Senior Horses

Top 10 Tips for Improving Your Horse’s Nutrition

By Brood Mares, Foals, Horses, Performance/Competition Horses, Senior Horses 2 Comments

Nutrition is the cornerstone of any healthy, thriving horse. The best feed for your horse optimizes its natural digestive system to get the most nutrients to match its current needs. As horses mature they have changing nutritional requirements throughout their lives. What impacts a horse’s dietary requirements? The amount of work, age, weight, gender, stress level and pregnancy status all affect the caloric requirements for horses.

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Understanding the Digestive System of Horses

The digestive system of a horse includes the foregut and hindgut. The foregut contains enzymes to break down starches, proteins and fats. Both the small intestine and stomach are in this portion of the digestive tract. The hindgut is where microbes break up fiber from the roughage the animal consumes. Included in the hindgut are the remaining organs used for digestion — cecum, large and small colons and the rectum.

How Long Does It Take for a Horse to Digest Food?

These animals require 45 to 72 hours for feed to pass entirely through their digestive system. The types of horse feed and the animal’s health may affect the time it takes for digestion.

What Is a Typical Diet for an Adult Horse?

A horse’s usual diet depends on five types of nutrients, including ample amounts of water, starches from grains, fiber from hay, vitamins and minerals. The bulk of the animal’s diet comes from carbohydrates, with fats and proteins also contributing energy. Fats provide fuel, but limit them to no more than 10% of the intake. Proteins help build muscle, hair, skin and hooves.

Tips for Improving Horse Nutrition

Feeding your animal well requires a balance of nutrients, energy and water. Here are some helpful tips for feeding horses that will boost nutrition and health.

1. Provide Ample Clean, Fresh Water

Water is vital to the well-being of all creatures. ON average a horse can drink 10 gallons daily, but this amount can double in hot weather or when the animal exerts itself. Always provide plenty of clean water, even in cold weather. Keep in mind that you may need a heater to prevent water from freezing in the winter.

2. Keep Grains at a Minimum

The arrangement of the digestive system illustrates how much horses need balance in their feed. Too much grain promotes gas in the hindgut because the starches in the grains break down in the foregut. Once they pass through the hindgut, the microbes there take in the remainder of the carbohydrates and produce gas as a byproduct. Excessive levels of gas can lead to discomfort and even colic. To avoid this situation, feed your horse a balance of grains and fibrous hay to promote motility and prevent gas in the hindgut.

3. Boost Forage Intake

Fiber from grass or hay should equal between 1 and 2.5% of a horse’s weight. This high amount of fiber helps the animal’s digestive system operate at its best. For a 1,000-pound horse, this translates to approximately 20 pounds of hay daily, with added grains based on the amount of exertion the animal experiences, in addition to body condition. Animals that do not work may consume up to 25 pounds of hay each day with no supplemental grains (as always, consult with your veterinarian for advice on adjusting your horse’s intake). There is a relatively straightforward formula for how to estimate a horse’s body weight without a scale, based on heart girth and body length measurements.

4. Match Types of Feed to Exercise

Exercise will dictate the additional amount of grain or concentrated feed your horse needs. If your horse does not work, it may not require the additional calories provided by grain. For light work, up to two hours a day, your horse may benefit from an extra one to one and a half pounds of grain per hour of effort. For two to four hours of work, some experts recommend allotting up to two pounds of supplemental grain or concentrate per hour of work. Heavy working horses that do more than four hours of work may require significantly higher levels of concentrated feed or grain to help achieve the animal’s caloric needs.

5. Know What the Body Condition Score Is for Your Horse

While your horse’s weight is essential for knowing how much to feed it, the body condition score is also critical. What is the body condition score, and why is it important? This measurement looks at the amount of fat under the skin at specific locations on the animal’s body. You can learn to measure your horse’s body condition score yourself through classes that walk you through the process. The average ideal body condition score is five, but the best value for your horse will depend on its breed and what it does. Talk to your vet if you need advice about your animal’s body condition.

6. Don’t Make Abrupt Changes

Horses digest food over two to three days, which means changes in the feed may not cause problems immediately. If you must change your animal’s feed, do so slowly to avoid digestive troubles and upset.

Inside the animal’s hindgut are bacteria that help it digest the feed it usually consumes. Specific bacteria help break down certain things. Suddenly changing feed means the gut bacteria will not be able to properly digest the animal’s new diet and the microbial balance will be thrown off.

