About Heidi A.

Heidi A. works with the research teams at the Cargill Animal Nutrition Innovation Center in Elk River, MN where she is responsible for the innovation and development of animal feeds including Equine. Prior to joining Cargill she spent 15 years in Veterinary Health. She is a member of the American Association of Equine Veterinary Technicians. Heidi holds a Masters degree in Public Health with a Nutrition emphasis, a Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences and an Associate of Applied Science in Veterinary Technology. Heidi has previously shown horses in Dressage, Jumpers and Hunters on the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association teams at Centenary College in Hackettstown, NJ. Heidi enjoys riding in her leisure time at a local Equestrian Center in Minneapolis, MN.

What’s Lurking in the Water – Understanding Blue-Green Algae

Weather and water conditions in many parts of the country have created or will create conditions favorable for the rapid growth of blue-green algae. Please be on alert with your horses, other animals and yourselves, and use precaution around water sources.

These single-celled organisms are actually algae-like bacteria instead of being true algae and are also referred to as Cyanobacteria.  They grow rapidly and may produce the pea-soup green color in some bodies of water, along with some foul odors.  The rapid growth periods, called “blooms” most frequently occur when there is a combination of warm weather, intermittent or limited rainfall and an accumulation of nutrients, particularly phosphorus and nitrogen. Blooms can range in color from green, to blue, brown or red. Water sources of fresh, brackish or salt water can all be affected by harmful algal blooms. Most often, slow moving water sources are the most suspect, although harmful algal blooms can occur in any water source with favorable conditions.

The planktonic groups produce the pea green water while the mat-forming groups produce dark mats that start on the bottom and float to the surface.  The planktonic species (Anabena, Aphanizomenon and Microcystis) are believed to be most likely to produce toxins which can be harmful or fatal to animals when ingested. Although, you cannot tell by looking at the bloom whether or not cyanotoxins exist. (Fact Sheet on Toxic Blue-Green Algae, Purdue University, Carole A. Lembi)

Toxins may be ingested when animals drink the water, when they lick their coats after being in the water, or when they inhale water droplets.  Animals are more likely to consume the water if fresh, clean water supplies are limited from other sources. Not all animals are deterred by foul odors that may be produced from the blooms.  Animals that drink or have exposure to the water during a period when cyanotoxins are being produced may be affected, but toxins are not always produced when there is a bloom.

Providing a source of fresh, clean, safe drinking water is the best way to avoid causing animals to consume questionable water.  If animals go swimming, they should be cleaned off before they have a chance to lick their coats, try not to engage in physical exertion near the water supply where inhaling water droplets could occur.

Preventing access to waterways is one way to prevent toxin exposure. Swimming in, contact with, breathing in water droplets or drinking water in ponds/lakes/streams is not recommended during temperatures or conditions that are favorable for blooms to exist. Most often slow moving water or calm water that has a greenish appearance are those most suspect to algal blooms, however they can exist an any water source if the conditions have been favorable. If contact has occurred watch for symptoms and promptly notify your veterinarian. When in doubt keep your animals and yourselves out of the water. Provide access to fresh, clean water at all times for your animals.

Toxic symptoms may include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Rash and skin irritation
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Seizure
  • Death

While not all “blooms” may produce toxins, avoiding exposure to or consumption of suspect water is recommended.  Risks of illness after the blooms are gone are low, however some toxins can still remain in the water once the blooms are gone. More information is available from local and state pollution control sites or extension sites. Health Departments recommend, when in doubt, keep out of the water.

Preventing run-off of nutrients into ponds and lakes is also important to help reduce the risk of these algae blooms.  Keeping vegetation around water sources can help naturally filter. Drought conditions in some areas have also increased the concentration of nutrients in the remaining water in ponds, lakes and streams.

Did Someone Say Mud Run?

Spring time can bring rain and muddy conditions which might be perfect if you are doing a Mud Runner 5K. However, less desirable when your horse comes in lame or worse yet, cannot get up from a slip and fall. There are many safety considerations when managing horses in muddy conditions.

Mud can lead to slippery surfaces including paddocks, pastures, and barn entrances. To help control excessively muddy areas of the barn or paddock entrances, direct water runoff away from the entrances/exits of walkways. This will help prevent accumulation of sand, clay, dirt, and water that contribute to a slippery surface. When pastures or paddocks have low areas where water may accumulate, many horses many get the urge to frolic in those slippery areas. Preventing access to or sectioning off those areas can be beneficial until safely dried out. If you have the resources, consulting a field or landscaping specialist, filling in or redirecting water to a safe runoff location is ideal. Horses housed in outdoor turnouts with a shelter or structure often spend time seeking cover out of the rain. A thorough inspection of the footing and drainage away from these areas are a necessary safety consideration as mud, water and waste can accumulate and lead to slippery conditions as horses head to covered areas to get out of the rain. Evaluating your facility for water runoff prior to or at the beginning of the rainy season will help prevent slippery conditions.

