Intestinal Parasites: Opportunists in the Horse
Are the parasites the problem, or are WE the problem?
HHH: The natural job of a parasite is survival; unfortunately it is at the expense of our horses. As with many things in life, it's survival of the fittest, so let's improve the odds that it will be our horses that thrive… not the parasites, this year!
A single strongyle egg, seen during a routine fecal flotation test
Are parasites the cause or the result of ill health? They are both. Either way, they indicate a health problem, and we do not want parasites in our horses, because they damage sensitive tissues when they set up house, contributing to further decline.
How does manure play into the picture? Manure is the horse's waste product - yuk. It is also a natural source of beneficial gut microorganisms for the foal - yum. It is food for the soil when it is broken down - yum. It is the vehicle by which intestinal parasites distribute their eggs (carries them through and out of the system) to make more parasitic larvae available to those horses whose lowered immune systems accommodate them - yuk. Manure, because it is the horse's waste, contains discarded bodily matter, excess minerals, unused/ unavailable nutrients, toxins, and possibly foreign bodies - such as parasites.
Internal parasites thrive in the unhealthy, imbalanced body and digestive system that cannot evict them. Their food source is often the gut itself - yuk. In fact, parasites are akin to "Mikey"…they eat just about anything, and will compete with your horse for his nutrients.
HHH: It's important to understand how natural immunity works...
If you never get exposed to a cold, you never will build immunity to a cold. If a horse is never exposed to parasites, he will not build any natural immunity. A horse that cannot fend off any invaders on his own is in trouble. We magnify the problem with fertilizers that deplete the soils that our horses graze on, by polluting our water sources, and forcing our animals to eat processed feeds. Fending off invaders is supposed to come naturally, but in today's realistic environment, it is a huge challenge for many animals. Cleanliness helps, but don't overprotect - relax and let nature help. Yes, horses can pick up parasites from a new herd member, and vice-versa, yet each horse's own susceptibility to various parasites is what will determine whether he sheds them and resists them in future exposures - or doesn't. The parasites are out there, moreso in unhealthy, imbalanced environments. Help your horse keep his health and vitality at optimum by providing as natural an environment and lifestyle as possible. Keep a reasonably clean environment - not a sterile environment. Horses who host parasites have a weak link in their system or in their environment. If a naturally-managed horse has a problem resisting parasites, he has a health problem. Don't make it worse by subjecting him to inappropriate chemicals - consult a holistic veterinarian for a sensible approach to improving his condition.
HHH: Most horses with a parasite problem have visible indications.
The following symptoms may assist you in recognizing possible parasite infestation or susceptibility in your horse. If any of these persist consult your veterinarian: a general ill-thrift; a rough/fluffy winter coat look or a dull coat; repeated bouts of colic; a pot (big) belly; poor appetite, weight loss (especially rapid) and even anorexia; diarrhea; lethargy and depression; anemia; blood in the manure; inflammation; performance loss; restlessness; anal itching/ tail rubbing; ulcers and edema.
HHH: Regular fecal testing is imperative in your quest against parasites!
A fecal test (FWEC/ Fecal worm egg count) is the most common method to test for parasites. Your vet takes a manure sample, mixes it with a special solution that makes the parasite eggs float, then a drop of the top fluid is examined under a microscope. Worms are rarely seen in the manure, but by counting the number and types of parasite eggs, the degree of infestation can be determined.
Note: A false negative (a zero egg count) can result if the parasites are not actively releasing eggs or are in the small intestine, liver, heart or lungs (migrating through the body). The worms may be too sick to lay eggs, but not die. Smaller species' eggs might even be broken down by digestion. Some may simply continue to migrate through tissues until they finally die. Regular retesting will more accurately determine their presence, as will clinical signs. Generally 200 epg (fecal eggs per gram) or less is considered low, and over 1000 is high. Each herd member should be tested; there can be a consistently high count in one horse and consistently low or zero in another in the same herd.
Other tests for parasites may include centrifuging (spinning method to separate eggs out) and serology (blood test to determine antibodies to parasites in the blood but not those in the tissues). Fiberoptic exams are used to see stomach worms.
