Intestinal parasites in any animal can have a negative effect on the animals health, and worms in horses is no different. A case of worms can mean the difference between a happy, healthy horse and one that is listless, depressed and generally, unwell.
There are two signs that are common in horses suffering from intestinal worms, and although it is always a good idea to consult a veterinarian before commencing treatment, the signs can be pretty obvious.
Having a big belly does not necessarily mean that a horse is fat. A fat horse may have a big belly, but it will also have a rounded rump (hindquarters), barrel chest and a very solid neck. It is also possible for the horse to have a hollow down the length of the spine as the muscles and fat pushes up away from the vertebrae, giving the impression of a crease along the back from wither to tail.
A horse that has worms will not be fat. In all likelihood, the protruding belly will be coupled with very visible ribs. On a fit horse, it may be possible to see the last two or three ribs (especially racehorses), but a wormy horse will have most, if not all, of its ribcage showing.
The horse will be in obvious poor body condition, occasionally with other bones and joints visible that wouldn't normally be visible on a healthy horse.
One sign of a healthy horse is a shiny coat. A horse with intestinal parasites will usually have a dull, dry and lacklustre coat.
Note: In winter, many horses and ponies grow a thick coat to protect them from the cold. This coat may look dull, but it should still be soft and feel healthy.
Before treating a horse for intestinal parasites, it is always a good idea to consult a veterinarian for the best course of treatment.
If it is obvious that the horse has worms, the best treatment is to administer a De-worming paste. These are readily available from most saddleries and veterinary clinics.
The syringe will have weight markings on it, which will give a guide as to how much paste to give to the horse, according to its weight.
When it comes to De-worming a horse, it is better (and safer) to under dose the horse for the first treatment and to follow up with a further De-worming within 6 weeks of the first dose.
Prevention is always better than cure. To reduce the risk of a horse suffering from worm infestation, there are a couple of things that can be done.
Feed high ~ means to not feed out hay and grain by tipping the food onto the ground. This also helps to ensure that the horse does not pick up any sand or dirt with the food, which can cause further health problems, usually in the form of colic*.
Clean up ~ whether the horse is kept in a stable or pasture, the manure should be picked up regularly. With a stabled horse, it may be necessary to clean up after the horse twice per day. A horse at pasture can usually go two or three days without the manure being collected. (This depends on the paddock size – the smaller the paddock, the more often it will need to be cleaned).
Rotate often ~ keeping a horse in the same pasture week after week, month after month will mean that it will constantly be grazing over the same ground, therefore picking up worms. The life cycle of most worm species is around 28 to 35 days, therefore keeping a paddock 'empty' for that amount of time can go a long way towards getting rid of the worms and stopping them from reinfecting the horse.
A good routine is the key to keeping any horse free of worms. Moving the horse from paddock to paddock, cleaning up after it and sticking to a regular De-worming schedule will help to ensure that the horse stays as worm free as possible.
* Extremely painful and dangerous form of stomach ache for a horse, in which (in severe cases) a section or sections of the intestines and bowel can twist, causing severe pain and even death.