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What Horse Owners Should Know About West Nile Virus

      What Is West Nile Encephalitis? West Nile encephalitis describes an inflammation of the central nervous system, which is caused by infection with West Nile Virus. Prior to 1999 West Nile Virus was found only in Africa, Eastern Europe, and West Asia. In August of 1999 it was identified in the United States.     How Do People Or Animals Become Infected With West Nile Virus? People and animals can become infected from the bite of certain kinds of mosquitoes that are infected with the virus. Mosquitoes may pick up the virus when they bite, or take a blood meal, from wild birds that are infected with West Nile Virus. Those mosquitoes may then transmit the virus to people and other animals when biting to take a blood meal. Infection occurs primarily in the late summer or early fall in the northeast and Mid Atlantic regions.     Does Infection Always Lead To Illness? Infection with West Nile Virus does not always lead to signs of illness in people or animals. Horses appear to be a species that is susceptible to infection with the virus. In horses that do become clinically ill, the virus infects the central nervous system and may cause symptoms of encephalitis. Clinical signs of encephalitis in horses may include a general loss of appetite and depression, in addition to any combination of the following signs:  
  • fever
  • weakness of hind limbs
  • paralysis of hind limbs
  • impaired vision
  • ataxia (weakness)
  • head pressing
  • aimless wandering
  • convulsions (seizures)
  • inability to swallow
  • walking in circles
  • hyperexcitability
  • coma
  It is important to note that not all horses with clinical signs of encephalitis have West Nile encephalitis. Certain other diseases can cause a horse to have symptoms similar to those resulting from infection with West Nile Virus. If you are concerned that your horse may be exhibiting signs of encephalitis, please contact your veterinarian. Laboratory tests are necessary to confirm a diagnosis.     Is Treatment Available For West Nile Encephalitis In Horses? There is no specific treatment for West Nile encephalitis in horses. Supportive veterinary care is recommended. It is important to diagnose WNV because infection is an indication that mosquitoes carrying the virus are in the area and need to be eliminated.     Is A Vaccine Available To Protect Against Infection With West Nile Virus? A WNV vaccine for horses is now available. Because it is impossible to distinguish between vaccinated and naturally infected horses with current testing methods, it is important that vaccination records be kept updated for each horse that receives the vaccine. Horses vaccinated against Eastern, Western, and Venezuelan equine encephalitis are not protected against infection with West Nile Virus.     How Can I Protect My Horse Against Infection With West Nile Virus? Vaccination of horses is not a guarantee of protection against infection, and does not offer any protection for other animals or people. The best method of prevention of infection with West Nile Virus for people and animals is to reduce the risk of exposure to the mosquitoes that may carry the virus. Reducing the risk involves eliminating mosquito breeding sites to reduce the number of hatching mosquitoes, and to reduce exposure to adult mosquitoes. Mosquitoes breed in stagnant water, so reduction of breeding sites involves eliminating stagnant water sources. To reduce the number of mosquito breeding sites:  
  1. Dispose of tin cans, plastic containers, buckets, ceramic pots or other unwanted water-holding containers on your property.
  2. Pay special attention to discarded tires. Tires are important mosquito breeding sites.
  3. Clean clogged roof gutters every year. Millions of mosquitoes can breed in roof gutters each season.
  4. Turn over wheelbarrows and don’t let water stagnate in birdbaths.
  5. Empty and refill outdoor water troughs or buckets every few days.
  6. Use landscaping to eliminate standing water that collects on your property, especially near manure storage areas. Mosquitoes may breed in any puddle that lasts for more than four days.
Additional steps can be taken to reduce the likelihood of exposure of horses to adult mosquitoes:
  1. Reduce the number of birds in and around the stable area. Eliminate roosting areas in the rafters of the stable. Certain species of wild birds are thought to be the main reservoir for the virus. (Although pigeons have been shown to become infected with West Nile Virus, they do not appear to act as reservoirs and therefore don’t transmit the virus to mosquitoes).
  2. Topical preparations containing mosquito repellents are available for horses. Read the product label before using.
  Can A Horse Infected With West Nile Virus Infect Other Horses? There is no evidence that infected horses can transmit the virus to other animals, people, or mosquitoes. Only a wild bird-mosquito transmission cycle has been proven as a means of transmitting West Nile Virus.     Can Ticks Spread West Nile Virus? Research is ongoing within the public health community to determine the role ticks play in the vectoring of West Nile virus. Scientists have confirmed ticks become infected with West Nile virus and may be able to amplify the disease within the avian community.      

