Ask the Vet

A: Excess weight and “over nutrition” can have negative effects on your horse’s health and well being. It sounds like your horse may be an “easy keeper,” one that requires a minimal amount of calories to maintain good body condition. Feeding based on generally accepted ration guidelines will cause an easy keeper to actually gain weight. This excess will increase stress on the horse’s heart and lungs, put added strain on the feet and joints, affect the horse’s ability to “cool out” following activity, and predispose him to laminitis or founder. The first thing you should do is remove all grain or concentrates. The healthiest diet for most horses is a diet consisting of good quality hay, with access to salt and plenty of fresh water. Grain is recommended only for horses undergoing strenuous exercise or those classified as “hard keepers.”

As with humans, exercise is also an important part of weight control and overall health and fitness. Make sure your horse receives a minimum of 3-4 half hour workouts per week. This should help keep him healthier and in better weight. If you have tried reducing or eliminating grain and increasing exercise and your horse is still overweight, you should contact us to check him for hypothyroidism.

A: The first question really is – Does your horse truly have diarrhea or just loose manure?
Loose manure is characterized by feces which are unformed in consistency but will form a pile when dropped (cow flop manure). Loose manure is often associated with a rich diet, such as a diet high in alfalfa hay or green grass. Usually, this type of manure is of no concern as long as the horse is acting normal (eating, drinking, energetic, and has no fever). However, if the horse is acting abnormally or is not on a particularly rich diet, the reason for the loose manure should be investigated. Loose manure for an unknown cause is not considered a medical emergency, but you should call our office for further instructions. In the horse, true diarrhea, characterized by watery feces with increased frequency and/or volume, is unusual. The causes of diarrhea in the horse are numerous and complex, often posing a diagnostic and treatment dilemma. Severe dehydration and life threatening shock is always of concern when a horse is experiencing diarrhea, therefore it is considered a medical emergency and you should contact our office immediately. In parts of our practice area, mainly north of Trenton, Potomac Horse Fever is a common and serious cause of diarrhea during the summer. This disease can cause diarrhea, fever, colic, dehydration, laminitis/founder and possibly death. If your horse lives in or travels to a problem area, you should vaccinate against this disease. However, the number one reason for both loose manure and diarrhea in our area is sand gastroenteritis. The first test we run is for sand. This is a test you can and should learn how to do. To check your horse for sand, begin by placing approximately two cups of manure in a gallon Ziploc bag, fill the bag ¾ full of water, zip the bag shut (tight) and shake it up until the manure dissolves. Then hold the bag up by one corner so that the opposite corner is the lowest point of the bag. Watch to see if sand settles in the low corner. It may help to gently tap on the side of the bag while doing this to dislodge bits of sand that may be attached to manure debris. If you find greater than ¼ teaspoon of sand in the bottom of the bag this is significant. Even if sand is present in the intestinal tract, there may not be sand present in every sample of manure you take. Therefore, if you find no sand, the test should be repeated up to 3 times, or until you find sand. If your horse does have sand, please contact the office and we will advise you on treating this problem.

A: Questions regarding wound management are some of the most frequently asked. Although your first concern should be loss of blood, it is rare for a horse to hemorrhage so profusely that its life or general health is in danger. An average-sized (1000-pound) horse would have to lose over two gallons of blood before it is in danger. If your horse is bleeding profusely, the best way to stop the bleeding is with a pressure bandage or, if the area is not one that can be bandaged, with direct pressure. Determining if a wound needs sutures is based on a number of factors. How old the wound is, how deep and long the wound is, and where the wound is located. One rule to remember is that if a wound needs to be sutured, the sooner the better. Although six hours is considered the cut off time in terms of suturing a wound, in most cases one to two hours is the limit. In general, wounds on the head, neck and body heal better than wounds on the lower limbs. For this reason, wounds on the lower limb should be attended to as soon as possible (within two hours). Also, wounds on the limbs generally require antibiotic treatment whereas minor wounds on the upper body often can do without. Wounds that are not all the way through the skin do not need to be sutured. Whether the wound is all the way through the skin is not always easy to determine. Long, gaping and deep wounds are obvious. Smaller wounds are more difficult to determine. If the edges of the wound are pulling apart, or if you can gently pull the wound apart, this usually indicates that the wound is all the way through the skin and needs to be sutured. If you are ever in doubt, call our office and page us if necessary, and we will be glad to discuss treatment options with you.

A: Adding salt to your horse’s ration actually increases the body’s need for water, and that water is used to flush salt out through kidneys, but does not help in hydration status of the horse or in keeping the ingesta in the intestines moist. One way to encourage your horse to drink more is to add water to his grain ration. For example, if you feed your horse 3 lbs of grain twice a day, to each feeding add one quart of water. Do this for a period of days, and then double the amount of water added, and so on. When your horse gets used to eating this way, you may even be able to fill a water bucket with water and add the 3 lbs of grain to it and he will drink all of the water. It is important that your horse not get all of his water at one feeding, as he is likely to excrete most of this out. For example if you want to increase his water intake by 2 gallons, add a gallon at each feeding, instead of 2 gallons just in the morning. This practice can be continued throughout the year, or just when your horse’s water intake is decreased in the winter. The temperature does matter. In the winter, horses will drink very cold water, but to ensure they are getting the proper amount, the water should not be frozen and it should not have ice in it. Horses in general will drink more water in the winter months than in the summer months.

