate more frequently than usual. Cattle tend to increase their water intake when stressed, so frequent urination could be a sign of stress to look for.

4. Rapid Heart Rate

Another telling sign of stress in a cow or calf is an increased heart rate. The animal could be suffering from an adrenaline-induced stressor or heat stress.

5. Trembling

Cattle may also tremble when suffering from stress. Shaking could be a fear response to a stressful trigger. Cows will remember an object, situation or environment that caused a fear response in them before, and trembling could be a sign of fear of that object or environment. Trembling could also be a sign of weather stress if the animal is in an ordinary situation where a stressful trigger is absent.

Cattle may tremble when suffering from stress6. Seeking out Shade

Are your cattle clustering together under a shady tree? On a hot, sunny day, this could mean cattle are experiencing heat stress. They want to find a cooler spot away from the sun so they can return their body temperature to the right range for homeostasis.

7. Open-Mouthed Breathing

If your cattle are breathing with open mouths, this may be another sign of stress, particularly heat stress.

8. Slobbering

The increased production of saliva is another indicator of stress. Make sure cows are out of direct sunlight and have access to enough water to keep them hydrated.

9. Lack of Coordination

Dealing with a few clumsy cows? Lack of coordination is a severe sign of heat stress. This condition can lead to collapse and even coma or death. If you notice your cattle beginning to stumble around, take immediate action.

10. Restlessness

Cows can also become restless and agitated when coping with stress. You may be unable to get the animal to lay down, and its productivity levels will drop. Handling and managing the animal may also become more difficult, so do your best to prevent external factors that may cause cattle to become restless or agitated.

11. Splashing Water

On a hot day, a cow splashing water may be a sign of heat stress. Because cattle don’t produce adequate sweat to cool themselves off, they may seek ways to get moisture on their bodies that can then evaporate, allowing them to cool down.

On a hot day, a cow splashing water may be a sign of heat stress12. Huddling Together

In the winter months, you may notice your cattle grouping together. Cattle stand close in groups during cold weather to share body heat and keep warm. If you see cattle trembling or clustering together in the cold for long periods, your animals may be experiencing cold stress. Since thermoregulation during cold stress is more challenging for cattle than thermoregulation during heat stress, owners must note cold stress as soon as possible and take steps to minimize the stress cattle are experiencing.

Knowing the signs of stress in cattle and calves can help owners minimize stress for their livestock.

Handling Stress in Calves

Minimizing the stress in the cattle’s environment is beneficial not only for calves, but for the people who work with them. Producers will benefit from having happy, healthy cows, so how can you handle stress in calves? Are there ways of reducing stress in a calf?

1. Recognizing Signs

One of the best ways owners can manage stress in calves is by knowing what to look for. If you notice any of the above signs of stress in cattle, take action as soon as possible to lower a calf’s stress levels. Minimizing calf stress can ensure your young animals are healthy and have a good quality of life, which will then increase their production.

2. Provide Accessible Shelter

If your calves are often out in the elements, provide a shelter they can access easily during storms, heat or frigid temperatures. Shelter can help calves avoid weather stress. Since severe weather stress can lead to sickness and even death, providing adequate shelter is a way for producers to minimize this stress calves may experience.

Provide accessible shelter if your calves are often out in the elements3. Reducing Calf Stress at Weaning

Producers want to raise quality calves to ensure their future. Weaning is one of the most stressful events for calves. Because severe stress can have dire consequences for cattle, producers should go above and beyond to make sure calves are experiencing minimal stress at weaning.

One step producers can take to reduce calf stress at weaning is implementing an effective vaccination program. Calves should receive a clostridial product, a pasteurellosis vaccine and a quality deworming product at the opportune stages of their growth. For example, at birth or turnout, administer clostridial, followed by a second dose a few weeks before weaning. A deworming product can control parasites, which can help reduce calf stress at weaning, as calves will be able to respond more effectively to vaccinations and will be better able to use nutrients from feed.

Considering a calf’s age in regards to weaning is another crucial step to reduce calf stress. When a calf’s age and the weather are more conducive to good health, this may be the optimal time for weaning. A calf may fare better by being weaned at a younger age, under four months old, or when the calf is at least seven months old, as its immune system has developed more if it received the appropriate vaccines. At this age, weaning begins to occur naturally, so leaning into this natural weaning can be a good way for producers to reduce stress on these young animals.

Also, consider weaning earlier in the year, when temperatures are consistent, to reduce calf stress. Even if the weather is hot, this is still a better time of year to wean a calf than during months when the temperature fluctuates, which can compromise the calf’s immune system.

Stress is an external influence that impacts the homeostasis of an animal’s body. Stress can have several negative effects on calves, some of the most vulnerable and valuable animals a producer has. To help your calves handle stress when it’s begun to affect their stomachs, use CattlActive®. This product neutralizes excess acid in a cow stomach that builds up due to stress. CattlActive® can help encourage water and feed consumption, which then allows for the intestines and rumen to begin healing.

To help calves manage or alleviate the effects of stress, try CattlActive®.

Related Posts

Sources

  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7240033
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18218157
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18218156

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