HHH: A non-invasive, holistic approach to a health problem promotes a harmonious environment for the horse, and does not welcome parasites.
There are many natural healing options to consider, depending on your (and your horse's) unique situation: acupressure, acupuncture, aromatherapy, bioresonance therapy, bodywork, chiropractic, communication (kinesiologist, animal communicator, medical intuitive), crystals, homeopathy, gemmotherapy, vibrational essence formulas, laser and light therapy, iridology, Equine Touch, music, color therapy, magnetic therapy, NeuroScenar Cybernetic Biofeedback, Magneto Geometric Remedies (MGR's), NAET, and more. Checking your horse's basal temperature regularly helps monitor her state of health (normal horse temperature range is 99-101°F.
HHH: Nutritional supports are key to boosting immunity against invaders and regaining optimum health.
Immune boosting supports include herbs such as calendula, Pau D'arco tree bark (in small doses), astragalus, and garlic. Pinch off a little rue or tansy and add it to the feed to assist in keeping parasites at bay. Plant fresh herbs such as mint, parsley and garlic around the trough for nibbling, or comfrey, chamomile, wormwood, and thyme in the pasture for your horse to freely choose. Edibles that support the digestive system include whole foods, enzymes, probiotics, direct-fed microbials, free-choice minerals, vitamins, fatty acids, herbs, colloidal minerals, and aloe vera. Consider supplementing crude unrefined essential fatty acids since your horse can't readily get these in nature any more.
Free-choice nutritional supports allow a horse to naturally self-supplement with various basic nutrients, such as kelp and loose SEA salt.
HHH: Copper is known to protect against internal parasites.
Worm-discouraging additions include wheat bran, wheat germ oil, carrots, beets and turnips! If copper is deficient, be sure to use the copper sulfate form (NEVER use copper carbonate because it's twice as strong and may cause overdose). Use ½ teaspoon (2 grams) per day; some chestnut or black horses need more (3-4 grams per day). Seaweed meal offers significant copper (and also iodine) in an easy to assimilate form along with a spectrum of minerals.
HHH: Water is the most essential nutrient of all and should be pure and readily available!
Don't underestimate the extreme importance of free access to clean water!
HHH: Vitamin A deficiency is a sign of worms and calcium deficient animals are more prone to parasite infection!
Forced supplementation is useful IF you know the quality of your soil, hay and pasture (get soil and forage analyses; ask your hay supplier for a hay analysis) and IF you know your horse's deficiencies and toxicities (get a hair analysis and any blood tests needed).
Make the necessary feed adjustments for any deficiencies. Chemical farming is responsible for a list of deficiencies including copper, calcium, and iodine. Hay hardly provides any beta carotene. If your feed is primarily hay, then you may want to add some green or yellow plants, vegetables and/or fruit such as carrots, spirulina, papaya, pumpkin, cantelope, spinach, sweet potatoes, blue-green algae, and/or apricots. If your horse doesn't have access to fresh green feed you may want to supplement vitamin A, D, E powder.
HHH: Cleansing is an important step towards whole body health.
Pollutants are destroying our environment, our soils, and all of us on this planet. Cleansing is essential. But it cannot be accomplished in a filthy environment - during detox time, be sure the horse's environment remains as clean as possible. Change soiled bedding and remove manure daily from the area. Pure, clean water MUST be available at all times, especially during detoxing. Specially prepared plant buds (Gemmotherapy) can be used to promote detoxification. Massage, Craniosacral, Shiatsu and Trigger Point therapiesare common natural practice to assist cleansing and detoxification. An amethyst crystal is known to be cleansing. Various herbs are used for detoxing. Consult an equine herbalist for feed additive formulas suited to your horse.
Caution: Mary L. Brennan, DVM and author of Complete Holistic Care and Healing for Horses, cautions that many herbs cause intestinal contractions that dislodge worms into the intestinal tract which, if large infestations exist, could result in intestinal blockage or rupture. (Chemical dewormers, with their quick-kill action, can also cause this.)
HHH: Rotating pastures can reduce parasite numbers and help break the parasite cycle.
