Thursday, June 18, 2009

Deer & Wood Ticks

Female Wood Tick (Also Known as 'Dog Tick')Nasty little buggers! Here in the “north woods” it seems like ticks are a constant irritant and worry during the summer months. They crawl on us and the dogs and infest the horses, with the deer ticks carrying a couple of diseases for all. We’ll be out camping with the horses for the weekend and all it will take is for one person to say “I found a tick on me” and the rest of us immediately start itching and having the feeling of one crawling around on us. As soon as we find one, it is studied to see if it’s a deer tick (also known as a black-legged tick) or a common wood tick (also called a dog tick). If it’s a wood tick, the comment is “it’s a good one!” As if any of them are good in my eyes! Male Wood Tick (Also 'Dog Tick')

Tick-borne Illnesses
The two diseases that concern us the most in our area are Lyme Disease (also colloquially known as Lyme’s Disease) and Ehrlichiosis, which is now called Anaplasmosis, both of which are transmitted by the deer tick. All stages of the deer tick have the ability to transmit disease, but ticks don't inherently carry the bacteria which causes Lyme's. In fact, they have to attach to and feed from infected vermin (most often mice) to themselves become infected with the bacteria.

Deer Tick It takes at least 24 hours of being attached for an infected deer tick to transmit the bacteria, but unfortunately the nymph stage of the deer tick is so tiny that many times you don’t even realize, or see, that you have a tick on you. Only the females feed – and therefore transmit diseases; male ticks may also attach, but they don’t feed. Contrary to some beliefs, ticks do not drop from trees and they cannot jump. They climb on grasses and shrubs and quickly transfer onto whatever passes by and rubs on the stalks to which the ticks are clinging.

What are Lyme Disease Symptoms?
Lyme disease is a bacterial disease with the following symptoms: rash, headaches, fever, and muscle or joint pain that seems to move from joint to joint. Many times, but not always, there is a “bull’s eye” rash that develops on the skin around where the tick was attached. A course of oral antibiotics, taken in the early stage, can take care of it. More aggressive IV antibiotics are generally used in the chronic stage of the disease. Lyme’s Disease is found on all the continents, but interestingly Montana is the only state with no federally reported cases. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t present, just that it hasn’t been reported.

Anaplasmosis, also called Ehrlichiosis, is another bacterial disease, typically developing 5-10 days after having been bitten by the deer tick. The symptoms are flu-like - fever, headache, muscle aches and fatigue. This disease also is treated with antibiotics.

How Do I Avoid Tick Bites?
There are precautions that we can take to keep ticks off of ourselves, such as wearing light colored clothing to easily see them. Also, tuck pants legs into boots or socks, and if you really want to get serious, tape along the entire length where the pant leg tucks into the sock or boot, to further ensure the ticks can't crawl inside. Also, apply a bug spray to deter them from climbing on you. It’s a little harder to keep them off our horses, but there are measures to be taken for that, too.

The other day I was at the pasture checking the horses and spraying them with bug spray when I noticed that one of the horses had at least 50-75 ticks on his sheath and between his back legs! There was no way I could pick off and kill all of them so I soaked him down in that area with Farnam’s Wipe which contains permethrin. Permethrin will kill ticks on contact, and that’s exactly what it did – within seconds I could see them die. They didn’t fall off immediately, but it didn’t take long for that to happen too.

We do the best we can to keep the ticks off our horses by spraying their legs with a fly spray containing permethrin or cypermethrin, and in the spring we’ll clip the horses’ legs to their knees in order to see the ticks more easily for removal. We do the best we can but every now and again we’ll still have a horse that will come down with either Lyme disease or Anaplasmosis.

Deer Tick Life Cycle
*To learn more about deer ticks, Lyme disease and other tick-related illnesses, please check out these sites where we got some of the above info:

Merck Vet Manual; MN Dept. of Health; LDF - Lyme Disease Foundation; NCID - National Center for Infectious Diseases; and Illinois Department of Public Health.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Update on Verndale Barn Fire

Last week I drove through Verndale, Minnesota on my way out to Medora, North Dakota, for a week of horseback riding and I noticed there is a new barn and office complex almost completed on the spot where there was a tragic barn fire last December.

