Equine Preventative Health: A Vet Tech’s Guide

Published on July 11, 2019 by arothstein

Whether you’re a lifelong horse person or are considering adopting one or more horses, the  ASPCA has some excellent tips about keeping your horse happy and healthy. Here’s what you should know about equine preventative health.

The Best Feed for Horses

Some form of roughage, either chaff, pasture, or hay, are excellent types of feed for any equine to keep them in the best physical condition. Horse grain provides horses with extra energy and all the nutrients they need to stay healthy. Horses that have increased energy requirements include:

The working horse group may consist of racehorses, working ranch horses, pack animals, and endurance horses.

How Much Grain Do Horses Require?

The daily food requirements of a horse are referred to as the feed ration and are measured in the number of pounds of food a horse consumes each day. The amount of feed a horse consumes daily is equivalent to approximately three percent of their body weight. An example of this rule is that a 1,000-pound horse will have a feed ration of 30 pounds.

Horse Feed Rations and Calculations

The most substantial portion of the horse’s feed ration is in roughage like hay, and grain feed. The most effective way to determine how much feed your horse will require in one day is to measure the horse’s height and weight. Tack supply and grain feed stores sell equine weight tape measures.

Multiply your horse’s weight by three percent or .03. A general rule is that less than half of what your horse eats each day should be some form of grain for horses. Most horses weighing an average of 1,000 pounds can do well on between one and eight pounds of grain each day. However, this depends on how hard working your horse is.

Diet Needs and Variety

One thing every horse owner should keep in mind is that each horse has individual needs like humans and your horse’s grain ration should be adjusted according to their needs.

How an Equine Digestive System Works

The digestive system of equines is designed for it to consume large amounts of grass. A horse’s diet should be mainly high-quality hay and grass, which contains a lot of water and fiber. The hay that you feed your horse shouldn’t contain any mold or dust.

Your horse should always have access to clean water which isn’t frozen, even if the horse doesn’t drink a lot of water. Make sure the water you make available to your equine is always fresh, not stagnant, and without any mold.

Grain-Free Equine Diets

Not every horse needs to consume grain. However, the grain is an integral part of the diet of working horses. Many horses require grain in their diet, however it’s vital not to overfeed them. An overdose of grain in a horse can cause serious medical problems like epiphysitis in younger horses, which is a problem with the bones. Laminitis and colic in horses are two significant problems to avoid.

If you aren’t sure how much grain to feed your horse, begin by offering small amounts of approximately one-half pound and gradually increase the amount you feed very slowly. If a horse hasn’t been fed grain on a regular basis, it can develop equine laminitis or colic which could be life-threatening.

When you have determined an adequate portion of grain for your horse, be very consistent in the amount of grain you feed each day. Horses are a species that don’t respond well to abrupt changes in their diet.

Not All Grains Are Created Equal

An important rule to remember when feeding grain to your equine is that not all grains weigh the same. If you’re going to feed rolled oats to your horse one month, then corn the following month, make sure to take accurate measurements.

You should never rely on the size of a scoop to determine the amount of grain to feed any equine. No horse should, under any circumstances, be fed more than 50 percent grain for its daily feed ration. You should never give your horse more than five pounds of grain in one feeding.

Equine Dietary Risks

A horse with an empty stomach has a higher risk of developing health issues like ulcers. Your horse should be able to eat hay or graze when they feel like eating. Although a general rule is that most horses eat three percent of their body weight, some equines will consume as little as two percent or as much as four percent.

Grains are very high in carbohydrates. Very active horses don’t usually require all the extra calories that are found in grains. An excess of carbohydrates in adult horses can lead to disorders of the muscles. Foals that are fed a lot of carbs to give them extra energy can develop medical problems with their joints and bones.

Shelter and Equine Preventative Health

Equine preventative health also means choosing the proper shelter. When you’re selecting the best shelter for your horses, simplicity is the best way to go. Although you want to provide your horse with plenty of protection, they need plenty of room to move about.

Horses are sociable animals and thrive in the company of their species. Horses that are primarily kept in box stalls can develop behavioral issues from lack of companionship with other horses. Box stalls are acceptable for horses that spend most of their time outdoors and need the shelter at night.