Change the feed by no more than 25% every other day to avoid digestive problems. Doing so gives your horse a week for its digestive system to acclimate to the new diet.

7. Account for Life Changes

Not all horses eat the same amount or mixture. Be ready to make changes throughout the animal’s life to mirror its changing nutritional needs. For example, there are different dietary recommendations for horses in the first years of their lives than for seniors. Pregnant and lactating mares also need specific diets to meet their needs.

Exercise also changes the amount of energy your horse needs. Make changes to allow for extra nutrition when your animal does more exercise. When it works less, it will need less feed. Adjusting feed levels to match the work levels keeps your animal at a healthy weight while giving it the energy it needs for its work.

8. Help the Horse Through Stressful Times

Every horse experiences stress at times during its life. Sudden changes in exercise, travel, too much time in the stall, pregnancy and other life events can result in stress. Horses under stress can develop ulcers or have other digestive problems. During such times, you can supplement your horse’s feed to reduce the chances of developing ulcers and help the animal use nutrition from its diet more efficiently. Such dietary amendments can help your horse wade through stressful times without severe consequences.

9. Supplement With Vitamins

When feeding hay to horses, you likely won’t know the exact nutrient makeup of the feed. Wet and older hay may have fewer vitamins than fresh hay. To keep your animal from developing vitamin deficiencies, supplement its diet by adding vitamins and minerals to its feed. Talk to your equine vet about specific vitamin supplements to use to ensure your animal gets the nutrients it needs based on its dietary requirements and the available vitamins in the area’s pastures.

10. Watch out for Mineral Ratios

Like vitamins, minerals make up a minute amount of the animal’s diet, but they provide critical roles in the functioning of the animal’s internal systems. Your horse will naturally regulate the amount of salt it takes in based on what it needs. However, you’ll need to ensure your animal gets calcium and phosphorus in the right proportions. At the very least, provide your animal with an even one-to-one ratio of calcium to phosphorus. A better balance, though, is two-to-one calcium to phosphorus to ensure your horse makes the most of these valuable minerals. Having too much calcium in the diet reduces the amount of phosphorus your horse can use.

Feed Considerations for Pregnant Mares

Pregnant mares have unique nutritional needs in addition to dietary requirements to support their growing fetus. Nutritional recommendations for mares carrying fetuses include both energy for the mother and enough to support an expected growth curve of the fetus.

1. When to Change a Pregnant Mare’s Diet

Major changes in the mare’s diet will likely not occur until the fifth month. How the diet changes depends on the time of year and the mare’s condition.

2. How Does a Pregnant Mare’s Diet Change?

The amount you feed your mare during its pregnancy will change during each trimester. While during the first two trimesters, your broodmare will need enough food to support her body weight, by the third, she will need 30% more feed than she had before carrying her fetus.

Mares will require even more feed if the third trimester falls during colder months when she does not have access to pasture and needs fuel to stay warm while the fetus rapidly reaches its peak size. A body condition score of six for broodmares before winter allows them enough body fat to stay warm through the winter and draw energy from if needed.

For specific needs based on your mare’s weight and expected weight gain at a time during its pregnancy, the National Academies offers an interactive means of calculating intake.

How Does a Horse’s Age Impact Their Nutritional Requirements?

Among the things that impact a horse’s diet is age. Young, growing weanlings and yearlings have higher and different nutrient needs than mature animals. Older animals will have dietary requirements that help support any age-related health conditions they developed.


Foals, especially, need an appropriate balance of calcium to phosphorus to ensure adequate bone and teeth development. Ratios may range from three-to-one to one-to-one. Talk to your vet about their recommendations for your young foal’s mineral needs.

Amino acids are also crucial to growing foals. These substances build protein in the body. Overall, these young animals need 14% to 16% of their diet from protein, which is more than adults. The only specific amino acid intake requirements for yearlings and weanlings is lysine. The former group needs 2.1 g/Mcal/day, while the latter group needs slightly less at 1.9 g/Mcal/day.

Pay attention to the yearling’s and weanling’s feed during the first two years. The animal will grow rapidly, reaching 86% of its adult weight by age 2. During the first year, feed yearlings an even 50-50 mixture of concentrate and hay. After age 2, switch your horse to an adult diet of hay and supplemental concentrate or grain, based on activity level.


For adult horses, allow ready access to forage and up to 25 pounds of hay daily with added grain or concentrate as a supplement. Changes in adult diets depend on whether the animal works more or is in the breeding season.