Prompt removal of manure is the best way to break the parasite life cycle. Avoid overcrowding, rotate pastures, and clean up the environment you subject your horse to!
Hot-composting the manure, in a pile or bin, can create heat that could be high enough when properly managed to kill off parasite larvae, pathogens, and fly larvae (145-160°F for at least two weeks to kill most parasite eggs). Turning the pile to add oxygen and spraying the pile with sugar (for example 1 cup molasses in 1 gallon of water) will heat it up. See Dirt Doctor's Guide to Organic Gardening by Howard Garrett for more composting tips.
HHH: Chemical deworming, especially over-deworming, can damage the immune system of your horse!
Drugs and chemicals are breeding stronger enemies (and can lead to toxicity), yet centuries old natural remedies are still effective. Often the parasite infested horse is the one that is dewormed the most frequently! They are less likely to fend off the parasites as time goes on because they can't build their own defenses. Interestingly, the practice of regular deworming didn't even begin until the 1960's. Consider also where all these chemicals end up, and for how long, after passing through the horse!
HHH: Natural deworming is available, and can be incorporated into the holistic approach.
Prepared natural deworming products include:
- Homeopathic remedies: These bring back balance and can be used specifically for gastrointestinal problems, including parasites. Homeopathic remedies stimulate a self-healing response from the body whereas drugs force a response from the body. If used together, the drug would overpower the homeopathic remedy's influence or otherwise render it ineffective.
Filix mas - used to expel tapeworms
Chenopodium - used to expel roundworms (ascarids) and hookworms
Cina - used to expel roundworms (ascarids)
Abrotanum - used to expel roundworms (ascarids)
Santoninum - used to expel roundworms (ascarids)
Granatum - used to expel tapeworms
Teucrium mar - used to expel roundworms (ascarids)
Note: If your horse won't accept the pills (or drops) straight, try dissolving in a syringe (12cc) of water and squirt in his mouth. If your horse objects to a syringe application of the liquid, soak a sugar cube with it.
Check out Homeopathic First Aid by Joyce Harman, DVM MRCVS, www.harmonyequine.com, 540-675-1855
- Washington Homeopathic Products (WV) www.homeopathyworks.com, 800-556-0738 or 304-258-2541 (Manufacturers of "Stings" - reduced swelling and pain from fire ant, bee, wasp, mosquito and even non-venomous snake bites)
- Equiopathics (Homeopathic Dewormer - combination remedy, formulated in Ireland, manufactured in WV), firstname.lastname@example.org, 800-555-4461
- Worm Check, an oral paste in a tube - contains diatomaceous earth, garlic, artemisia, clove oil, psyllium, glycerin, apple flavor - Dr. Dan Moore, www.thenaturalhorsevet.net, 877-873-8838
- Para +Plus - contains garlic, psyllium seed, slippery elm, comfrey leaf - Riva's Remedies, www.rivasremedies.com, 800-405-6643
- Worms Begone - natural anti-parasitic herbal feed supplement - Meadowsweet Acre Herbs, www.meadowherbs.com, 931-684-8838
- Herbal Tonic - combination of anti-parasitic herbal ingredients - Dynamite Products, www.dynamitemarketing.com, 800-697-7434
- Restore - herbal anthelmintic precisely balanced, given weekly to intervene in parasitic infestation and to prevent reinfestation, Farmstead Health Supply, www.farmsteadhealth.com, 919-643-0300
- Sustain - herbal immune system builder to help resist parasitic infestations and other diseases - killing off of parasites is one part of the solution; building immunity to the parasites along with proper management are also needed. Farmstead Health Supply, www.farmsteadhealth.com, 919-643-0300
HHH: Treat your soil and pasture like it is your horse's mouth - say NO to toxins. Toxins wreak havoc on the body's systems and compromise health.Common herbicides can cause imbalances such as tyrosine deficiency. Other environmental pollutants such as chlorine, bromine and fluorine can create iodine deficiency. Poor soil yields poor food sources. Encourage healthy, natural soil, which will encourage natural beneficial microorganisms to thrive, which will minimize parasitic inhabitants. Good bugs and good bacteria live in soil too - encourage those already present to bring back and maintain the natural balance in your horse's environment.