A: Cleaning sheaths is usually not looked upon as a joyous task, but it is one that needs to be undertaken as part of your gelding’s routine health care. Most geldings only need to have their sheaths cleaned once or twice a year, but it depends entirely on the horse. Some geldings may need to be cleaned more often. If your gelding makes a “water in a jug” or “hoo-hoo-hoo” sound when he jogs, it is time to clean the sheath. The purpose of sheath cleaning is to remove smegma and the “bean”. Smegma is a combination of natural body oil, sweat, dirt and shed skin cells. It forms along the shaft of the penis and inside the sheath. The “bean” is a hardened build up of smegma that forms in the pouch that surrounds the end of the urethra. If left unchecked, this “bean” can cause the horse discomfort and interfere with urination. If done properly and carefully, owners can do a decent job themselves. YOU MUST BE CAREFUL! Many horses will kick when their sheath is cleaned and YOU WILL GET HURT. If you do clean the sheath yourself, use a mild soap such as Ivory or a commercially available cleaner (Excalibur). If you use soap, make sure to rinse the sheath thoroughly. Some horses will need to be sedated before sheath cleaning. In our practice, we frequently clean the sheath when the horse has his teeth floated. That way he only needs to be tranquilized once. Since tumors of the penis are fairly common, the veterinarian can also check the penis while cleaning.

A: Abscesses are pockets of pus that are extremely painful. A horse with an abscess most times will not want to put any weight on the foot. If you think you horse has an abscess, you should call your veterinarian to get a proper diagnosis. Usually the abscess can be located in the foot and the hoof carved away to allow for drainage, which immediately relieves pain. This methods offers the fastest relief and resolution. If it is not possible to locate the exact spot of the abscess, it will be necessary to use an Epsom salt soak or poultice the foot under a bandage. If soaking, immerse the foot for 20-30 minutes once a day in the hottest water you can stand to keep your hand in and follow the directions on the Epsom salts to make a saturated solution. The water should be deep enough to cover half way up the pastern. Apply a poultice after soaking and leave the poultice on until the next soaking. Usually with this treatment the abscess will break out through the sole or at the coronary band in about one week. However, if the problem persists, your veterinarian should see your horse again.

A: Rain rot or Fungus? “Fungus” is a fungal infection and is seen in horses as ringworm, but it is pretty rare. Unfortunately, a lot of people use the term “fungus” to describe a wide variety of skin conditions when, in reality, it is usually a bacterial infection or a sensitivity to something in the horse’s environment. Rain rot is a bacterial dermatitis, not a fungus, and is usually caused by the organism Dermatophilus congolensis. This bacteria, although more prevalent in warm moist times of year, can cause problems year round. It creates a scabbed over lesion, which when pulled, the scab comes off with a tuft of hair. The bacteria lives under the scab, therefore the scabs must be dislodged to treat the disease. This disease is highly contagious and grooming instruments and tack used on horses with rain rot should be cleaned and disinfected thoroughly before being used on uninfected animals. As with most dermatologic conditions, this problem can often be prevented by daily proper grooming. To treat rain rot in horses, use a medicated shampoo. Some work better than others. Betadine or iodine scrub is not as effective as it sounds and is too caustic to use on many horses. In general, it is not a good choice. Consult your veterinarian if you are unsure of which shampoo to use. Apply shampoo and water to the area and lather. Let it set for 10-15 minutes in order to soften and loosen scabs, then add more soap/water and scrub with a rubber curry mitt to gently remove the scabs. Do not pick at the scabs; they can be very painful. Rinse the area. Scrape dry or use a clean towel. Do this twice a week for 2-3 times. The condition can often look worse before it looks better because the scabs and pre-existing damaged skin come off and it may look like the lesions are spreading. If you have any concerns, call your veterinarian for an evaluation. Some cases require antibiotics for full resolution.

A: The clumps of partially chewed roughage (hay or grass) you see are called “quids”. “Quidding” is a sign of an ongoing dental problem. Other signs may be: chewing with a slight head tilt chewing with his head elevated; dropping feed/grain around his feeding area, eating slowly, halitosis (bad odor in the mouth), increased salivation or weight loss. Quids can be formed when there are broken, missing or excessively worn teeth and roughage gets gets rolled around in the mouth instead of positioned properly between the teeth. Quids may be found on the ground near where the horse eats or in the feed tub. In order to prevent or treat quidding, it is important that you have your veterinarian examine and/or float your horse’s teeth yearly. Some horses need to be examined two times a year. If you notice quidding, or any of the above signs, it is important that you contact your veterinarian immediately so a proper course of action may be discussed and implicated.