Senior horses may be hard keepers due to illnesses or difficulty chewing due to poor dental health. You will need to focus carefully on feeding them to prevent weight loss that could compromise their health.

Older horses engage in less activity, but due to changes in digestion ability, they require higher protein levels, 12% to 14%, to ensure adequate absorption. Dental health and existing health problems will affect how much your senior horse eats. Fats are also necessary to help hard keepers maintain body condition. If your horse has any conditions that require special nutritional needs, talk to your vet about a customized diet.

Offer multiple small meals throughout the day to your older horse. A rule of thumb is to limit feed to five pounds at each meal, and isolate older animals, so younger ones do not chase them off. Select easily digestible and chewed feed designed for older animals, and consider supplementing it with an aid that promotes proper pH of digestive enzymes.

Mares vs. Stallions

Mares and stallions will have different nutritional needs during the breeding season. Females will require feeding based on the needs of broodmares while carrying a fetus. Stallions will also need extra energy, but not as much as you might think.

For feeding a stallion, make sure to maintain the animal’s condition, regardless of the season. During non-breeding times, the stallion can meet his energy requirements by eating forage and hay. The animal will need more energy during the breeding season, as well as possible mineral and vitamin supplementation to ensure fertility.

In the breeding season, a stallion increases his energy requirements by 20%, but only eats 10% more feed. To ensure the animal has enough to keep up his energy requirements, supplement his feed with concentrates. Give the horse vitamins A and E, because the stallion will need 50% more of these vitamins when breeding. Consider adding selenium and manganese to the animal’s diet if he is deficient in these, which could drop fertility.

Maintaining your breeding horses during the season can ensure success and a future of foals.

Supplement Your Horse’s Feed With Zesterra®

When you want to care for your animal’s health and nutrition, supplement its diet with a product that encourages water intake, raises pH and promotes the proliferation of healthy bacteria in the hindgut. To support the nutrient requirements for your horses at all stages of life, consider supplementation with Zesterra®.

Zesterra® helps your animal through stressful times. It also promotes natural healing of conditions such as ulcers. With an all-natural blend of ingredients, this product gives your horse’s digestive system the boost it needs to extract as many nutrients from food as possible, making it an ideal supplement for older animals or those that experience stress. To get answers to any questions you have about our products, including Zesterra®, contact us online.

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  • https://extension.psu.edu/feeding-horses
  • https://proearthanimalhealth.com/product/zesterra/
  • https://proearthanimalhealth.com/general-inquiries/
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  • https://proearthanimalhealth.com/causes-and-effects-of-stress-in-horses/
  • https://proearthanimalhealth.com/zesterra/hard-keepers/
  • https://articles.extension.org/pages/21927/top-ten-nutrition-tips-for-your-horse
  • https://www.uaex.edu/farm-ranch/animals-forages/horses/estimating_weight.pdf
  • https://articles.extension.org/pages/11488/horsequest-learning-lesson:how-to-body-condition-score-horses
  • https://thehorse.com/164430/when-to-change-a-pregnant-mares-diet/
  • https://nrc88.nas.edu/nrh/
  • https://ag.tennessee.edu/AnimalScience/UTHorse/EQuineReports/2012-April.pdf
  • https://www.merckvetmanual.com/management-and-nutrition/nutrition-horses/nutritional-requirements-of-horses
  • https://thehorse.com/136769/feeding-young-horses-graduating-to-a-grown-up-diet/
  • https://ker.com/equinews/nutrition-stallion/
  • https://ag.tennessee.edu/AnimalScience/UTHorse/EQuineReports/2012-April.pdf

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A Matter of Color – Why does Zesterra darken with age?

By Brood Mares, Foals, Horses, Performance/Competition Horses, Senior Horses No Comments

At least a few times a week we get this inquiry — why did my Zesterra® darken since I bought it? This is a perfectly valid question — after all, in most cases, when the color of food or even things like toiletries shifts, it can be a sign of spoilage.

So, does a deeper shade of amber in Zesterra® herald its imminent demise? Luckily, no.

The reason behind that color change comes down to plain chemistry. Because we don’t use preservatives, the all-natural apple flavoring starts to go through a process known as oxidation. Just like when you cut open an apple and it immediately starts to take on a brown hue, so too does the apple flavor in Zesterra®.

But how? Apples contain an enzyme called polyphenol oxidase (also known as PPO), which, when released by damage to the tissue and consequent oxygen exposure, oxidize the polyphenols.

