No stranger to holistic equine medicine, Dr. Kelli Taylor is a native western Washingtonian who grew up cultivating her love of horses from a very young age. Working hard to realize her dream by putting herself through both undergraduate and veterinary school, Dr. Kelli is a 2008 summa cum laude graduate of Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Just after veterinary school, she completed a year-long internship in Equine Medicine and Surgery at Pilchuck Veterinary Hospital in Snohomish, WA and has continued her education in equine athletic rehabilitation by completing certifications in veterinary chiropractic and acupuncture. Dr. Kelli is currently working toward becoming the first Certified Equine Rehabilitation Therapist in Washington State. She can be reached via e-mail at DrKelli@MindfulHealingVet.com.
Q: My elderly mare has arthritis in one knee, and this winter is starting to struggle a bit with the colder weather. Is there a way to keep her comfortable and manage her pain level without the use of steroids or other serious medications?
A: There are many available options to try for your arthritic mare, from the traditional Western approach of using low dose non-steroidal anti-infl ammatories (NSAIDs such as Equioxx or Bute) and/or joint injections, to the Eastern approach of herbs and acupuncture.
I find that many older horses with arthritis can be kept comfortable without the use of daily NSAIDs (which can be quite harsh on the already fragile senior digestive system), by using injectable joint supplements (i.e. Adequan, Legend, or Pentosan), oral joint supplements (i.e. glucosamine/ chondroitin, MSM, etc), acupuncture, chiropractic, cold laser therapy, heat therapy, and/or herbal anti-inflammatories.
Each horse needs to be assessed as an individual, and it may take some trial and error until you find the right combination of treatments that work best for your mare. Your holistic veterinarian is an excellent resource for discussing the pros and cons of each supplement/treatment to better determine which approach will be best for your mare.
Q: I have a gelding that keeps getting bouts of diarrhea. When it happens, we start him on Bio-Sponge – it resolves for a few weeks, then starts up again. Nothing in his routine has changed – he is out on pasture daily, and has free choice hay in his stall. He is supplemented with a probiotic. Do you have any other suggestions for what we might try?
A: Assuming that you have ruled out internal parasites, dental problems, medications/supplements/herbs/de-wormers administered just prior to the bouts, sand in the GI tract, and GI ulcers as all possible causes of the diarrhea, I think it is time to take a good look at his nutrition.
Bio-Sponge, for those who don’t know, is a type of clay (smectite) that is fed to help absorb toxins in the GI tract. The fact that it works for your gelding while he is taking it directs my attention to his diet, specifically to something that is compromising GI tract health and triggering the diarrhea. Has he always been on pasture? Does the diarrhea worsen through any particular season? Does the bout of diarrhea follow the start of a new batch of hay? Some horses have very sensitive GI tracts that are upset by switching from one batch of hay to the next (i.e. timothy from the same farm, but grown in a different batch/season than the one previously being fed). They need to be transitioned very slowly from the old batch to the new, just as if you were introducing a new feed.
Alternatively, if the pasture and/or hay contain high levels of non-structural carbohydrates (NSC), this may be enough to cause some digestive upset. If this is the case, I would try to find a fiber source that is less than 12% NSC, which may mean taking your gelding off pasture during high sugar times (frosty weather, afternoons, etc).
In addition to looking at the above questions, I would have an analysis done on the hay that he is being fed, and possibly the pasture. Take this information and use it to properly balance his diet. Once the diet is truly balanced with adequate fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals, I would then support his digestive function with a good probiotic – one that contains prebiotics and probiotics, as well as Saccharomyces yeast, such as LMF Digest 911 or HorseTech GutWerks, etc. The yeast really seems to make a difference in the microbial hindgut digestion of horses and I have found it to be very effective in aiding horses with both acute and chronic colitis.
One last thought – your gelding may also be allergic to something in his diet, as allergies can develop at any time in life, and the gut and immune system are intimately linked. This may mean you need to start an elimination trial diet to rule out certain grasses/ hays, supplements and/or grains as the problem. If you think his immune system may be weak or compromised, it would be a good idea to provide support to his immune system as well via a holistic approach such as adaptogenic herbs.
Q: My mare has recently been diagnosed with a bone bruise after taking a nasty kick to one of her hind legs. She is now on rest – but is there anything else I can do to help this injury along, or is it just “wait and see”?
A: Immediately following the injury (within the first 48 to 72 hours), the application of ice to the affected area of the leg will help reduce inflammation and ease her discomfort. Systemic anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs or herbs) will also help bring the inflammation down and therefore decrease pain. I really like arnica for skin bruises, but bone bruises are usually too deep to be reached by topical ointment alone unless they are on the bones of the legs. Cold laser therapy or therapeutic ultrasound are also great modalities that will help move inflammation through the body more quickly, and stimulate tissue repair, resulting in a quicker recovery.
Q: When I made my last trip to the feed store, I saw a holistic supplement for horses based on bee pollen. What is this good for?
A: Bee pollen is the pollen that bees collect from flowering plants while they are also harvesting nectar. This holistic substance provides the bee colony with protein and fats, while the nectar is an excellent source of carbohydrates. It is considered by many to be nature’s most perfect complete food as it is loaded with vitamins and contains nearly all known minerals, trace elements, enzymes and amino acids.
Bee pollen has been promoted for many years as a holistic nutritional supplement for humans, and has now found its way into supplements for our horses. It is said to improve athletic stamina, and has been used to treat a range of conditions, including allergies, constipation, aging, and wound healing in humans. However, claims of bee pollen’s nutritional benefits have not yet been verified by scientific research.
One study in horses, looking at whether or not bee pollen improves equine athletic stamina, found that though it does not seem to have any performance-enhancing effects, it does have the potential to be an appetite stimulant for horses. The researchers theorized that the increase in appetite seen was due to the high concentration of B vitamins found in bee pollen.
Q: We have several vets who come to our boarding facility to tend to the horses. I have noticed that when it comes to injections, some will swab the area they are going to inject with alcohol beforehand, and others will not. Is it necessary/good practice to swab with alcohol before injecting?
A: The practice of swabbing the hair/skin with alcohol prior to injection or venipuncture in veterinary medicine is borrowed from the human medical field. The alcohol swab is used to clean and disinfect the skin in preparation for the injection. However, research in people over the past 30 years has questioned the need and efficacy of using alcohol to clean the skin. Studies have shown that a five- second alcohol swab on human skin (after gross contamination has been removed) does indeed reduce the bacterial count on the skin by 82%, but the incidence of skin infection following injection does not decrease with the additional prep. So even though the bacterial count decreases, the risk of injection site infection is exactly the same as when the skin is not prepared in this way.
Gross contamination, however, does dramatically increase the risk of injection site infection. Given the nature of horses and their tendency to roll in mud and manure, I prefer to first brush off any gross contamination. I then swab the area with alcohol to get an idea of how dirty the skin still is at the chosen site. This allows me to choose a site that is less grossly contaminated, or further prepare the injection site by using a disinfectant, which will hopefully reduce the risk of an injection site infection. Be aware that even though bee pollen sounds like a wonderful addition to your horse’s daily supplement regimen, it also has the potential to cause allergic reactions. Humans have had severe reactions to the point of anaphylaxis after consuming only a teaspoon of bee pollen. In my opinion, if your horse is being fed a balanced, forage-based diet, bee pollen is not a necessary addition.
Send your questions to: Holistic veterinary advice. email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Our veterinary columnists respond to questions in this column only. We regret we cannot respond to every question. This column is for information purposes only. It is not meant to replace veterinary care. Please consult your veterinarian before giving your horse any remedies.