Alternatives To Traditional Deworming Methods For Horses
Paste dewormers have their place and are still occasionally necessary to maintain a healthy horse. However, it is important to reevaluate their use and avoid scheduled administration without knowledge of a horse’s specific parasite burden.
The most important step owners can take in parasite management is a simple fecal egg count (FEC). Before paste dewormers became customary, parasite management always began with a FEC to determine if treatment was necessary. Reintroducing this small step can reduce drug resistance, increase effectiveness and minimize exposure to harmful chemicals by only treating horses with high parasite burdens. Instead of blindly administering paste dewormer every six to eight weeks, simply administer FECs at similar intervals.
Nearly any veterinarian, including small animal practices, can conduct an FEC and will typically charge as little as $15 to $25. A fecal collection is as easy as 1…2…3…
1. Get a Ziploc© bag and write your name, horse name and date on it. Turn the bag inside out. Pick up an ‘apple’ of poop.
2. Pull your hand and manure ‘apple’ back through the closure, to make the poop be inside the bag.
The vet clinic will normally compile a report within twenty-four hours. This report will not only determine the number of parasite eggs in the stool sample, it will enable strategic deworming by also identifying what types of parasites are present. Armed with this information, caregivers can make an informed decision as to whether or not to deworm and the best dewormer to use for the specific infestation.
If an FEC indicates the presence of more than two hundred eggs per gram, the horse should be dewormed with the mildest medication available that specifically targets the parasite in question. If less than two hundred eggs per gram are found, a follow-up exam should be conducted in sixty days to verify results and make certain that the initial test wasn’t conducted during a point in the parasites’ life cycle where eggs are not present. After a few rounds of FECs, caregivers can typically identify “wormier” horses and those that rarely carry a high parasite burden. For many low-burden horses, FECs can be reduced to an annual affair.
Perhaps most importantly, FECs provide enough information for targeted treatment and the elimination of overly harsh products like Quest and PowerPak. By knowing the level and type of parasite infestation, more benign medications like Strongid, Panacur or Safe-Guard can be employed. The benefits of using these alternatives are immeasurable, as Quest is so powerful that consuming manure from treated horses can kill certain breeds of dogs. Any opportunity to reduce a horse’s exposure to such harsh medications is invaluable.
Although this extra step in parasite management may appear to increase health care costs, FECs can create savings by reducing frequent and unnecessary deworming treatments. Consider that employing a paste dewormer every two months at $12 a tube costs $72 a year. Using FECs every three months can reduce dependence on paste dewormers to twice a year. At $15 per test, FECs should only cost around $45 a year. Combined with biannual deworming at $24, using FECs results in a total yearly cost of about $69 – a modest financial savings with a large return on overall horse health. With good horse keeping protocols, FECs can be run as little as once or twice a year and can reduce the need for paste dewormers to once a year or less, providing an even greater savings.
In addition to traditional paste dewormers and continuous dewormers, there are a few natural or holistic alternatives to parasite management. One of the most popular natural approaches involves products with diatomaceous earth, a naturally occurring chalky rock consisting of fossilized remains called diatoms. In industrial settings, diatomaceous earth is used as a filtering and absorbing agent and many believe it can filter and eliminate harmful pests like bacteria and protozoa. Proponents of this approach also claim that diatomaceous earth’s abrasive qualities can eliminate worms by damaging their outer membranes. These claims are difficult to evaluate and one must consider the possible effects of mild abrasion to the horse’s internal organs as well.
Other common holistic treatments include anti-parasitic herbs such as grape seed, pumpkin seed, sage, thyme or wormwood. Many years ago, tobacco was even considered a viable holistic treatment. The primary issue with these approaches lies in the sheer volume required for effectiveness. Large quantities of seeds and certain herbs can produce serious health issues, including increased risk of colic. Of course modern treatment recognizes that tobacco in large quantities can be harmful to health. Grape seed and pumpkin seed can also be problematic, as they have been linked to diarrhea, colic and laminitis in large quantities. Wormwood, the primary ingredient in absinthe, should also be carefully evaluated as it has been associated with kidney, liver and nervous system damage in high doses.
While some holistic approaches may provide an alternative to paste dewormers, their use must be carefully monitored. A natural approach is always admirable, yet many of these treatments fail to provide effective treatment and must be prudently evaluated. Natural remedies are not subject to the same testing and advertising standards as chemical dewormers, so their effectiveness and the veracity of their advertising claims can vary widely. As with all parasite treatments, FECs are still critical to determining a horse’s parasite load and the foundation of an effective deworming protocol.
- Fecal Egg Counts (FECs) should always be conducted to determine the need for deworming medication.
- An FEC every 6-8 weeks can identify “wormier” horses and allow the use of medications that specifically target a given parasite infection.
- Although an extra step, FECs will not significantly increase the cost of horse care and can reduce exposure to harsh chemical treatments – preventing reactions to synthetic dewormers and minimizing the risk of drug resistance.