Equine Stables and Ventilation

While you want your horse to be protected from the elements, a barn or stable may be ideal for night-time when your horse is asleep, but they aren’t the best option for the daytime. Stables or barns don’t provide a lot of ventilation and can get stuffy during the warm weather. Lack of ventilation in a barn can expose your horse to bacteria and dust. Among the problems horses can develop from lack of fresh, free-moving air is inflammation of the respiratory system. Horses can develop intestinal or colon issues when their mobility is limited most of the day.

Why Equine Housing Matters

A common sense approach to preventative health will be beneficial to your horse. Confining ponies to stalls most of the time may have a negative effect on their growth rate and development. Horses have the ability to tolerate heat and cold better than most people realize, so an expensive barn or stable isn’t always necessary. Run-in sheds and corral shelters are good options for horses that are outdoors most of the time and need protection from changing weather conditions or protection from the sun.

Exercise and Space for Your Horse

No one is sure about how often a horse needs to go into a deep sleep or what is known as the REM or dream state. A horse has the ability to go into a night of light sleep when they’re standing, and their legs lock. To achieve the REM state, a horse must be lying down. You should keep an eye on your horse’s sleeping patterns and be aware of any changes.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Although horses in the wild may walk long distances during the day, they don’t usually gallop unless they’re forced to. Preventative health for your horse means at least a moderate amount of daily exercise. However, if you’re building up the strength and endurance of your horse, make sure to do it slowly.

Equine Exercise Considerations

When you’re exercising your horse, remember that they don’t tolerate heat well. When the temperature and relative humidity is high, error on the side of caution if you want to exercise your horse. If a horse can’t sweat, they’re not able to release the excess heat in their bodies.  When the relative humidity is higher than 130, it’s best to allow your horse to relax in the shade. During the warmer months, exercising early in the morning is a better option than waiting until it gets too hot.

Horses can tolerate colder temperatures better than the heat. However, if it’s very wet and windy, it’s best for your horse to be sheltered in a comfortable place out of the weather.

Paddocks for Horses

If you’re going to keep your horses in a corral or paddock for a few days, it’s essential to make sure each horse has enough room in which to move around. An average sized paddock or corral is approximately 256 square feet. A corral of 16 square feet is usually adequate for most horses for short periods.

General Health Care for Horses

If a horse’s feet don’t get a lot of natural wear, you should have their hooves trimmed every six to eight weeks. If a horse’s feet are allowed to become strong naturally, it’s not necessary to shoe them. It’s not advisable to make any changes to the way you care for your horse’s hooves without consulting a farrier or veterinarian, because some of the problems horses have with their feet are the result of wearing shoes.

Vaccinations and Preventative Care

The vaccinations that are commonly given to horses are:

Some horses are vaccinated against West Nile Virus. It’s advisable to discuss what vaccinations your horse should have with your veterinarian. Another issue to be aware of is parasites. Protecting your horse from parasites is easier if you keep pastures clean, rotating your pastures, and not keeping too many horses on the land at one time.

Equine Dental Care

Dental care is essential for horses. Sharp or uneven edges on a horse’s teeth can make it difficult or painful to chew correctly. Your horse should be examined by an equine dentist or vet tech who specializes in equine dentistry at least twice a year. The dental specialist should do a process known as floating which, is smoothing the horse’s teeth. Follow these equine preventative tips to ensure that your horse is healthy and has a long, happy life.

Want to Learn More?

Did learning about equine preventative health interest you? Ready to start a program to become a veterinary technician? With an associate degree in veterinary technology, you’ll gain the knowledge and skills you need to start an entry-level career as a veterinary technician. Broadview University has been part of the community for more than 40 years, so we’ve developed connections that can help move your career forward. After completing our accredited degree program, you’ll be eligible to sit for the Veterinary Technician National Exam (VTNE). Passing the VTNE allows you to become a Certified Veterinary Technician (CVT), a designation that will give you a competitive advantage when you enter the job market.

Contact us today to learn more about becoming a veterinary technician and working in veterinary technology.

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