Natural Advice from Dr. Joyce Harman


Equine Wellness readers ask holistic veterinarian Dr. Joyce Harman for some natural remedies and tips.

Q: I recently purchased a 16-month-old paint colt and he has small round pustules all around his nose, muzzle and lips. I was told it was some kind of warts caused from eating wet hay and that they would go away. They look really nasty and he won’t let me touch his muzzle. What can I do to assist the healing process?

A: These are common in young horses and are probably caused by a virus, though are often triggered by vaccinations. Usually they will go away, but they can cause quite a bit of discomfort. In simple cases, homeopathic remedies can help clear these up. One of the most common remedies to use is Thuja Occ. in a 30C or 30X potency, usually six to eight tablets given by mouth for three days. If this does not clear up the problem, a consultation with a homeopathic veterinarian can lead to other possible remedies.

Q: I recently purchased a 12-year-old quarter horse for my daughter. Midnight has severe mosquito allergies and is extremely needle shy. I am a veterinary technician and the doctor I work for recommended Banamine injections. Is there something more feasible I could give him without putting him through the trauma of giving injections?

A: Mosquito allergies will not respond to anti-inflammatories, though the horse may get a bit of relief from the shot. However, Banamine can be toxic if used frequently. Allergies are usually the most difficult condition to treat since they are caused by an immune system that has become extremely overreactive. Treatment consists of supporting and balancing the immune system, not overstimulating it. The feeding of whole grains and removal of sweet feed is also critical to the management of allergies. One simple addition you can make to his diet is flax (either 10 oz per day of whole flax or 8 oz per day of naturally preserved, stabilized flax). Flax will help the immune system of the skin and will improve his health, but further workup with a holistic minded veterinarian will be the only way to resolve this condition.

Q: I have a harness horse who has been diagnosed with hepatitis. The vet has treated the horse with some sort of medicine (I can’t quite remember what) and according to blood tests it has cleared. The horse had fantastic ability but now can hardly keep up. I have heard that once a liver is damaged it cannot be repaired. Can you clear this up for me and also offer some advice on what natural method I could use to help his liver be healthy again?

A: Actually, the good news is that the liver has the greatest ability of all the organs to regenerate. Many conventional drugs will treat the primary problem, but the liver will still have imbalances that need a more holistic approach. Also, for many horses, the use of antibiotics (a common part of many hepatitis treatments) can leave the health of the gut compromised, which leads to poor digestion, poor immune system health and a lack of energy. A simple herb that helps heal the liver is milk thistle, and there are herbal companies that make combinations to support the liver, such as Hilton Herbs Purify. You may need to consult with a holistic veterinarian to get detailed help. Acupuncture, homeopathy and herbs all can help correct liver problems.

Q: Where can equine vaccines without aluminum adjuvants or mercury-based preservatives be purchased? Would you recommend giving rabies and tetanus vaccines separately and not in combination with the encephalitis vaccines for those who still use these vaccines?

A: The best way to approach vaccination is to look at the risk of the disease versus any benefit or harm from the vaccine. Vaccination is a complex issue, which will require an entire article to properly discuss. Each vaccine company can give you information about the use of aluminum or mercury in their own products. Companies change their formulations and new types of vaccines are produced, so it may be best to check each year with the companies that supply your products. It is always best to separate out vaccinations from each other, and to give vaccines at appropriate times of the year for the disease. For example, Potomac horse fever is a seasonal disease from July to October. The vaccine is not very effective, so to obtain the best results the time to give it is in May or early June, about the same time as the encephalitis vaccines. Other diseases do not have such a seasonal occurrence, such as rabies, so it can be given at any time during the year.

Q: My horse has developed white crusty things in his ears. What are these and how can I get rid of them?

A: These are called aural plaques. There is not much known about the actual cause of these, but they respond poorly to conventional and natural treatment. In many cases they will never bother your horse, however, some aural plaques are extremely painful. I have found that these are more likely to respond to homeopathic medicines since they are inflamed and active, while the ones that are not sore are inactive. You will need to find a veterinary homeopath to prescribe a specific remedy for your horse, as there are several remedies that can work. More detail about the case would be needed to figure out the correct one.

Q: We have a youngster who has a problem with ulcers already. Considering all the factors that trigger ulcers, what might be an effective treatment program?