My neighbor is a Fire Marshall and was involved in trying to discover the cause of that fire where 40 horses ultimately lost their lives. It was a long and involved investigation, taking quite a few months, and unfortunately without a clear cut answer as to the cause. He said that the biggest concern with the Fire Marshall’s office was whether or not arson was involved; it was not.

I had heard many rumors about the cause, among which were that it was started through the careless use of heaters in the stalls or that a faulty extension cord was used. Neither of those rumors proved to be true. The source of the fire was at a heater in the well housing located outside of the barn, but near to it. With the extremely high winds that morning, it didn’t take long at all before the whole barn was engulfed in flames.

It was a tragic accident, but an accident nevertheless. It just emphasizes the importance of having a fire-proof barn and to be constantly vigilant in checking your safety precautions. Of course, no horse barn - or technically, any other structure for that matter - will ever be 100% fire-proof, but there are fire safety checklist items which can help create a safer environment for horses and people in the event there is a fire.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Horse Health Problems: Bones

In my years as a horse owner, I've come across many afflictions and problems horses can suffer from which can affect their ride-ability and ultimately their health. Here I'll discuss a few of the bone-related injuries and ailments common in horses:

Bone spavin: Bone spavin is bone enlargement (growth) in a horse's hock caused by osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is the type of arthritis occurring after cartilage wears away. Reasons for horses to suffer bone spavin could be conformation, or a lifestyle with excessive:
  • pounding or stress (such as in Standardbreds or jumpers);
  • flexion (dressage horses);
  • stops, starts, and turns (reining horses);
as well as incorrect shoeing or trimming practices.

Osselets: Often a precursor to bone spavin, osselets is defined as inflammation of the periosteum (bone lining) in the fetlock joint. Eventually osselets leads to arthritis. Much like bone spavin, horses which often suffer from this suffer from excessive concussion to the frontlegs. Short, upright pasterns may predispose a horse to this because this type of conformation promotes more pounding in the front legs. Early stages of osselets is called “green osselets” – hot, soft swelling. If inflammation damages the cartilage of the joint, it will become chronic and permanent.

Bog Spavin: Similar to bone spavin, bog spavin is a chronic, soft swelling in the hock resulting from excessive fluid in the joint capsule, but in this case the horse may not be lame. This can be caused by an injury or a strain to the tendons. Once the injury heals, a soft swelling stays which is painless. If the strain persists, usually due to poor conformation, it may develop into arthritis.

Fistulous withers: Fistulous withers is the inflammation of the supraspinous bursa, the major fluid-filled sac which protects vertebrae in the withers region of horses. Learn more about fistulous withers at The Merck Veterinarian Manual.

Splints: 'Splints' is a condition of inflammation from injury to either the periostium (lining of the bone) of the splint bone in a horse's front leg, or to the ligament binding the splint bone to the cannon bone. Often in conjunction with the inflammation will be a bone 'lump' from the calcium attempting to rebuild. Trauma, overworking or concussion can cause splints. Trauma can be a kick from another horse, or a blow of some sort to the leg; overworking a young horse puts undo strain on the ligaments, and concussion - such as jumping - can also cause this injury.

Ringbone: Ringbone is the common term for a bony growth in a horse's coffin joint or pastern. It's actually osteoarthritis, which is degenerative arthritis in the joints. Sometimes the bony growth occurs around the entire bone, which is where the term 'ringbone' comes from. Causes of ringbone can be excess tension on the ligaments, trauma, conformation or poor trimming and shoeing practices.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Fungal & Hair Follicle Infections

Fungal Infection Sores on HorseOn Tuesday when I went over to check the horses at the pasture I saw that Joy, my 24-year-old National Show Horse, had a couple of spots on her head that were open and oozing, with a couple of other spots that looked a little scabby. I figured she had gotten some ticks on her and had rubbed her head on a tree because they were itchy, making it worse. So I went back home and got paper towels and ointment, cleaned her up and put Fura-Zone on the sores.

Hair Follicle Infections on a Horse Can Appear to be Ringworm But yesterday when I really looked at my Arabian gelding, Will, I noticed that he had a spot on his chest, about the size of a quarter, without any hair. It wasn't sore-looking, or red, but it looked almost like he had dandruff around it and when I checked him over I found a couple more, smaller, spots that were the same.

I immediately thought of ringworm on both horses. So first I looked it up online and I couldn't find any sites with pictures which looked like what my horses have so I called my veterinarian, Greg Harms. He had me take pictures and e-mail them to him so he could take a look. He said he highly doubted it was ringworm as our horses are healthy and it would have to have come from something else - it isn't just "in the air."