After turnout if conditions are muddy watch for signs of injury such as unequal gait, sidewinding or other signs of pain. If any abnormalities occur after muddy conditions consult your veterinarian for an examination.

Other considerations following rainy weather are increased awareness with hoof health. Thrush, which is involves an infection of the horse’s hoof. This condition can be caused by moist, damp, dirty ground or stable conditions. Canker or foot rot in horses is a condition that causes the foot to “rot” away, moist environments often lead to Canker conditions for horses. If you suspect a hoof infection or notice any foul hoof odor, consult your Veterinarian and farrier for treatment. To prevent hoof moisture issues, inspection of hooves daily, control standing water or excessively moist footing to prevent hoof issues.

Ask any reputable pest control specialist and their advice when trying to control mosquitos, roaches, insects or rodents is to control the environmental moisture. All living things rely upon water for survival. Pests often enjoy the soggy areas around buildings, vegetation and other areas that most humans do not spend meticulous effort to keep dry. Drainage systems, gutters, vapor barriers, ventilation and weed/lawn/pasture upkeep are key in pest prevention. Consult a pest control professional who is experienced in working in animal safe environments.

Biosecurity for Cabin Fever Candidates

In cooler seasons, such as winter, often horse owners travel to warmer climates with their Equine companions. Many important considerations should be made prior to traveling. One of the most important is biosecurity. To better understand biosecurity, it is important to understand the meaning: “Bio” means life, “security” means protection. As horse owners it is important to prevent horses from contagious diseases. These diseases can be transmitted from place to place by other horses, people, insects, equipment, and trailers. Good biosecurity is an excellent habit to make at home and take on the road.

Prepare

Talk to your veterinarian about your travel plans and considerations for a vaccination protocol well in advance of travel, giving your horse’s immune system time to build up protection. Many veterinarians will suggest a herd health program appropriate to your specific lifestyle needs, including travel and awareness of geographical diseases to be aware of. If your horse will be transitioning to different forage or feed, it is helpful to pack enough “transition forage and feed” to last the duration of the trip and enough to transition once you arrive at your destination. Forages vary between geographical regions, it may also be helpful to get a forage analysis ahead of time to be prepared with your transition feeding program.

Transportation

If possible transport your horses in your own trailer. You will be more aware of what kind of exposures exist in your own trailer. If you must transport in a shared trailer or with other horses, be sure to clean and disinfect prior to loading your horse. It may also be helpful to request proof of health records of horses traveling with your own or a reputable transporter who requires proof of vaccination and health certificates for all horses being transported. Some horses are more stressed by travel, be sure to pack plenty transition forage and feed for the duration of the trip and for transition. Hydration and enough periodic rest is beneficial. Once you arrive at your destination, inspect the location for hazards. Do not unload your horse until you are comfortable with the biosecurity and safety of the location. Some things to consider: Are other horses healthy? Have there been any recent health issues on the property or nearby? Are there any insects or pest issued to control prior to your horse unloading? Clean and sanitize all buckets, ensure water sources are in clean and working order, fencing is safe and appropriate and hand washing before handling your horse.

Prevention

If a horse is sick, isolation and a stall notice or special collar will help others know not to handle the sick animal to avoid disease transmission. Basic hand washing is important between handling more than one horse even if the horses are healthy. It is best to have equipment for each individual horse, however if some equipment must be shared it is important to wash and sanitize between horses to prevent disease transmission. Clean footwear is important. After walking in pastures, alleyways, and yards it is important to wash the bottoms of your footwear prior to getting into your vehicle, trailer or stalls/pastures when traveling from farm to farm or any animal environment. Keep weeds and grass cut to prevent insects and pests. Prevent and remove any standing water from puddles, buckets, or old equipment. Use of equine safe fly control program will help control fly populations. Store horse feed and supplements in a cool, dry, well lit, rodent proof, limited access area. Inspect water access daily, clean and empty any water buckets or troughs at least once weekly.

Horses, Heat and Humidity

Water into bucketSummer is in full swing, including the heat and humidity. Horses, similar to humans, may have a difficult time coping and cooling off with the combination of heat and humidity. The added challenge of cooling off partially results from the inability of the sweat to evaporate in humid weather. The combination of sweat and humid weather acts like an insulation, making horses even hotter. Some horses have diagnosed trouble sweating (anhidrosis) during hot and humid weather, which adds other challenge to cool off. Consult Veterinary support if your horse has trouble sweating.

Some ways to help you and your horse cope with hot humid weather is to calculate the temperature-humidity index (THI). Add the air temperature (in degrees Fahrenheit) to the humidity percentage. For example, if it is 80 degrees Fahrenheit and the humidity is 60%, the THI is 140. When the THI reaches 150, horses will have difficulty cooling off, at 180 working a horse can be unsafe to the horse’s health and you should actively help the horse cool off.

