Antianxiety Supplements in Horses

Bob Judd, DVM, DABVP (Equine Medicine), DABVP (Canine and Feline Practice)
Courtesy of Texas Farm Bureau Radio Network

Date Published: 09/04/2018

Some horses are anxious in certain situations such as loading in a trailer or at an event such as a barrel race. There are lots of products on the market that claim to calm your horse and most of these are supplements that are not FDA-approved and have no proof that they are effective. Researchers at the University of Guelph in Canada performed a study to compare the effects of acepromazine which is a tranquilizer requiring a prescription from your veterinarian to a magnesium based antianxiety formulation that is a supplement.

Horses were treated and heart rate and cortisol levels were checked to determine the amount of anxiety when performing certain tasks such as loading in the trailer, walking onto a scale, and riding in a trailer. Results indicated that all of the tasks did produce a stress response and that acepromazine and the magnesium supplement did seem to decrease anxiety while the control substance was not effective. The concern with acepromazine is that it cannot be used in competition and there are side effects of acepromazine that many folks do not know about. Although many horse folks feel a little shot of acepromazine is no big deal, acepromazine can cause an irregular heartbeat and low blood pressure, and in geldings can cause penile prolapse and inability to retract the penis. For this reason, I use very little acepromazine, especially in male horses. The magnesium supplement did produce some calming and might be worth trying if your horse has anxiety. There are also a lot of folks using illegal substances for calming their horses, most of which are human antidepressants. Many have dangerous side effects so avoid these human drugs in your horse regardless of claims from the internet.

Abnormal Behavior in Horses

Bob Judd, DVM, DABVP (Equine Medicine), DABVP (Canine and Feline Practice)
Courtesy of Texas Farm Bureau Radio Network

Date Published: 01/19/2009
Date Reviewed/Revised: 06/16/2014

Wood chewing and crib biting (also called cribbing) are common undesirable horse behaviors. These behaviors are usually associated with a problem in the environment. A group of vets from the University of Bristol in England indicated in Equine Vet Journal that in horses at pasture these conditions may be related to a diet low in fiber or other nutrients. Wood chewing was shown to be related to diets consisting of concentrates only as compared to those fed only hay. Wood eating is observed to a lesser extent in horses at pasture but it tends to happen on fences and trees during the spring when the sugar content of the pasture is high and fiber content is low. Also, some believe wood chewing can lead to cribbing, in which the horse grabs a solid object and pulls back with the front teeth while sucking in air; that is sometimes called wind sucking. Cribbing is also associated with low-forage and high-fat diets. Increased fiber intake increases chewing, and the horse chews, the more saliva that is produced. Horses that produce more saliva by being fed more hay have been shown to crib less than horses fed complete pelleted feeds. The increased saliva also increases the pH of the stomach and decreases the chance of stomach ulcers and subsequent colic. Since horses that crib are known to have an increased incidence of colic, this could be part of the reason.

Although these unwanted behaviors are not this simple in many cases, it is obvious that enabling horses to show normal behavior by interacting socially with other horses and increasing their time spent grazing is likely to aid in decreasing wood chewing and cribbing. Decreasing pelleted feed, increasing hay, and allowing the horse out with other horses is a good start.

Artificial Insemination Techniques for Horses

Bob Judd, DVM, DABVP (Equine Medicine), DABVP (Canine and Feline Practice)
Courtesy of Texas Farm Bureau Radio Network

Date Published: 03/06/2006
Date Reviewed/Revised: 08/20/2012

Artificial insemination, or AI, has been performed in horses since the end of the 18th century but embryo transfer in horses has lagged behind other species, especially cattle. Initially, difficulties in transporting equine semen restricted use of AI to the premises where the semen was collected. However, improvements in technology have allowed AI using cold and frozen semen to become common in today’s horse industry. When natural breeding was compared to AI, there was no difference in pregnancy rates when breeding fertile mares, so breeding mares by AI is very effective. However, in AI breeding the timing near ovulation is critical and extremely critical when using frozen semen. In fact, frozen semen is also placed deep in the uterine horn of the mare adjacent to the follicle that is going to ovulate because this increases pregnancy rate.

Embryo transfer allows a breeder to obtain more than one foal from a valuable mare per year. Although cattle are superovulated to produce multiple ova for breeding, Dr. Jacob Scherzer indicates in the Compendium that this process has not been as successful in horses as in cattle. Superovulation has been shown to produce on average almost two embryos from these mares whereas mares without superovulation produce about one half of an embryo per mare. Consequently, mares used in embryo transfer are four times more likely to produce an embryo than if they are not superovulated. For embryo transfer, the mare’s uterus is flushed with a sterile fluid and embryos are recovered and then either transported directly into a recipient mare or can be frozen for later implantation. For more information on embryo transfer in horses or AI, contact your equine veterinarian.