The other part to these inquiries usually involves shelf life. Zesterra has a 5-year shelf life and is incredibly stable — most of us keep a bottle in our trucks or trailers, our tack rooms and in our houses. If it freezes overnight because you forgot it out on the porch, that shouldn’t be a problem. Nor should leaving it in the hot truck for a few days.

Obviously, as with anything, we suggest you exercise common sense. If your Zesterra smells “off” or has become particularly thick or gloppy, it may be time to retire it. These problems are usually associated with contamination so it really shouldn’t be used anyway.

While this is just a quick overview, as always, please don’t ever hesitate to contact us with questions. We pride ourselves on being able to offer you solid answers based on facts and our own personal experiences with our products.

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Five Ways to Prepare Your Horse for Summer

By Brood Mares, Foals, Horses, Performance/Competition Horses, Senior Horses No Comments

Summer is THE season of the horse — longer days, warmer weather and a couple of long holiday weekends. What’s not to love? It’s important to remember, despite the seemingly more temperate weather, your horse will need just as much (if not more) care and attention than they receive during the winter months. Here are five tips for keeping your horse in top shape throughout the summer months.

5 Ways To Prepare Your Horse For SummerClean, plentiful water 24/7

Your horse depends on water for not only keeping their muscles and tissues properly hydrated but also to support proper gut function. A horse that isn’t receiving enough water during the summer months is just as at risk for colic as during the winter months. Be sure that your horse has access to clean water 24 hours a day. This includes times at shows, events, on the road or on the trail.

If your horse refuses water from outside sources, such as at events, be sure to bring an adequate amount of water from their regular source to ensure that they will more readily drink. If this isn’t possible, consider adding a flavor enhancing supplement that will encourage water consumption.

Keep Up-to-Date

Summer is rife with all kinds of pests and diseases making the rounds. Intestinal parasites and other pests can take their toll on your horse quickly. Make sure you keep up with vaccinations to help protect your horse against diseases such as West Nile virus. Your veterinarian can advise you on the appropriate vaccines to administer for your region and those that would be necessary for any areas you may be traveling to.

Additionally, regular worming is essential in areas where intestinal parasites linger in the soil. If you’re unsure whether or not you need to be worming your horse on a regular rotation, consider having your veterinarian run a fecal test to look for parasites and their eggs.

Muck Out Regularly and Use Fly Protection

For obvious reasons such as hoof health, it is best not to let your horses stand around in manure. Thrush and other hoof problems such as abscesses can develop due to the prolonged exposure of the hoof to feces and wet ground. During the summer this is doubly true, as the heat and moisture can increase the growth of bacteria and fungi.

During the summer it is doubly important to clean your horse’s stall or pen regularly, as flies love to multiply at an alarming rate in manure. Nonetheless, even the cleanest of horse facilities will see an increase in fly populations during the warm months. Horses can insure themselves kicking, stomping or biting at flies. They can also experience allergic reactions to the bites or rub themselves raw trying to relieve the itching and discomfort.

In addition to good cleaning and sanitation practices, using fly sprays and protective wear such as fly masks, fly boots and fly sheets can go a long way towards keeping your horses protected. Other options such as fly traps and strips can also help reduce the number of pests. Many people swear by the parasitic fly wasps. Whatever your fly prevention regimen, be sure it is keeping your horse adequately protected.

Provide Shade

It’s not uncommon to see horses standing in pens without shelter from the sun and other elements. This can be downright cruel in areas where the temperatures climb into the 80’s, 90’s and even 100’s. Horses, just like people, can suffer from heat stroke or other heat-related problems. If your horse is stabled but turned out to pasture without shelter, make sure it’s during the cooler parts of the day.

Relentless sunshine isn’t the only issue during the summer months. In many areas, hail or aggressive rain can also be a problem. If you’ve ever seen a car dented up by hail, you can only imagine how badly that could hurt a horse if it doesn’t have any way to get out of the weather. The same goes for driving downpours — the speed and velocity at which the rain is traveling can be painful and even injure a horse that is left out in it.

If your horse doesn’t have shelter, consider a lean-to. Lean-tos are an inexpensive way to provide shade and shelter from the elements.

Work Wisely

Just like people, many horses come out of winter a little out-of-shape. It’s important to not push your horse too hard right away. Work up to helping them build their stamina. Just like you wouldn’t run a marathon after a long winter spent indoors, nor should you expect your horse to be able to handle a full workload right away. If they have been on pasture and seem thin, make sure they’re receiving adequate food to regain any weight lost. Not sure if they’re not in optimal condition? Check out the Body Condition Scoring presentation here.