A: It sounds like your horse is suffering from a condition commonly known as Slobbers. It is from eating clover that is infected with a fungus called blackpatch (Rhizoctonia leguminicola). Blackpatch produces a toxin called slaframine that causes excessive frothy salivation in horses. The slaframine toxin can be present in either pasture clover or stored hay. Because blackpatch infects all parts of the clover plant, mowing does not lessen the problem, and the fungus persists on infected fields from year to year. Fungal growth is heavier after cool rainy weather and is usually worse in late spring and early fall. Drooling begins within 1-3 hours of consumption of the toxin and will continue for 2-3 days after the contaminated forage is withdrawn. Slobbers is very messy to deal with, but is not a threat to your horse. Slaframine toxicosis causes no other signs than drooling, so if your horse is off feed, fusses with the bit, has inflamed lips or gums, or shows any other abnormal symptom, your veterinarian should be called for an examination. It is something other than Slobbers.

A: Hives become a medical emergency when there is swelling of the head or if the horse has difficulty breathing. If your horse breaks out occasionally over a small area and if the hives go away within a day or two, it is not urgent that the veterinarian come out. However, if the horse gets hives very frequently, they last several days, or if they are covering a majority of the body, then the veterinarian should come out to see the horse. Injections can be given and oral medications dispensed that will relieve the itching and swelling. Relieve is usually very fast after treatment.

A: Horses, like all species, suffer from cancer. Some cancers are relatively benign and never cause the horse a problem, others are very aggressive and can cause death in a few short months, and others take years or decades to become fatal. The most commonly diagnosed forms are those visible from the outside; tumors of the skin, eye, etc. Some forms of cancer can be detected in the blood (lymphoma, leukemia), but usually any blood abnormalities are too nonspecific to diagnose cancer. Beyond that, equine veterinarians are at a great disadvantage for detecting tumors. In small animals (and humans), the primary diagnostic tool for detecting tumors is radiography. Unfortunately, an adult horse is just too large to get radiographs of the chest or abdomen. There are no x-ray machines powerful enough to penetrate the great mass of a full grown horse, making early detection of tumors difficult. The only way to diagnose these is by cytology, and this is often a hit-or-miss proposition. With cytology, samples of body fluid are collected and examined in the hope that cancerous cells shed by the tumor will be found. But the body has many compartments and each one (chest, abdomen, lungs, spinal cord) has to be sampled. Additionally, if the tumor is buried deep in a large organ like the liver, there will be no cells shed and the abdominal fluid will not indicate a tumor. Although radiography is not very helpful, we have found ultrasound to be useful in many cases, and ultrasound guided biopsies are an excellent diagnostic tool. There is also work being done with identifying protein markers in the blood, but a functional test is still years away. We are just grateful that cancers are fairly rare in horses and look forward to the day when better and less invasive tests are available.

A: Bedding is more a matter of personal preference than medical reason. Most bedding types offer the same benefits of absorption and odor control; it’s more in their detriments that they differ. Straw is fairly inexpensive and is easily maintained. It has less dust than many other bedding types and should be used for foaling mares and horses post-surgery. One common drawback to straw bedding is that it can tend to be very slippery, even with added rubber stall mats. The key with straw is to keep it as clean and dry as possible in an effort to reduce slippage. Shavings are most commonly available in many feed stores in our area. They tend to be more expensive. The price, along with an increased amount of dust, are what make shavings less favorable than straw. Shavings are also packaged in bags that make storage and handling easier. They can be bought many bags at a time and kept in a dry place for months. For a similar “mucking” experience at a fraction of the cost, sawdust would be the way to go. Sawdust is most commonly purchased by the truck-load and usually stored in a pile outside, so it must be protected from the weather. It is also very dusty. Another bedding type is pellets. Pellets are generally made from some sort of compressed material, such as straw, sawdust, or paper. When the pellets come into contact with moisture, they begin to break down and expand as they absorb as much of the moisture as possible. These types of bedding are more expensive than other products, but their manufacturers’ claim that when used “correctly,” they will last much longer than other types of bedding. As with shavings, the packaging is an added benefit to pelleted bedding. Large quantities can be bought and stored for longer periods of time than would be appropriate for either straw or sawdust. The bottom line here is that along with many other things in the horse industry, there is a wide variety of bedding types to choose from. The means that one barn chooses over another are mostly dependent on cost, availability, ease of use and more than anything else, the barn owner’s/manager’s preference. If you have any questions or concerns regarding your barn’s bedding type, please do not hesitate to contact your veterinarian.

Contact Us

We look forward to hearing from you


Find us on the map

Hours of Operations

Veterinarians available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

For Inquires our Office Hours are:


8:00 am-4:00 pm


8:00 am-4:00 pm


8:00 am-4:00 pm


8:00 am-4:00 pm


8:00 am-4:00 pm