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Heartache in Bucks County as Equine Herpesvirus Erupts
by Suzanne Bush - February 2016
In an unthinkable Christmas week tragedy at Mile View Farm in Doylestown, Bucks County, PA, three horses were euthanized after being diagnosed with the neurologic form of Equine Herpesvirus, also called Equine Herpesvirus Myeloencephalopathy (EHM). Just before New Year’s Eve, a fourth horse was euthanized.
“They didn’t deserve this,” Dr. Craig Shultz says of the farm’s owners and those who lost horses. “But they’ve handled everything really well.” Shultz is Director of Pennsylvania’s Bureau of Animal Health and Diagnostic Services and he praised the farm’s owners for their response to the outbreak. “The folks at the facility have been wonderful. They’ve done everything they could possibly do; they’ve cooperated 1,000 per cent.”
This disease is one of those which trigger the “all hands on deck” response from regional and state veterinary authorities. The goal is to contain outbreaks, track horses that have been exposed to horses that have developed full-blown symptoms and monitor quarantines. “It’s a story that has played out across the country hundreds of times,” Shultz explains. “This is by far not the worst, but they’re all terrible. It’s a nasty disease.”
Cold-Weather Tips for Horse Owners from New Bolton
Winter temperatures are finally here, and horse owners need to prepare for cold weather. Liz Arbittier, VMD, staff veterinarian in the Equine Field Service at Penn Vet’s New Bolton Center, offers six important tips to keep horses healthy and safe during the icy days of winter.
- Provide adequate shelter: Horses can do fine living outside through the winter. As long as they are metabolically healthy, receive enough calories, develop a nice winter hair coat, and have appropriate shelter, they can happily ride out a bad winter that has humans groaning. Many horses don’t need to be blanketed, although waterproof/breathable blankets can help protect against driving wind and rain. Cold temperatures alone don’t generally make horses uncomfortable, but wind and moisture can be difficult for them to tolerate, so they must be able to escape the elements. The best solution is a structural shelter that is big enough to allow all of the horses in that field to safely get out of the weather. One horse with a very dominant personality that won’t allow more submissive types into the shed may be a problem, so owners need to evaluate the personalities in the herd to ensure that this doesn’t happen.
- Provide adequate calories: The phrase “bulking up for winter” is no joke! Horses expend significantly more calories keeping warm in the winter than they do any other time of year. High-quality hay should be the staple of any winter diet, especially for horses that are turned out a lot. They should have dry, fresh hay available at all times to keep their caloric losses less than their gains. Older horses or horses with significant dental disease that cannot eat hay productively need to receive calories more frequently in a form that they can use, such as senior feeds.
Farm Partners Sought for the Penn State
Parasite Research Project
Equine gastrointestinal parasites, and their increasing resistance to available dewormers, are a major concern in the equine industry. Taking a whole-farm approach to managing parasites can decrease the frequency of deworming, eliminate the use of products that have become ineffective, help you learn which horses have natural resistance and which ones are “shedders”, and help decrease the development of resistance to dewormers. Routinely deworming with the same products, or simply rotating dewormers, is not the best method and can contribute to the development of parasites that are resistant to the products that we use. Since no new products are on the immediate horizon, if resistance continues to progress at the present rate, the equine industry may face a major crisis.
A grant from the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture and Education program is enabling the PSU Equine Extension team to travel across the state educating horse owners about strategic deworming and non-drug based parasite control methods.
Dr. Martin Nielsen, DVM, PhD, DACVM, DEVCP, a world renowned parasitologist with the Gluck Institute in Kentucky is serving as a consultant for the project. In a September article on the race against parasite resistance, Dr. Nielsen said of the Penn State project, “the initiative and energy will change a lot of things in the state for the better. It could be a fabulous model for other states. Why not Kentucky? Why not every state?”