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How to Minimize Travel-Related Ulcers in Horses

By Brood Mares, Foals, Horses, Performance/Competition Horses, Senior Horses No Comments

If you’re planning a big getaway with your horses this coming holiday weekend, remember that traveling can be stressful for them. Even though you’re itching to get out and go, they may need a little help from you to be in top form for your weekend’s adventures. Ulcers can be present, even when you don’t know they’re there.

Understanding Ulcers

A horse’s gut is a complex system of checks and balances. They are constantly secreting gastric acid to help break down food, however, a low pH (higher acidity) can take its toll on the lining of your horse’s stomach if it remains too low for too long.

When horses become stressed or move around excessively, their stomachs contract, forcing the stomach acid up into the upper sections. You can think of it kind of like having a balloon half-full of water. When you squeeze the lower portion the liquid travels into the upper areas of the balloon, including the neck. A horse’s stomach works somewhat the same way. When you compound this with no forage or other buffers within this part of the gut, the pH continues to drop, creating an increasingly acidic environment. This acid then begins to erode the mucosal lining of the gut and can even creep up into the esophagus. The discomfort created by these ulcers can manifest in many different ways, but some of the more common signs can include diarrhea, a lack of appetite, lethargy or acting antsy or “hot”, being “cinchy” and unwilling to have something around their girths, hunching of the back, kicking at the belly with their hind legs, tail swishing, and neck stretching.  The list goes on, but these are several that are indicative of possible ulcers.

How Ulcers Affect Hauling

Horses are creatures of habit (aren’t we all?) and become distressed when taken away from familiar surroundings. Many horses learn to cope well with these changes and will outwardly appear as though they’re fine or only mildly unsettled, but inside a storm can be brewing. Hauling can bring on internal stress responses in the calmest of horses.

As mentioned above, when a horse becomes active, either through stress or activity, their stomachs “shrink”, pushing acid upward. This rapidly lowers the pH. If they’ve had ulcers developing for some time — even mild ones — this acid further erodes those areas and causes pain and irritation. Many people experience the “trailering monster” phenomenon with their horses — full-on tantrums to avoid having to get into the trailer. This may not be so much behavioral as a physiological response to the acid washing over the linings of their stomachs.

How to Help Support Your Horse

None of this is to say that you shouldn’t be hauling your horse. There are, however, some things you can do to help minimize the impact it has on their overall well-being.

  • Always feed and allow them to eat before you head out. An empty stomach is more prone to acid damage, as there’s nothing in it to mix with and buffer the acids. If possible, avoid concentrated feeds such as grains, as this can lower the pH and create a more acidic gastric environment.
  • Provide adequate hay while traveling — even shorter distances. Horses are designed to be foraging and grazing all day long; as such, having access to feed will allow them to self-regulate their gut pH.
  • Administer a specialized buffering supplement prior to loading. This will keep the pH more neutral and help avoid the irritation that can cause your horse to “act up.”
  • Always make sure your horse receives adequate water stops while on the road and if needed, a chance to get off the trailer and walk around.
  • If you have a particularly sensitive horse, consider giving them another dose of buffering supplement upon arrival (as long as it’s indicated on the label that you can do so). The same goes for when you’re getting ready to leave and head back — they don’t know they’re going home. They just know they’re having to get in the trailer again.

With just a few small changes you can make traveling more comfortable for you AND your horse!



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Understanding EHV-1

By Horses, Senior Horses No Comments

EHV-1 is one of the most contagious of infectious equine diseases. Knowing how it spreads and what to watch for are two of the critical elements in helping prevent an outbreak among your herd.

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Overview of EHV

The science of EHV, equine herpesvirus, strains is reasonably complex. These strains consist of “enveloped double-stranded DNA viruses.” There are five equine herpesvirus strains, with EHV-1 and EHV-4 being the most damaging. Almost all horses around the world have some form of this infection. The majority of infected horses do not develop severe symptoms, but some go on to suffer from the most severe form, EHV-1.

What Is EHV-1?

All forms of EHV are common in the Americas and abroad. The nature of this disease allows it to spread quite readily, making it possible for large EHV-1 outbreaks to occur with exposure originating from only one carrier. The incubation time for EHV-1 can last anywhere from two to 10 days, meaning a horse can have the disease and not show symptoms for more than a week.

