Parasites in Paradise

The minis are officially out of quarantine. They’ve passed the two-month waiting period and had their follow-up Coggins test. And like all good horses everywhere, they waited just a few days after the vet was at the farm before they exhibited their first health issues. Spoiler alert: this post deals with diarrhea. If you want to stop reading now, I completely understand.

Just a few days after assuring the vet that the horses had adjusted well to their new environment and being assured by the vet that they looked to be in great shape, we noticed some loose stools in the daily poop pickup. I tend to not get too excited by the occasional loose stool . . . most animals, like people, sometimes get a little stressed or eat something that doesn’t fully agree with them and that can cause a temporary change in bowel habits. But when it went from somewhat loose to downright watery the next day, it was time to act.

First, I had to determine which horse had diarrhea. Neither of them seemed to feel bad, neither was dehydrated, and they were both showing up for every meal and drinking water normally.

Java never misses a meal and drinks somewhere between two and five gallons of water daily.

The next step was to simply lift their tails and check to see if anything seemed amiss. Or should I say, a mess. While little Java’s backside was clean as a whistle, Mr. Peaberry’s beautiful bushy tail was hiding a streak of runny green gunk. I sat and watched them both until they pooped and sure enough, my suspicions were confirmed. Java seemed normal, but Peaberry had the runs.

When our dog succumbs to diarrhea, it’s almost always because she’s eaten something awful. When a horse has it, any horse, the first suspect is almost always worms. Since I knew it had been at least two months since the horses had been dewormed, I decided to start there, even though the vet said we could go to a six-month deworming schedule. After all, they’d been on the road and in strange new places on their way to me, so deworming seemed the prudent thing to do.

Mr. Peaberry cooperated beautifully, taking a dose of ivermectin like a champ. I was able to simply squirt it in his mouth and although he didn’t look thrilled, he didn’t seem to mind. Java, as always, was not that simple. I ended up covering some of her favorite treats in the paste and she eventually mouthed them enough to get what I hoped was close to a full dose. To slow the flow from Mr. Peaberry so he didn’t get dehydrated, I also gave him a couple of Pepto-Bismol tablets which he decided were almost as good as his apple-flavored treats.

The following day I was rewarded with the observation of normal bowel movements for both. But the next day held a surprise – every pile of poop held a wad of worms. Long, icky roundworms, also known as ascarids. While it’s not unusual for horses to have worms (most carry a parasite load their entire life with relatively few ill effects), a heavy load of roundworms can be a problem for a young horse. I did not expect to see this many worms come out of my little horses. The good news is that the ivermectin appeared to work, as all the worms I observed were dead. The bad news is that these particular worms can cause quite a bit of internal trauma as they migrate through the horse’s organs during their life cycle, causing symptoms that range from a dry cough to diarrhea. When the load is heavy enough and you induce a significant die-off, you can also induce colic as the dying worms may create an impaction in the horse’s intestines. I had a moment of panic when Mr. Peaberry laid down and rolled in discomfort the next morning, but after he got up and pooped (normally), he seemed fine.

Mr. Peaberry, always alert and ready for more hay.

So we remain watchful and will dose again in a couple of weeks to make sure we’ve gotten the worms under control. It’s critical to keep their dry lot clean as these worms can produce millions of eggs that are passed back out in manure and then ingested as the horses pick at the grass that remains in their paddock. Wherever these worms came from, it’s a safe bet that our pasture is now infected. Once the horses are older (around 18 months), they will likely develop an immunity to these parasites, but while they’re still young, they are at continued risk. I’ll be taking a sample of manure up to the vet’s office to check for other parasites and make sure that we’re using the right dewormer to get this under control. For now, both of the minis are doing well, with good appetites and bright eyes.


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