Another supportive tool is to take your horse’s temperature. Normal is between 99.5 and 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit at resting, and can range between 103 to 104 degrees during exercise. When a horse’s temperature reaches 105 this is dangerous and the risk of overheating or health damage can occur. Above 105 degrees horses are likely to suffer heatstroke and require immediate Veterinary attention.

Helpful ways to keep horses cool in hot humid weather:

1. Clean and cool water available at all times

Horses prefer fresh, cool water in sufficient amounts when it is hot and humid. Keeping clean and cool water in deep buckets in the shade will help keep water cool. In addition to the automatic waterers (if available) additional deep buckets may be required to allow horses to gulp water versus sip smaller amounts. I often will consume a substantial amount of cool water in one sitting in a light colored container when it is hot and humid.

2. Provide appropriate feed for the horse’s activity

Feeding excess hay in hot humid weather can contribute to added body heat from the digestive process. Feeding smaller amounts more frequently or use of a slow feeding hay bag may be beneficial. Feed a quality balanced feed that is designed for the exercise requirements of the individual horse. If I am a daily jogger, my nutrient requirements vary significantly from a marathon runner in training.

3. Consider individual fitness

Physical fitness and environments vary between individual horses. Research has shown horses well-conditioned and of optimal physical fitness tend to cope with hot humid weather more easily than those who are out of shape. Horses residing in climates with extreme heat and humidity tend to cope better than horses traveling and adjusting to different climates. Although the horses may cope better if they are acclimated to the heat and humidity, it is still important to observe safe exercise and offer healthy ways to help horses keep cool.

The Skin Health of Your Horse

mom daughter grooming horseHorses can encounter many skin health issues on a daily basis. Geographical location and seasonal variations have a major influence on the range of possible skin issues.

Before diving too deep into skin issues, it is important to understand skin components. The skin is the body’s largest organ, representing 12-24% of the animal’s body weight, depending upon species and age. The skin is composed of five zones:

  • Dermis
    • Supports and nourishes the epidermis. There are cells, fibers and nerve plexuses present in the dermis.
  • Basement Membrane Zone
    • Primary function is to attach and act as a barrier to the epidermis and dermis. Several factors including autoimmune conditions can impact the health of the basement membrane zone.
  • Epidermis
    • Often hair covered and the first barrier of defense. Also composed of multiple layers. The overall health of these layers are influenced by nutrition, hormones, tissue factors, immune cells and genetics.
  • Appendageal System
    • Contains structures that grow with the epidermis such as hair follicles, sebaceous and sweat glands. Hair growth is impacted by many factors including nutrition, hormones and sunlight.
  • Subcutaneous Muscles & Fat
    • Has many functions such as insulation, shock absorber, and a reservoir for hydration. (Merck, 2015)

Skin issues generally fall under five categories:

  1. Traumatic skin issue or skin wounds/lacerations often from environmental hazards such as fencing, barn structure, or other objects.
  2. Granulomatous skin issue or “proud flesh can occur when a wound goes untreated or unnoticed following injury.
  3. Nodular skin issue or skin associated with seasonal conditions or allergic dermatitis from insects such flies and ticks.
  4. Pruritic and alopecic skin issue or contact dermatitis often from plants, irritating chemicals or “Sweet Itch” associated with gnat bites. Other Ectoparasites such as Lice and Mange are contributing factors of this type of skin issue.
  5. Nonpruritic and alopecic skin issue or “Rain Scald”/“Rain Rot” from prolonged exposure to environmental conditions is one major factor contributing to this type of skin issue.

Because of these various potential skin issues, it is important to include a quality care, management and grooming routine for your horse. Brushes and equipment should be cleaned between horses. If a contagious skin disease is suspected, designate a set of grooming supplies to be used only on the horse with an issue.

Skin health is affected by many components of nutrition. Proper hydration and access to a quality water source is the cornerstone of skin health. A quality balanced diet rounds out an optimal skin health plan. Diets balanced in essential amino acids, Omega-3 and Omega-6, and vitamins and minerals.

A proper farm insect management program starts with cleanliness and prevention. Keeping manure removed or far from horse barn, stalls or paddocks is essential. In a barn environment use fans to help deter flying insects from horse stalls or confined areas. Remove standing water or keep horses further from standing water sources to help reduce insect experiences. During peak insect seasons use of fly bonnets, fly sheets or safe insect repellents. If desired, a feed through fly control product can be incorporated into a full insect control program.

Bathing or “cold hosing” the horse’s skin can help with discomfort of skin issues. It is appropriate for horses in exercise to be “bathed” or hosed off after exercise. It is important to scrape/wipe off excess water and properly cool out any horse to avoid additional complications. Care should be taken to not “over bathe” or use harsh shampoo or chemicals on the horses’ skin.

Please consult your Veterinarian before administering any medicated or chemical treatments or for additional information on skin diseases and treatments.