There’s no sense deworming a horse that doesn’t need it. But how do you know' The best way you can decide if your horse needs to be dewormed — and with what drug — is to do a fecal egg count. However, commercial fecal exams cost the same as or more than a tube of dewormer. Initially, most people figure, why bother'
But let’s take a closer look: Even if you take a fecal sample to your veterinarian’s office to save a farm-call fee, the cost of the test will include a fee for processing and testing. If your vet’s office does the test themselves, it will probably run around $20. If tests are sent out, it can end up costing $40 or more in some areas. That could buy 4 tubes of dewormer — or more.
An alternative cropping up on the Internet (where else') is to use direct-mail services where you pay $16-$20 to get a kit and return the sample. The kit is basically a collection container and a mailer.
We found the Equine Worm Test Kit (Perfect Pet Products, LLC) is available on several retail sites. We also found The Horsemen’s Laboratory, which sells a kit with a postage-paid mailer on its own website.
The Horsemen’s Laboratory gives you an actual egg count in the basic fee, but the Equine Worm Test Kit charges $12 more if you want an actual count (and more yet for larvae testing).
Still, we have reservations about using these systems. First, the fee doesn’t include shipping for next-day delivery. This is a worry because, even with next-day delivery, you risk the dehydration of the sample, which distorts eggs, and the hatching of eggs to larvae, which may require a special technique to detect.
So, should you go to the vet or try to do a count yourself' If you’re game, there’s no reason not to do this yourself, especially if we’re talking about a lot of horses.
Let’s take a look at costs first to decide if it’s worth it. A simple fecal flotation is the most common screening test, and it’s the one used by Perfect Pet Products. Results, can be read as 0 eggs, occasional or frequent. All fecal exams are most reliable when done on freshly passed manure, which is a good reason to do your own tests.
The Fecalyzer. The Fecalyzer is a plastic device manufactured by Vetoquinol (www.vetoquinolusa.com, 800-267-5707), and available from many distributors without a prescription. It’s standard equipment in laboratories and instructions are included.
A similar but less expensive device is the Phoenix Pharmaceutical Fecal Float Device (www.phoenixpharm.com, 800-759-3644). The manure is put into the bottom of a small plastic tube, covered with a layer of flotation solution, agitated with a strainer/depressor and then the tube filled to the top with more flotation solution, covered with a microscope cover slip and allowed to sit for 15 to 20 minutes to allow eggs to float to the top and adhere to the cover slip. The slip is then transferred to a clean microscope slide and read under the microscope at 100 magnification (10X power for a microscope that also has a 10X eye piece).
So, what would it cost to set up your little lab, looking at a bottom-line price per test' In our chart, we’ve included prices from Revival Animal Health (www.revivalanimal.com, 800-786-4751), which had the lowest prices we found when preparing this article. The microscope price is average of a market survey of several online suppliers.
Even with a brand new microscope, the cost per fecal exam drops to $3.50 if you do it yourself. With a little effort you may be able to lower the microscope cost if you find a deal on a used one, but remember to only buy when there is a return policy. A cheap microscope that doesn’t show you what you need to see is worthless.
Wisconsin Sugar. Costs can be cut even further if you use the Wisconsin Sugar Fecal Flotation method. Instead of buying chemical flotation solution, you make it by dissolving a pound of sugar in 12 ounces of hot water. This solution will eventually mold, so reduce the amount you make depending on the number of tests and store unused portions in the refrigerator. You can use the flotation devices (Phoenix or Fecalyzer) with this solution, or can simply mix 3 to 5 grams of fecal material (about a teaspoon) with 13 to 15 mL (about ?? ounce) of sugar solution in a disposable cup or other container, then filter this through a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth to filter out the large particles. You then pour the filtered fluid into a test tube or other convenient container like an empty syringe case, top off with sugar solution until fluid is even with the very top of the container and cover with a cover slip as above, let sit for 20 minutes, then place cover slip on a slide and read it.
A pound of sugar will do about 18 tests, sugar cost for 50 tests is about $3.80. If you buy 20 mL syringes in cases to use, one per test at about 35??/syringe that’s $17.50 for 50 tests. This is a further saving of about $16 per 50 tests.
Preparing the specimens is not particularly difficult. Learning to identify eggs and distinguish them from artifacts takes some practice. If you can spend some time in your veterinarian’s office, or ask a vet tech to get you started, do it. Also spend time on sites like this one reviewing their files: http://instruction.cvhs.okstate.edu/jcfox/HTDOCS/CLINPARA/Index.htm
The first few times you do this, and before you begin to feel confident, it might be wise to have your vet run a sample as well, to verify what you think you are seeing.
Bottom Line. Like it or not, deworming isn’t going to stay the no-brainer it’s been for the past three decades. Paste dewormers may be living on borrowed time.
If do-it-yourself fecal egg counts don’t appeal to you, you’re still OK for now with an educated approach to interval paste deworming (see below). But, if you’re looking to economize and offer your horse a focused parasite-control program, get a microscope and get started.
Article by Veterinary Editor Eleanor Kellon, VMD.