10 Tips For Preventing Colic in Horses

  The number one killer of horses is colic. Colic is not a disease, but rater a combination of signs that alert us to abdominal pain in the horse. Colic can range from mild to severe, but it should never be ignored. Most of the conditions that cause colic can become life threatening in a relatively short period of time.   Only by quickly and accurately recognizing colic – and seeking qualified veterinary help –  can the chance for recovery be maximized. While horses seem predisposed to colic due to the anatomy and function of their digestive tracts, management can play a key role in prevention. Although not every case is avoidable, the following guidelines from the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) can maximize the horse’s health and reduce the risk of colic:  
  1. Establish a daily routine – including feeding and exercise schedules – and stick to it!
  2. Feed a high quality diet comprised primarily of roughage.
  3. Avoid feeding excessive grain and energy-dense supplements. (At least half of the horse’s energy should be supplied through hay or forage. A better guide is that twice as much energy should be supplied from a roughage source than from concentrates).
  4. Divide daily concentrate rations into two or more smaller feedings rather than one large one to avoid overloading the horse’s digestive tract. Hay is best fed free-choice.
  5. Set up a regular parasite control program with the help of your equine practitioner.
  6. Provide exercise and/or turnout on a daily basis. Change the intensity and duration of an exercise regimen gradually.
  7. Provide fresh, clean water at all times. (The only exception is when the horse is excessively hot, and then it should be be given  small sips of luke-warm water until it has recovered).
  8. Avoid putting feed on the ground, especially in sandy soils.
  9. Check hay, bedding, pasture and environment for potentially toxic substances.
  10. Reduce stress. Horses experiencing changes in environment or workloads are at high risk of intestinal dysfunction. Pay special attention to horses when transporting them or changing their surroundings.
    Virtually any horse is susceptible to colic. Age, sex and breed differences in susceptibility seem to be relatively minor. The type of colic seen appears to relate to geographic or regional differences, probably due to environmental  factors such as sandy soil or climatic stress. Importantly, what this tells us is that, with conscientious care and management, we have the potential to reduce and control colic, the number one killer of horses.  

Equine 911-The Basics

  First Aid     Your horse isn’t acting normal or sometime during the night he managed to gouge himself in the leg, or he’s developed a sudden limp. These are typical situations that cause even experienced horse owners and riders concern. Although the lists below may not include everything that you would need to know, have or respond to, it covers many of the major types of emergencies that sometimes occur with horses.    
If your horse is experiencing any of the following conditions or symptoms, he needs help fast:
  • Heavy bleeding
  • Choking
  • Fracture
  • Seizure
  • Deep cuts
  • Acute lameness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Any injury to or inflammation of the eye
  • Severe diarrhea
  • Colic
For colic or any other equine health emergency, you’ll have a head start on getting your horse back on track if you can give the veterinarian information about your horse’s vital signs when you call. Be sure to ask your vet what the normal range of vitals are for your horse during a routine visit so that you have a baseline to use in the case of an emergency. Typical vitals for horses are:
  • Temperature (99-101 for an adult horse)
  • Heart rate (28-44 beats per minute)
  • Respiratory rate (10-24 breaths per minute)
  • Appearance of the gums (normal is moist and pink, with good circulation). Press on the gum with a finger and see how long it takes to return to pink. This should be only about 2 seconds.
  • Listen to both sides of his gut by putting your head against each flank. You should hear gurgling sounds, similar to a growling stomach, on both sides.
Keep a first aid kit handy in your tack room or trailer, and be sure to check it at least once a year and to restock after any use. The basic kit should include items such as:
  • a thermometer
  • stethoscope
  • antiseptic wash
  • self-adhesive bandages
  • scissors
  • absorbent padding
  • antibiotic cream
  • saline wash
  • rubber gloves
  • hoof pick and knife
  • vetwrap
  • duct tape
  • flashlight
  • clippers
This list is just a beginning. Ask your veterinarian for other additional items that might be helpful for your particular horses. Make sure and post important numbers, such as your veterinarian’s, in handy places as well. Keep everything together in a waterproof case, and hope that you never have to open it!
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