Horse Owner’s Guide To Horse Health Care

Oct 17, 2014
Preventative/Preparedness lameness and performance

Every horse owner should be familiar with the basic medical needs of their horse including vaccination recommendations, de-worming schedules, feed and water requirements and some basic first aid.

Annual/Semi-Annual Veterinary Visit

  1. Vaccinations - Ideally divided into Spring and Fall Visits
    • Spring: Eastern and Western Equine Encephalomyelitis, Tetanus, Influenza, Rhinopneumonitis, West Nile Virus
    • Fall: Influenza, Rhinopneumonitis, Strangles, and Rabies
  2. Dental examination and floating - yearly
  3. Physical examination including review of feeding programs and sand prevention guidelines
  4. Sheath cleaning for stallions and geldings
  5. De-Worming - review de-worming program

NOTE: Influenza + Rhinopneumonitis should be given at least once yearly, at least twice yearly in boarding stables or show horses.

West Nile Virus—When to vaccinate

You should vaccinate prior to mosquito season – March and April are ideal. August and September appear to be the greatest risk period, so be sure to vaccinate well before then. Once a horse has been given the initial series of 2 doses of the vaccine, most horses will be adequately protected with a once-yearly booster vaccine if it is given at the right time.

30% of horses that contract West Nile Virus die. Vaccinated horses are 16 times less likely to die than unvaccinated horses!


Horses need to have their feet trimmed and sometimes shod every 6-8 weeks.

Foal Vaccination Schedules

The latest recommendations are to wait until the maternal antibodies have waned and the foal’s immune system is mature enough to respond to the vaccine, thus:

  • The initial vaccines should be given at 6 months of age, and then repeated twice, once 4 weeks later, and again 8-10 weeks later.
  • It is very important to vaccinate the mare 1 month prior to foaling so that she can transfer high levels of antibody to her foal through the colostrum!

De-worming Program

Recommended paste de-worming slow rotation program:

  1. Paste deworm every 2 months.
  2. Rotate the type of de-wormer every 6 months.
  3. Use an Ivermectin paste for one of the 6 month periods (include one with praziquantel like Zimectrin Gold or Equimax).
  4. Use Pyrantel such as Strongid paste or Panacur paste for another 6 months OR Rotate 3 different paste de-wormers and use a different one every two months.
    NOTE: Foaling mares should be dewormed 1 month prior to foaling and that the foal should be dewormed EVERY MONTH for 1 year starting at 1 month of age.

Feed and Water

Horses need free choice fresh water, especially in the heat of the summer months. Horses should be fed on a by weight basis and require 1.5% to 2% of their body weight in feed daily. For a 1000 lb horse, this is equivalent to 15-20 lbs of total feed daily. It is best to provide at least half of that as forage. Ideally feed 15 lbs of forage (hay) and add grain supplements as needed to provide extra energy. Adjust according to the horse’s body weight and activity. Straight Alfalfa can be fed, but it is too rich in protein and calcium. Try to minimize alfalfa Hay to 25% or less of the total hay fed. A free choice mineral block should be provided, unless your horse tends to eat it too quickly.

Emergencies: Time to call the Vet!

  1. Colic: lethargic, not eating, pawing the ground, looking at the flank, lying down, rolling, unable to stand up, hasn’t made a normal amount of manure, bloated, crampy, anxious, etc.
  2. Wounds: lacerations, puncture wounds, deep or extensive abrasions; especially over joints, tendons, or eyes, large skin flaps, excessive bleeding, swelling, or discharge
  3. Eyes: lacerations, abrasions, swollen eyelids, drainage or pus, holding the eye closed
  4. Lameness:severe lameness, usually in both front legs, the horse looks like it is “walking on egg shells,” unwilling to walk, shifting weight off of the front legs onto the rear legs, warm feet, strong digital pulse
  5. Laminitis: severe lameness, usually in both front legs, the horse looks like it is “walking on egg shells,” or unwilling to walk, shifting weight off of the front legs onto the rear legs, warm feet, strong digital pulse
  6. Fever: normal temperature = 99-100.5 ˚ A fever is 101˚or more and horses are often found off feed and lethargic
  7. Respiratory: coughing, nasal discharge, swollen glands under the jaw (Strangles), lethargic, fever, exercise intolerance (easily winded)
  8. Down Horse: unable to get up: Fractured bones, colic, weakness, severe illness, neurological (West Nile Virus), arthritis, old-age related
  9. Foaling: Prepare a plan beforehand with your Veterinarian.
  10. Foals: Any decrease in activity, decreased appetite, or lameness is a medical emergency!
Dr. Mark Meddleton, DVM

Written by Mark Meddleton, DVM

Dr. Meddleton is a 1991 graduate of Cornell University and completed a Medical & Surgical Internship at the University of Minnesota. He is a member of the American Veterinary Chiropractic Assoc., has been performing Chiropractic since 1994, and has extensively studied Equine Dentistry. He spent 4 years in a large performance horse practice in the Albany/Saratoga region of NY and moved to NM in 1996.