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Best Parasite Management Practices for Horses

It's normal for horses to carry a few parasites in their system. And if kept under control with de-wormers, most parasites will not cause harm. If the infestation goes untreated, however, your horse could suffer from poor health or eventually irreversible damage.

Types of Worms
As a horse owner, the battle against internal parasites is constant. And knowing which parasites you are fighting is half the battle. There are several different types of worms, for example, that can affect your foals, and several more that can infest your adult horses. Also, different worms are more prevalent at different times of the year.

Large roundworms known as ascarids will enter young horses when their eggs are ingested. The eggs hatch and the larvae move through the liver and lungs and into the small intestine where they grow up to 20" in length. Ascarids drain nutrition from the foal and can cause intestinal blockages and ruptures.Threadworms can also invade young horses. Sudden development of diarrhea can be an indication of the presence of threadworms in your foal.

Adult Horses
Strongyles (bloodworms) are one of the most common parasites found in horses. The large and small varieties of strongyles have different life cycles but both enter the horse through the ingestion of food. The name bloodworm comes from the strongyles' method of travel through the horse's blood vessels to the aorta that feeds the intestinal tract. They remain in the aorta until they are mature enough to enter the intestinal tract and lay eggs. While in the blood vessels, stronglyles can cause aneurysms and colic. Some may invade the liver and spleen and the smaller strongyles can even be found inside the intestinal walls.

Your horse's mouth is susceptible to the botfly. Botflies lay their eggs on the legs and shoulders of horses, which if not removed, will hatch into larvae and enter the horse's mouth. Evidence of botflies in the mouth are sores on the tongue and around the teeth. From the mouth they will travel to the stomach where they can cause ulcers and ruptures. The larvae will eventually pass through the digestive tract and into manure where they will hatch into adult flies. Other common parasites are tapeworms, pinworms, lungworms, stomach worms and neck threadworms.

Set A Worming Schedule
Since parasite eggs live in horse feces found in pastures, barns and stalls, your horse can continually become infected. It is therefore recommended to treat your horse with de-wormer on a regular basis.
You should administer de-wormer medication every two to three months.

Make sure you apply the appropriate wormer at the appropriate time of the year to effectively interrupt the life cycle of the worm. What de-wormer you use depends on what worms are present. Tapeworms are more prominent at the end of grazing season. Botflies appear during fly season. Strongyles should be treated for in the late fall.

Rotational de-worming may be best to keep your horse worm free. Consult with your veterinarian to set up a proper de-worming schedule and rotation.

Types of De-Wormers
There are several types of parasite control products on the market. They can be administered by liquid, powdered, paste or gel. Both chemical and natural de-wormers are available.

How can I check my de-worming program is working?
To check the amount of parasite eggs in your horse's manure you can use a home equine worm test kit or you can take a manure sample to your veterinarian for a fecal analysis. This will give you an idea whether your worming program is effective. You will also learn the quantity and type of parasites your horse might be harboring.

How do I prevent my horse from getting parasites?
Total prevention of parasites is almost impossible. Therefore, your best bet is to try to reduce the eggs that exist in pastures and stables by good maintenance practices. Parasite eggs in horse's manure are eaten along with the grass. Keep your pastures clear of manure and allow your pastures to rest if possible. And keep your stalls clean and dry. In addition, fly sprays, leg bands and collars may help repel botflies.