Of the most common forms of equine herpesvirus, EHV-1 has the potential for causing the most severe symptoms, including abortions, death of newborn foals, neurological disorders and respiratory problems.

2. How Is EHV-1 Different From EHV-4?

People still sometimes call EHV-1 the “equine abortion virus,” as it can cause spontaneous abortion of in-utero foals. EHV-4, on the other hand, tends to show up in foals and yearlings as a respiratory illness often referred to as “equine rhinopneumonitis virus.” It’s crucial to note that EHV-1 can present with respiratory signs and EHV-4 can also cause abortion. Both of these strains have also been known to cause neurological disease. Because EHV-1 is more prominent and tends to be more devastating, it will be the focus of this article.

3. How Common Is EHV-1 in Horses?

Though it can become severe, EHV-1 infects most horses. The majority of horses have exposure to this disease in their youth and never develop symptoms. Unfortunately, you cannot know if your horse will develop the more severe neurological signs of this condition. Looking out for early symptoms of this disease will help you get your horse the treatment it needs.

4. What Causes Equine Herpesvirus?

The origins of EHV in horses start in foals. These young horses typically get exposed to the virus from their mothers. At age 2, almost all horses have a latent form of the virus.

Symptoms do not occur until times of stress reactivate the virus in the body. These stressful incidents include weaning, long transport and excessive or strenuous exercise. If the neurological form of the disease manifests, the horse may show some of the more severe symptoms of EHV-1.

What Are the Symptoms of EHV-1?

EHV-1 can cause respiratory, reproductive and neurological disease in adult horsesyearlings and foals. Some symptoms are easier to detect than others, making it difficult to diagnose in some cases. After the virus reactivates in the body, symptoms could appear as soon as 24 hours or within four to six days.

1. What Are Respiratory Symptoms of EHV?

Horses suffering from respiratory EHV-1 will display several different symptoms. They can be mild to severe. Fever tends to precede any neurological symptoms. The temperature has an unusual pattern, spiking at onset during the first day or two, dropping, then rising again at day five or six of infection. Because these respiratory and neurological signs can also indicate other illnesses, horses with these symptoms need a vet to test them via blood and nasal swabs to check for EHV-1.

Signs and symptoms of respiratory EHV-1 include:

  • Coughing
  • Lack of appetite
  • Fever between 102 and 107 degrees Fahrenheit that persists for anywhere from one day to one week
  • Depression
  • Nasal discharge

If these respiratory signs or a fever affect a horse with exposure to another animal with equine herpesvirus myeloencephalopathy, EHM, which is another name for the neurological effects of EHV, take the horse to the vet for diagnosis.

2. What Are the Signs of EHV-1 Showing Neurological Effects?

In many horses that develop EHM, the respiratory symptoms remain mild or absent, with a rectal fever of over 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit as the only sign of problems developing. Neurological symptoms appear quickly and with little warning aside from the fever. The intensity of neurological symptoms reaches its worst within the first 24 to 48 hours after their onset.

Horses with the neurological form of EHV-1 will display a handful of symptoms that can include:

  • Hindlimb weakness or paralysis
  • Lack of coordination
  • Inability to control the bladder or tail
  • Numbness throughout the skin of the tail and hindlimb area
  • Inability to rise from a recumbent position

3. Does EHV-1 Cause Abortion in Horses?

Unfortunately, there are no apparent signs that a mare is going to abort a pregnancy due to the EHV-1 virus. It can happen in conjunction with respiratory or neurological EHV-1, or without any outward signs that something is amiss.

How Is EHV-1 Diagnosed?

If a veterinarian suspects EHV-1, depending on the state they are practicing in, they may or may not be required to report their suspicion of infection to the state’s veterinary governing body. Regardless of reporting requirements, a veterinarian should test for the virus to aid in treatment and help prevent a widespread outbreak.

Testing for EHV-1

Subjective and objective observation and examination of a horse displaying symptoms will allow a veterinarian to determine a suspected EHV-1 diagnosis. A doctor can test for EHV-1 via a nose/throat swab from the sick horse and any horses that may share common areas or facilities with it. Other means of testing can include tissue samples from an aborted fetus or blood tests from the diseased horse. These may also include paired blood samples that will allow for the detection of antibody levels.