A: The first thing to do is examine management practices that can contribute to ulcers. Horses need turn out time, preferably with grass to eat and company to play with, especially for a youngster. Feed that is high in sugar (sweet feed) or too high in protein (depends on the breed and metabolism as to how much they need) can contribute. Horses need roughage to eat, with just enough grain to keep their weight normal. Many young horses are overfed, and need little more protein than an adult horse. They should have free choice minerals without salt added (one source is Rush Creek Mineral by Advanced Biological Concepts), and salt available separately. Once the management is right, you do not want to feed antacid products, as they will stop the proper metabolism of minerals such as calcium. Herbal digestive aids are better, and probiotics and sometimes papaya concentrates can be helpful. A holistic veterinarian can tailor a program to your horse.

Q: I have a mare that is so aggressive when her heat cycle comes that I can’t get within two feet of her or she runs right at me, kicking and biting. I am a vet tech and I have given her Banamine but I want a natural way to ease her mind.

A: Your mare becomes aggressive due to pain during her cycle, for which Banamine might give her a bit of relief, but long term use is toxic. There are a number of western herbal products on the market that can help relieve some of the muscle spasms or cramps as well as balance her hormones. However, it sounds like she is severely affected and potentially dangerous, so it is important to be careful. You may need to consult with a veterinary herbalist, acupuncturist or homeopath for more specific help. All of these modalities offer excellent results with these mares, depending on who you have available in your area.

Q: I have a 26-year-old horse that would rather be eating his hay than his Equine Senior and I’m worried because he’s always been thin. He used to eat his grain without a problem and I worm on schedule. Could he need a change?

A: First, have his teeth checked by either a veterinarian who likes to do teeth or by a reputable horse dentist. As horses age, their teeth often need extra attention. I would also have your veterinarian do a complete physical and check his blood, since there are many conditions that can cause an older horse to be thin or off his feed. These include liver or kidney disease, diabetes, poor digestion and various forms of cancers, each with a different treatment plan.

Q: I have an 18-year-old quarter gelding with persistent, inconsistent diarrhea. There are no other symptoms, no loss of weight, no dehydration. This doesn’t seem to be related to feed, grazing, weather, etc. He is a mellow, rather lazy guy who doesn’t get upset with much. We’ve tried worming, probiotics, bran, treating for sand, etc. The vet is at a loss and he’s suggested Strongid C2X along with aspirin daily. I’m not comfortable with this. It doesn’t seem to affect the horse. Do you have any more natural suggestions?

A: A horse with chronic diarrhea like this may have some damage to his intestinal wall from past parasite damage, or may have poor intestinal flora. Most of the probiotics products on the market contain few active ingredients by the time you purchase them. I like to use a combination of fermented probiotics such as Pro Bi by Advanced Biological Concepts and a horse-specific bacterial supplement such as Hilton Herbs Digest Plus. Digestive enzymes are also often indicated. Another product that may be helpful is Succeed from Freedom Health, a new product on the market. If these products are not helpful, Chinese herbs or acupuncture usually work very well. Check the listing for a holistic veterinarian in your area.

Q: I have a molly mule companion who is happy, healthy and has the barefoot trim. She had been a bit trippy in the front right leg. I’ve been told by a chiropractor that the ligament is sore. He suggested that I use DMSO and alcohol to heal it by blistering. I was not comfortable with that suggestion, but tried it for two days, which created a dangerous mule. I decided that there have to be other ways and put her on a very good joint, ligament, and cartilage supplement that also has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant components. When I take my other horse out, the mule will pace back and forth for the whole time, and I wonder if this is re-injuring the ligament. Any suggestions or help to understand this will be appreciated.

A: I am glad you are choosing not to blister the leg; there are many good ways to heal an injured ligament. To really see how much damage is present, it can be good to have your veterinarian do an ultrasound evaluation of the injury. You can then see if there is significant damage that may be aggravated by the pacing. If that is the case, you will need to find a way to prevent some of the pacing if possible, perhaps by putting the mule in a stall, or using some relaxing herbal formulas. You can give a homeopathic remedy such as Ruta Grav in a 30C or X potency, 6 to 8 pellets twice a day for a week or so, to help heal the leg. You may need to continue giving the remedy a few times a week for several more weeks, if the injury is more severe. Arnica ointment can be placed on the leg topically. The worse the injury is, the longer it will need treatment; hence the value of the ultrasound.

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