Are your Horse’s Feet Being Trimmed Correctly?

Bob Judd, DVM, DABVP (Equine Medicine), DABVP (Canine and Feline Practice)
Courtesy of Texas Farm Bureau Radio Network

Date Published: 09/10/2007
Date Reviewed/Revised: 10/24/2016

I know that most of you do not trim your horse’s feet and that most farriers do a good job of trimming. However, I still see very long toes in some horses that have recently been trimmed, and that can lead to all kinds of problems. After your farrier trims your horse’s feet next time, pick up the front feet and look at the bottom. If there is a large space greater than 1/8 of an inch between the hoof wall and the sole at the toe, it is likely the hoof wall at the toe was not trimmed short enough. Also, on the front feet, the foot should be about as wide as it is long and this should be measured. Use a tape measure and measure from the widest part of the foot across the sole and then measure from the heel to the toe. On a front foot, these measurements should be pretty close to the same. The toe should at least be no longer than ¼ inch when compared to the width. And if you look at the dorsal hoof wall after the trim and the hoof wall is dished and curved toward the toe, the toe is too long.

Long toes predispose horses to toe cracks. I see horses come in commonly with toe cracks and the cause in many cases is just that the toes are simply too long. Also, the wide white line at the toe is the major cause of hoof abscesses because this gives dirt and bacteria a place to enter the hoof. A long toe delays breakover and places more stress on the navicular bone, which can predispose some horses to navicular syndrome. And finally, a long toe can be detrimental in foundered horses as it increases pull by the deep digital flexor tendon on the coffin bone. Horses that have foundered commonly have long toes. So after your horses are trimmed next time, pick up their front feet and make sure the toes are trimmed correctly.

Aquatic Therapy for Horses

Bob Judd, DVM, DABVP (Equine Medicine), DABVP (Canine and Feline Practice)
Courtesy of Texas Farm Bureau Radio Network

Date Published: 09/01/2015

Osteoarthritis is the most common musculoskeletal problem in horses and is a common cause of decreased performance. There are many treatments of arthritis for horses but physical rehabilitation is a fairly new therapy for them. One of the commonly used physical rehabilitation treatments in humans is aquatic therapy; it has been shown that it not only helps healing of the affected limb but also the entire body. Aquatic treadmills have been effective in people to treat injuries as well as aiding in cardiovascular health. Several aquatic therapy studies in dogs have shown significant improvements in range of motion in the painful leg as well as the opposite legs. Also, dogs that had surgery for a cruciate ligament rupture in the stifle recovered more quickly with aquatic therapy compared to dogs rehabilitated without water therapy.

As far as horses, there have been some studies that have shown the cardiovascular benefits of aquatic therapy in them with an increase in muscle intensity compared to rehab that doesn’t involve water. There are lots of rehab centers that are using water therapy for horses but the science involving the use is mostly coming from studies in humans and dogs. For this reason, although it is assumed aquatic therapy will be helpful in healing of equine injuries like it does in dogs and humans, there is little scientific data to support this. The problem is that without scientific studies, it is not known how deep the water should be, how long therapy should be continued for different conditions, and how frequently it should be used to maximize effectiveness. Hopefully in the next few years, scientific studies will be performed concerning aquatic therapy in horses because until then, there are a lot of unknowns about the various aquatic treatments being used in horses.

Altering a Horse’s Tail and the Ethics behind It

Bob Judd, DVM, DABVP (Equine Medicine), DABVP (Canine and Feline Practice)
Courtesy of Texas Farm Bureau Radio Network

Date Published: 10/31/2016

Those of you not familiar with different horse breeds may not know about the common practices of altering the tail in many breeds. Tails are altered for cosmetic reasons, for the show ring, or for competitive purposes, neither of which is done for the good of the horse and in fact, sometimes it is done to the horse’s detriment. Dr. Nat Messer is a professor of equine medicine at Missouri and he indicates in AAEP news that many of procedures to alter the tails, including blocking, cutting or docking, can have serious, life-threatening complications. Paralysis of the tail, severe clostridial infections at the base of the tail, and loss of the tail has been reported following these procedures.

It is unethical for an AAEP member veterinarian to perform any of these procedures on a horse, and both the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine and the American College of Veterinary Surgeons have come out against any procedures of docking or blocking tails. In some states, altering a horse’s tail is also illegal. There is no medical reason for any such procedure, and because it can be dangerous for the horse, trainers and owners should not request the procedure and veterinarians should not be willing to perform them. In some cases, because veterinarians are refusing to perform these illegal procedures, some trainers will perform the procedures themselves even though they do not have surgical training.

Hopefully, tail alteration will become a technique of the past that will no longer be used.