It is essential to note that asymptomatic horses can still be carriers and shed the virus. If a vet suspects a symptomatic horse has EHV-1, they may recommend testing all horses that may have come into contact with that horse, or shared common areas. Horses that have recovered from EHV-1 can still be carriers; the virus can be latent for years but re-triggered when the horse is stressed or otherwise immunocompromised.

What Treatment Options Are Available for EHV-1?

Because EHV-1 is a virus, supportive care is essential. Antibiotics will not be effective against the virus; most horses do not experience secondary infections as a result of EHV-1, which would negate the need for antibiotic therapy altogether.

Horses that are experiencing symptoms of EHV-1 may benefit from the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to lessen inflammation and pain while helping reduce fever. Nutritional support may also help for horses displaying loss of appetite. According to the American Association of Equine Practitioners, both active and inactive EHV-1 vaccines exist. However, no current vaccines prevent the neurologic form of the illness.

In the case of horses with neurological symptoms, it is essential to try and keep them from lying down for prolonged periods. If a lack of coordination/balance is an issue, keeping them in a well-padded space, such as a stall with thick shavings, can help prevent injury.

Recovery for uncomplicated cases may take place in as little as a few weeks, whereas more complicated or compromised horses have prolonged recovery time and a higher rate of mortality. Horses that are suffering from the neurological form and are unable to stand have a much poorer prognosis than those that can stand and move around.

What Happens When EHV-1 Goes Untreated?

Left unchecked, EHV-1 can quickly spread among horses in a stable, especially if you do not isolate the sick horse as soon as possible. Shared feed, tack, bodily fluids and even the air can carry this virus. Isolation can keep your other horses from getting it.

Without supportive treatment that includes fluids, anti-inflammatories and slings, horses may have a worse prognosis than those who do receive care. This disease can be fatal in up to 50% of the horses that contract the neurological form of EHV-1, which is why prompt diagnosis and care are so vital to the horse’s comfort and survival.

How Is EHV-1 Transmitted?

The highly contagious nature of EHV-1 makes it difficult to control in crowded or regularly frequented facilities. The most common means of transmission from one horse to another include:

  • Indirect contact with the infected horse(s) through communal buckets, troughs or waterers is a significant source of infection. Small bodies of water such as puddles or ponds could also harbor EHV-1 easily. Nasal discharges on handlers’ clothing or through tack or turn-out sheets and blankets can also pose a risk to uninfected horses.
  • Direct contact between infected and uninfected horses poses the highest risk. It can occur through nose-to-nose contact or through nasal secretions introduced to the mucosal tissues of an uninfected horse via other direct contacts.
  • Aerosolized viruses pose a threat when an infected horse sneezes or snorts within close proximity to an uninfected horse.
  • The possibility of transmission through aborted fetuses, placental material or associated fluids is also a risk. If a fetus gets aborted, it is advisable to move pen mates to another enclosure and properly clean the area, removing all expelled tissues and fluids and using approved solutions to kill the virus.

How to Prevent EHV-1 in Horses

There is no absolute way to completely prevent exposure or infection from EHV-1. There are, however, methods that can significantly reduce the possibility of horses getting exposed to or contracting the disease from infected animals.

  • Vaccinating healthy horses can reduce disease risk. While vaccinations are never an absolute means for preventing any disease, they can reduce the possibility of a horse contracting EHV-1, or at least lessen symptoms and virus shedding if infected, when used properly.
  • Quarantine of new horses for three to four weeks is essential in helping prevent infection from not only horses carrying EHV-1, but other contagious diseases, as well.
  • Keep compromised or pregnant mares well away from new arrivals or any horse suspected of possible exposure.
  • Reduce stress when possible — latent viruses can become active if the immune system becomes taxed due to stress or other illnesses or injuries.
  • All facilities with a horse testing positive for EHV-1 should remain in quarantine for at least three weeks. This directive includes all horses — not just symptomatic animals.
  • Practice good husbandry. Washing hands thoroughly after each horse, using an approved antimicrobial footbath and changing out of contaminated clothing before working with healthy animals is essential.
  • Remove bedding and uneaten hay; as a proactive measure, burn this material to avoid accidental exposure of healthy horses.
  • Clean all stalls, fences, alleys and other areas the infected horse(s) have come in contact with using a phenol-based disinfectant. Follow labeling directions to ensure maximum efficacy.

EHV-1 is highly infectious, but with careful handling practices, you can avoid it.

