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6 Money-Saving Preventive Care Tips for Managing Your Horse

By Pat Raia

Spoiler alter: Horse ownership comes with vet bills. They’re an unavoidable, and often costly, part of caring for equids. So, when it comes to routine horse care, some owners might try to reduce veterinary costs by forgoing annual exams and treatments. But, veterinarians warn, cutting corners on preventive care often winds up being more costly in the long run.

1. Get Annual Wellness Exams

“Very simply, it pays off to get an annual physical exam for your horse because there are conditions that can show up in those exams that, if not detected, can cost owners money for larger veterinary bills (in the future),” said Fernando J. Marqués, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM, clinical associate professor and chief of services at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine’s Morrie Waud Large Animal Hospital. “Also, horses receive annual vaccinations during those physicals, and that’s not where people should cut corners to save money either.”

During typical annual equine physicals, veterinarians will check the horse’s temperature and heart and respiratory rate, and they’ll auscultate (listen to using a stethoscope) the heart, lungs and gut. Most physicals also include body condition scoring and an eye exam, and some include sheath cleaning and hoof evaluations, as well.

“Annual physicals (should) also include core vaccines recommended by the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AEEP); prevention is key” Marqués said.

2. Follow Core Vaccine Recommendations

The AAEP’s vaccination guidelines recommend that all horses receive annual core vaccines, including Eastern and Western equine encephalomyelitis, tetanus, rabies, and West Nile virus. The AAEP guidelines recommend additional risk-based vaccines as needed, based on the horse’s living situation, how often he travels, reproduction status, and more; work with your veterinarian to determine which risk-based vaccines your horse might benefit from. Some examples include equine influenza, equine herpesvirus-1 and -4, and botulism.

3. Have Your Horse’s Teeth Checked

Annual equine physicals should also include dental exams and treatment, as needed. Some horses, especially seniors and those with existing oral issues, might warrant more frequent dental exams and treatment.

“Dental exams are important because if a horse does not chew properly, digestion could be altered leading to colic and poor absorption of nutrients,” Marqués said. “Also, for example, other conditions such as sinusitis from tooth root infections and abnormal hindgut fermentation can begin in the mouth.”

4. Get a Fecal Egg Count

Owners can also reduce routine costs of health care by adding a fecal egg count to annual equine examinations, which can help eliminate unnecessary deworming treatments in some horses, said Meggan Graves, DVM, an assistant clinical professor of large animal clinical sciences at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine’s Institute of Agriculture, in Knoxville.

A fecal egg count measures the number of parasite eggs, including strongyle eggs, that a horse passes in each gram of manure. A low count—less than 200 to 250 eggs per gram—indicates that a horse has good natural immunity to strongyles and might not need to be dewormed as frequently, Graves said. Higher egg counts indicate that a horse is a high shedder, likely carrying many adult, egg-laying parasites. Those horses will likely require more frequent deworming.

“Depending upon the results of the fecal egg count, you may only have to deworm your horse every six months,” Graves said.

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