Tail Rubbing - Superficial Problem or Chronic Disease?
Tail rubbing can be a perplexing problem.
Natural Horse Magazine thanks Dr. Glen Dupree for his helpful insights on a frustrating problem.
NHM: What are the most common causes for tail rubbing in horses?
Dr. Dupree: Obviously pinworms can be a real issue, especially when their epidemiology on the farm is not understood. I also see tail itching secondary to external parasites (lice, mites, ticks), to topical infections like rain rot, and to various allergies - all of which are indicative of deeper health issues that need to be addressed. If we only look superficially at the tail rubbing as the problem or as the result of one of these other (also superficial) issues, we miss an opportunity to address the true underlying cause of the symptom.
Hygiene can be a factor - improper nutrition, improper housing, poor husbandry, isolation or poor herd dynamics - in many problems seen in the horse world. These external factors need to be addressed and corrected before any medicine is used.
NHM: Can nerve damage be a cause?
Dr. Dupree: Neuralgias are not such an issue in my experience, although
if other causes are ruled out I would definitely be thinking of a chiropractic
adjustment for the horse.
NHM: How can one determine if there are pinworms?
Dr. Dupree: Pinworms are a bit different than strongyles or roundworms in that the female worm actually deposits the eggs externally around the rectum and under the tail. The easiest diagnostic technique is using sticky tape pressed against the suspected area and examined under the microscope for eggs.
NHM: What else do we need to know about pinworms, and about horses who get them?
Dr. Dupree: If a horse is persistently bothered with pinworms, I would suspect one of two things - or both in combination.
The first thing I would look at is potential transmission or reinfestation. Stalled horses being fed on the ground, horses stalled or pastured next to infected horses, and horses living in stalls that are seldom cleaned are all candidates for reinfestation since the eggs are rubbed off when the horse scratches the tail. Commonly objects such as fence posts, water troughs, elevated feed buckets are all used as scratching blocks for the itching horse. This knocks the eggs loose into the environment where they hatch into infective larvae.
I would first correct any potential source of contamination or reinfestation before using heavy chemicals to deworm the horse.
Then I would look at the overall health status of the horse. Horses in good health and vitality should have a measure of resistance to parasites. If this individual is continually parasitized or has other health problems, I would look at correcting the underlying health issues that are allowing the continued parasitism.
NHM: How can one determine if tail rubbing is due to allergy or sensitivity?
Dr. Dupree: By ruling out external causes such as topical infections and parasites. Again, I think this is just one of the problems we can see from improper nutrition and improper gut function.
NHM: What can be done, naturally, to eliminate tail rubbing?
Dr. Dupree: The same things that I would use to treat just about any other health issue - correct hygiene (removing or correcting any external factor in the development of the symptom such as over vaccination, dysbiosis [intestinal flora imbalance or disharmony], improper nutrition, boredom or anxiety from improper housing, etc.) then approach therapeutics from the deepest levels. For me this means treating the chronic disease of the horse homeopathically - improved health is the best preventative for illness.