EHV-1 Prevention Tips Among Healthy Animals

Preventing EHV-1 requires taking some precautions, especially when your horses have exposure to other potential carriers. But don’t think because your horses have never been around symptomatic animals that they are safe. Even if you have healthy horses, remember almost all animals can harbor the virus in their bodies, waiting for activation. Taking care to keep your healthy horses in that state can prevent the development of EHM.

Here are some things you can do to maintain the health of your asymptomatic horses:

  • Reduce contact between horses and between people and horses.
  • Provide separate water and feed for each horse. Do not use communal troughs.
  • Do not share equipment between horses without first cleaning and disinfecting it.
  • Vaccinate healthy animals to prevent other forms of equine herpesvirus, though it won’t stop EHM.

Frequently Asked Questions About EHV-1

You may have some questions still about EHM/EHV-1. Here are some of the most commonly asked questions with their answers about this condition. Always discuss specific questions about treating EHV-1 in horses with your veterinarian.

1. What Should I Do If My Horse Has EHV-1?

If your horse has EHM or EHV-1, your vet may report the illness to the state. Many states require vets to inform them about horses they treat with this disease. You should receive full support from both your regular vet and the state vet.

The first step in what to do if your horse has EHV-1 is to isolate the infected horse and any equipment and feed used for it. Keep visitors to only those approved to care for the horse to prevent cross-contamination with your other animals.

Be prepared for a long quarantine. These isolation periods may last up to 28 days after the fever subsides. During this time, the vet may provide supportive care or antivirals, depending on the animal. Vaccines will not prevent EHM in other horses in the herd. Isolation will work best to keep your other animals from getting sick.

2. Is EHV-1 Fatal for Horses?

In those cases where horses have the neurological complications of EHV-1, fatality rates range from 30% to 50%. If the sick horse remains standing throughout the majority of the illness, it has a better chance of full recovery than those that lie down. Recovery can take up to a year in some cases, but some horses get better in a few days. Such a variance in recovery times further alludes to the unpredictable nature of this ailment.

3. Can I Travel With My Horse?

Discuss travel requirements or restrictions for horses in your area with the state veterinarian office. Outbreaks may limit travel. If your horse is actively sick, keep it at the farm and isolated from other animals. If your horse does not have symptoms, follow general protocols for preventing infection.

4. How Long Does the Virus Survive Outside the Body?

Because EHV-1 can spread through contact with surfaces harboring the virus, you must know how long the germ stays viable on surfaces. Surfaces can keep the virus alive up to seven days in normal conditions and up to a month in ideal settings. Luckily, most disinfectants readily kill this virus. Wash off all surfaces with soap and water first before treating with disinfectant. Doing so will increase the effectiveness of the disinfectants, helping keep your other horses healthy.

Reduce Stress in Your Horses and Keep Them Healthy

Because stress can reactivate equine herpesvirus in the body, reducing the stress your horses encounter can help them stay healthy and avoid this illness. Zesterra® gives your horse a natural means of support during stressful times. By improving the pH of the digestive system, horses can better use the nutrients in their feed, helping them get the fuel needed to make it through stressful periods.

Feel free to contact us with any questions or to learn more about our all-natural products to support your horse’s health.

For information on current outbreaks of infectious equine diseases including EHV-1, check out http://www.equinediseasecc.org/outbreaks.aspx . This comprehensive listing shares all outbreaks and status, in addition to the origin of disease, if known.  

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  • https://proearthanimalhealth.com/trimesters-1-3/
  • https://proearthanimalhealth.com/zesterra/performance-horses/
  • https://proearthanimalhealth.com/zesterra/mares-foals/
  • http://www.equinediseasecc.org/outbreaks.aspx
  • https://aaep.org/horsehealth/faq-equine-herpesvirus-ehv
  • https://aaep.org/guidelines/vaccination-guidelines/risk-based-vaccination-guidelines/equine-herpesvirus-rhinopneumonitis
  • https://thehorse.com/119195/neurologic-ehv-1-the-top-five-things-you-need-to-know/
  • https://www.aphis.usda.gov/vs/nahss/equine/ehv/equine_herpesvirus_brochure_2009.pdf
  • https://ceh.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/health-topics/equine-herpes-virus-1-ehv-1-equine-herpesvirus-myeloencephalopathy-ehm
  • https://proearthanimalhealth.com/product/zesterra/
  • https://proearthanimalhealth.com/contact-us/
  • https://news.vet.tufts.edu/2016/03/ehv-1-prevention/


Updated: 08/19/2019 3:21pm

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