Equine Parasites: A Holistic Approach
The following article was written by Dr. Madalyn Ward, DVM and is re-posted with her permission.
You’ve heard of the 80/20 rule, right? Well, this rule applies to managing equine parasites just as much as it seems to apply everywhere else in life. Studies show that about 20% of horses in most populations are responsible for generating or “shedding” 80% of the parasite load.
What does that mean to you as a horse owner? It means that an over-the-counter deworming “annual pack” isn’t going to necessarily be a good fit for your horse. One size does NOT fit all, and you will need more information about your horse and his environment before you can take a holistic approach to managing the parasites in his life!
Equine Parasites: The Holistic Program
For healthy horses with strong immune systems and not under severe stress or work, I find that this holistic deworming program works well.
- Build a solid nutritional program by feeding Simplexity Essentials or APA Blend daily. This improves your horse’s overall digestion, health, and immunity.
- Feed 15 capsules of Simplexity’s Spectrabiotic (a full-spectrum probiotic) every new and full moon as a non-chemical dewormer.
Having said that, this program does not work for every horse. There are many factors that can affect your horse’s parasite load, and you will need to do some research to build a profile about your horse’s particular needs.
Equine Parasites: Factors to Consider
To take a truly holistic approach to deworming and managing equine parasites, you have to consider a number of factors:
- What category of “shedder” is your horse: high, moderate, or low?
- How strong is your horse’s immune system for limiting infection by parasites?
- How much contact does your horse have with equine parasites in his environment?
- What time of year is it?
Let’s take a closer look at each of these factors related to equine parasites.
1. What Kind of Shedder is Your Horse? When it comes to shedding parasite eggs, there are three categories: high, moderate, and low. The category is determined by the number of parasite eggs found per gram of feces (eggs per gram, or epg).
Low = Less than 200 epg Moderate = 200 to 500 epg High = more than 500 epg
Low shedders are able to contain parasite infections and shed few eggs in the pasture. These shedders can most likely be managed with the holistic program outlined above. Other options include homeopathic products and diatomaceous earth. These options may not work for high shedders.
To get an accurate picture of which category your horse is in, you will need to perform fecal tests in spring, when the weather is warm and moist. In addition, once you get on a deworming program, you will need to perform fecal tests every 3-4 months for a year or two to be sure your program works.
2. Your Horse’s Immunity First and foremost, let go of the notion of “zero tolerance” when it comes to equine parasites. Parasites are becoming more immune to chemical dewormers, and the presence of parasites isn’t all bad. Parasitism is a natural state in which the horse has evolved, and the presence of parasites can stimulate your horse’s immune system as long as there are no adverse effects.
Second, a horse with a strong immune system is less likely to be adversely affected by equine parasites. Some horses may need to be supported with additional probiotics, enzymes, and immune-enhancing products like ImmuSun.
3. Your Horse’s Environment I am definitely in favor of holistic deworming protocols, but this may not be an option for horses in the following situations:
- boarding stables with high populations or where high shedders are not managed
- pastures that are regularly dragged (spreads parasitic larva everywhere)
- traveling to many destinations, as in the case of performance horses
- in hard training or under high stress
In other words, if your horse either constantly comes into contact with equine parasites (any fairground is a perfect example) or is working under conditions of high stress, these holistic recommendations may not work.
4. The time of year Most parasites thrive in the warm and moist times of the year–spring and fall. Moderate and high shedders may need to be dewormed chemically during these times of year, but may be fine with non-chemical dewormers the rest of the year.
Manage your horse’s living environment especially diligently during the spring and fall. Remove manure from stalls and paddocks. Allow dung beetles to break up manure piles in the pasture rather than dragging (and don’t overdo the chemical dewormers because this tends to inhibit dung beetle activity). Mow pastures and keep the grass short–this limits the number of places where parasites can hide.
About the Author
Madalyn Ward, DVM, owns Bear Creek Veterinary Clinic in Austin, Texas. She is certified in Veterinary Homeopathy and Equine Osteopathy. Memberships include American Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Equine Practitioners, American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, Texas Veterinay Medical Association and the Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy. She has authored several books and publishes the monthly newsletter, “Holistic Horsekeeping.”
For more information about Dr. Ward or to read more of her articles, visit her website.