Fungal Infection
The consensus is that Joy has a fungal infection - much like rain rot - most likely caused by the fact she's continually on pasture grass which is long, and in the mornings the dew on the grass causes her face to remain damp. Also, since she's now 'retired,' she doesn't receive regular brushing anymore. That will change, as I must monitor her sores and continue treating them. Plus, having a well-groomed horse will help to release any dirt or moisture caught underneath the hair.

Hair Follicle Infection
Will's affliction looks like an infection in the hair follicles, akin to girth itch because it likely started after he continually rubbed up against his hay bag in the trailer not too long ago. Once hairless skin is exposed to the environment, it's much more susceptible to infection, especially with a rubbing situation, since even the tiniest of abrasions will let in bacteria, fungus, etc.

For this morning, treatment consisted of giving both of them a bath with an anti-fungal, anti-bacterial shampoo - Hexadene shampoo - and putting them back in the pasture. Every day, I'll have to keep monitoring them and treating the spots to ensure they don't get worse.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Braiding Horse Manes

Last weekend was horse show time for my daughter and a couple of her friends. They were entered in both English and Western classes, with the English classes first. When I arrived the girls were busily braiding their horses’ manes and tails. I have spent many hours in the past helping my daughters get ready for shows by braiding their horses' manes and tails. Braiding makes the horse look trim and sleek and also hails back to old traditions.

Running Braids
French-Braided Horse Mane (also 'Running Braid') Although there are several ways to braid a mane, we've always done a simplified braid, since both girls always showed in both English and Western classes on the same day and it was much easier to take out running braids (French-braiding down the mane) for the Western classes.

Hunter Braids Hunter Braids
Horses that are being shown on the eventing circuit, national and international hunters, and show jumpers braid their horses' manes differently, making small braids which are then tied up short along the crest of the neck, called hunter braids. Braiding a horse's mane this way takes some time and patience, as each section of mane needs to be braided, then - most often - sewn with yarn to hold the braid in place once it's looped back onto itself.

The tradition of braiding a horse's mane began with hunt horses in the field to keep the mane from getting caught in either the reins or the rider’s hands. It used to be that cold-blooded horses had their manes roached (cut completely off) while thoroughbreds had their mane braided, showing that the horse was a well-bred animal. Traditionally manes were braided on the right side for hunters and either side for dressage horses, and although many no longer adhere to this rule, it is still the standard for show jumpers and eventers. Another tradition in the hunt field regarding braiding was to have an even number of braids for mares and an odd number for stallions and geldings.

Dressage Braids
Dressage 'Button' Braids Another common braid is the dressage braid, or 'button braid' for dressage horses. Similar to hunter braids, dressage braids are fatter and are tied - again, with yarn - to appear knob-like along the crest of the horse's neck. Often times they're then covered with white (either yarn or tape) for dark horses and black for light-colored horses. This gives a nice, stark contrast.

A neat row of braids - whether hunter or dressage - accentuates the top line of a horse's neck and can help a short neck look longer by putting in many small braids. Conversely, fewer, thicker braids can help make a long neck look shorter. Braiding the horse's mane makes for a very well turned-out animal and can give that final “edge” to a horse's impression in the show ring.

Banded Mane on Quarter Horse Banded Manes
For Quarter horses - whose manes are kept short for showing - it's common to see a banded mane when showing (whether in Western or hunter classes). This gives the horses a finished look and also helps to keep a 4-inch mane lying flat along the neck while the horse is moving.

Braiding the Tail

Tightly Braided Horse TailIn regards to tails, for English classes it looks best to French-braid or plait the hair. It adds to the sleekness of the horse (especially if the horse's mane is banded or braided) and also accentuates the hindquarters. For serious competitions, a tight, neat braid is best. Here again you can braid in yarn to secure the end of the braid. Otherwise, for showing in multiple disciplines during one day, we simply weave a looser braid and secure it with a rubber band so it's easier to remove for the Western classes.

Loosely Plaited Horse Tail Be sure to practice braiding or banding on your horse before you get to the show, and even if you have enough time before your first class, realize that in a strange environment your horse will probably be more lively than he is at home! Many show riders braid or band the night before or early in the morning before reaching the show grounds, to ensure a nicer finish.