Reducing Your Horse’s Toxic Load
Unfortunately, in this day and age, we live in an increasingly toxic world. Pesticides, herbicides, and a number of other harmful chemicals infiltrate our environment on a daily basis. We unknowingly put many of these chemicals into our bodies as well. True, they often appear in very small amounts, but over time, they can build up, leading toxic overload. I’ve learned in recent years how some of these toxins affect me, personally (autoimmune problems, anyone?) However, I’ve also learned how to reduce the number of toxins I’m exposed to. I’m trying to do the same for my horses and other pets as well.
There are so many things we, as horse owners do, because we believe it’s the right thing. We think we’re helping our horses, but if we delve a little deeper, we may find that not all of these practices are beneficial. Many products, in fact, can be harmful, especially if used repeatedly.
The good news is there are many alternatives. Let’s explore a few ways you can reduce your horse’s toxic load.
Nobody likes flies or other biting insects, and we all want to keep these pests away from our horses as best we can, but many traditional fly sprays contain toxic ingredients. I’ve written about this before, but some fly spray ingredients have been linked with cancer, some kill bees, fish, and other non-bothersome organisms, and some can cause reproductive and developmental toxicity in humans (as shown by rat studies). Sometimes, horses have visible reactions to chemical fly sprays. Have you ever seen this?
But many times, the effects are more subtle. Additionally, the chemicals end up in the soil, groundwater, and eventually, streams and ponds where they can have a lasting and detrimental effects. I suggest reading about some specific fly spray ingredients in this article.
Herbicides (Weed Killers)
Personally, I have a problem with using chemical weedkiller at all (something my husband and I disagree on). And despite increasing evidence of its toxicity, Round-Up continues to be one of the most commonly used herbicides. While its active ingredient, glyphosate, has been widely studied (and determined to be “safe” in low doses), researchers have become more concerned by other compounds in the mixture (see this article for more information). It seems Round-Up can negatively affect the good bacteria in our gut–the very bacteria that keeps us healthy. In addition, it supports the growth of harmful bacteria. This is a BIG problem, in my opinion.
I don’t spray weeds at all in my pastures or around my barn. Instead, I’ve learned to embrace the diversity of plant species (as well as understand that some “weeds” are actually beneficial to our horses.) Managing my pastures by rotational grazing, not overstocking, and mowing have all proven helpful, too. If you’re set on getting rid of weeds though, you could try some more environmentally-friendly alternatives, as discussed in this article.
It’s no secret that most crops are routinely sprayed with both herbicides and pesticides in order to increase crop production. Traces of these chemicals still remain when we or our animals eat them. The only way to avoid/ reduce the amount of these chemicals them is to grow your own feed/ hay or buy organic or non-GMO feeds and hay.
Yes, I know chemical dewormers can save equine lives, and I use them, too. But one thing I have done is cut down on how often I give them. For years, I routinely rotated chemical dewormers every three months. It’s what the veterinary community recommended. But that’s no longer the case. Not only is frequent dosing of chemical dewormers ineffective, it’s leading to parasite resistance. It’s also adding to our horses’ toxic burden. Daily feed-through dewormers are the worst of these, in my opinion.
Using fecal egg counts should be a vital part of our parasite management program, but using herbal dewormers (such as this one) and diatomaceous earth can also help maintain lower counts and can often lessen the need for chemical dewormers.
I’m saving the most controversial for last! First of all, I’d like to say that I am not anti-vaccination. However, I am very much for responsible vaccination. After one of my older horses experienced several bad reactions to yearly vaccines, I stopped giving them (yearly, at least). The more I looked into this, the more I became concerned. I believe many of our animals are over-vaccinated and that this can cause a wide variety of problems. People don’t get vaccinated for the same things year after year, so why do we do this to our pets?
The following are common ingredients in vaccines (from the CDC website):
- Aluminum gels or salts of aluminum which are added as adjuvants to help the vaccine stimulate a better response. Adjuvants help promote an earlier, more potent response, and more persistent immune response to the vaccine.
- Antibiotics which are added to some vaccines to prevent the growth of germs (bacteria) during production and storage of the vaccine. No vaccine produced in the United States contains penicillin.
- Egg protein is found in yellow fever and most influenza vaccines, which are prepared using chicken eggs. Ordinarily, persons who are able to eat eggs or egg products safely can receive these vaccines.
- Formaldehyde is used to inactivate bacterial products for toxoid vaccines, (these are vaccines that use an inactive bacterial toxin to produce immunity.) It is also used to kill unwanted viruses and bacteria that might contaminate the vaccine during production. Most formaldehyde is removed from the vaccine before it is packaged.
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG) and 2-phenoxy-ethanol which are used as stabilizers in a few vaccines to help the vaccine remain unchanged when the vaccine is exposed to heat, light, acidity, or humidity.
- Thimerosal is a mercury-containing preservative that is added to vials of vaccine that contain more than one dose to prevent contamination and growth of potentially harmful bacteria.
All vaccine ingredients are said to be “safe”, but are they really when we vaccinate over and over again?
The good news is that it’s never too late to make changes which can benefit your horses. If you believe your horse is storing toxins (dull coat, poor hooves, underweight, etc. despite good diet), detox is likely necessary. You can learn more about how to go about it here.