Minimize Health Risks

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We all want to keep our horses healthy and safe. Still, the world isn?t a perfectly safe place, so horse owners should take precautions but realize that risk is inherent in owning a horse.

BUCKETS AND TUBS. Each horse should have his own water and feed buckets. Horses may share tanks outdoors, but if a horse needs to be isolated or quarantined, you need labeled, individual buckets.? Clean feed tubs at least weekly. Empty water buckets daily and scrub them clean a couple of times a week.

If you need a cleanser, choose either baking soda or Original Dawn detergent. Both clean well, rinse fully, and don't leave odors. Putting buckets out in the sun when they're not in use may age the bucket material, but it's worth it. Sunlight kills many bacteria and viruses.

While economics may interfere, consider switching to new buckets periodically. Rubber buckets get scraped areas that can hold bacteria or mold and develop a smell. You may want to ?air out? new buckets to lose odors before using them, but those do dissipate quickly.

Should you try an anti-microbial bucket' We're not convinced. For one thing, it isn?t likely to stop all infections, and you do still need to clean the buckets. Plus, current concerns about antibiotic-resistant bacteria suggest avoiding this practice.

Editor?s Note: Horse Journal?s field trial with the AgSilver CleanBuckets ($29.95, www.equifit.com, 877-437-8434) did show a significant reduction in slime buildup.

GROOMING TOOLS. Ideally, each horse should have his own set of grooming equipment. Those brushes should be cleaned periodically. It can be as simple as placing the brushes in a big sink or tub, running hot water to the level of the bristles and adding bleach. You could use antibacterial soap here, if you choose, but bleach kills most infectious agents, and it's safe and inexpensive. Rinse thoroughly then dry the brushes out in the sun, if you can.

Each horse should have his own saddle pad, girth, blankets, bit and halter.? Wash these items regularly, and disinfect them if need be.

NEW HORSE.? Take precautions if you add a new horse. The horse should be isolated until you're sure He's healthy. Figure at least a week to 10 days. That means no meet-and-greets time over a pasture fence or through a stall grate. If one of your horses develops an infection, consider the pasture He's been in to be infected. Again, sunlight is your friend. Shift your healthy horses to a different pasture or paddock for at least a week, if possible.

TRAVELING. Try to stick with ?your crowd.? Think of it as sending your child off to kindergarten. Exposed to new people, with new germs along with a dash of stress and a tendency to poor hygiene and you have the recipe for illness.

In a new barn, maximize ventilation and use stall guards to keep your horse from nosing an unfamiliar horse next door.? Wipe down the stall walls and doors with a disinfectant (like Lysol Disinfectant; the wipes make it quick and easy). Air the stall out before moving your horse in, if possible.

Keep on top of health issues in horses and watch for news of illness outbreaks. Plan your vaccination schedule thinking about exposures for your horse. Your vet is your partner but may not be following the outbreak five states away where you plan to show. Share the info that often travels only in a specific breed or show crowd with your vet.

The horse world sensibly will set up quarantines and cancel events if there is a serious outbreak of a contagious illness. Be grateful. If an event isn?t cancelled but you have concerns, skip it.?

Be considerate of others. If you suspect your horse may be getting ill or other horses in your barn are showing signs of illness, stay home.

?STRANGLES. The strangles bacteria can survive in ideal environmental conditions for eight weeks.? it's usually spread via direct contact with an ill horse or via contact with discharges left on buckets. that's a good reason for separate buckets with each horse's name on it. If a horse comes down with strangles, empty and scrub out the community water tank and any shared hay racks. Then isolate the infected horse and take daily temperatures on all other horses to find new cases before they start to shed organisms.

BOTTOM LINE. You can't wrap your horse in bubble wrap, but you can minimize risks with simple hygiene changes.

Article by Contributing Veterinary Editor Deb Eldredge, DVM.