Dr. Cathy Alinovi – veterinarian, animal lover, and nationally celebrated author – knew she wanted to be a veterinary doctor since she was nine years old. Her mission then was simple: to make the world safe for animals. Relentlessly committed to her patients’ care, Dr. Cathy is quickly gaining national recognition for her integrative approach to animal health.
She began her veterinary education at the Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine and also holds a Master of Science in Epidemiology from Purdue, but quickly realized that conventional medicine didn’t meet all her patients’ needs. She went back to school and became certified in animal chiropractic. Since then, she has also been certified in Veterinary Food Therapy, Veterinary Acupuncture, Chinese Herbal Therapy, and Aromatherapy.
Dr. Cathy is the owner of Hoofstock Veterinary Services in rural Pine Village, Indiana, and Hoopeston Veterinary Services in Hoopeston, Illinois.
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.
Q: We have a horse that seems to be a chronic head shaker. Wearing a fly mask helps reduce the head shaking a bit, but is there anything else we can do to help him?
Head shakers are on the top five list of “hard to figure out” patients. Every single horse has a different reason for engaging in this behavior. Part of the key is, when does he head shake? Does he do it all the time, only when ridden, or only when ridden in certain tack? These are just a few important things to figure out. But let’s start with some basic rule-outs.
Everything from the shoulder girdle forward is part of the horse’s stomatognathic system (fancy term for anything to do with the mouth, teeth and jaws). This system needs to be in top form. When were your horse’s teeth checked, and by whom? Was a full oral exam done, using a speculum and radiographs of the head, by a qualified veterinarian or other animal health professional within the last six months (things can change quickly)? How are his feet? Is he being trimmed by a well-trained and qualified professional? Has he had a complete ophthalmology (eye) exam done by a specialist? Was his tack fi tted by a professional, and not the salesperson?
If no problems were noted by any of these specialists, then it’s time to start looking at the neurology behind head shaking. Does your horse do it all the time? If so, consider brain/neurotransmitter imbalances or some sort of sensory imbalance – like trigeminal neuritis (a giant nerve center in the brain that touches a lot of different parts of the brain and head). Does he do it only in the pasture? Is it an insect, a sound, or an allergy? Does he do it only when ridden? Is it how you ride him?
Once you’ve ensured his teeth, feet, eyes and tack are good, bring in someone trained in advanced neurology techniques – ideally someone who practices veterinary spinal manipulation therapy (animal chiropractic) and has a special focus and training in neurological function. Why do I suggest someone so well-trained? Because it’s easy to say your horse is a head shaker and just write it off. But it’s hard work to figure out why your horse head shakes, because it will be for a different reason every time. A chiropractor will help, as will an acupuncturist, but someone trained in how the stomatognathic system is put together will best assist your boy.
Q: My gelding was diagnosed with navicular last year, and the veterinarian suggested we try Tildren on him to buy him some time/soundness. My understanding is that this is a fairly new treatment, and I’m having trouble finding much information on it. Do you have any success stories or information you could share, or suggestions of complementary therapies to try?
First, let’s talk about Tildren. It is a medication that slows bone resorption by osteoclasts. Osteoclasts break down bone while osteoblasts make bone. Clasts and blasts should work in balance to keep bones healthy. Tildren slows down osteoclasts, but how does this affect osteoblasts? Similar medication for humans with osteoporosis has not been proven to really work long-term; there may be side effects that imbalance bone metabolism, and the osteoblasts end up being affected too.
Second, let’s talk about navicular – or navicular syndrome. Unless you had an MRI and/or x-rays and nerve blocks done to fully prove your gelding has navicular bone lesions, he may have pain that localizes to the heel area – thus the word “syndrome”. Am I splitting hairs? Well, yes and no, as there are many ligaments and tendons in this area that can cause pain. Navicular is the “easy” diagnosis for a horse with heel pain. Unfortunately, many people stop looking for help when the “navicular” diagnosis is made – the perception being, there is no help. A lot goes into heel pain, and a lot can help. Short term, horses with bony lesions do experience relief with the use of Tildren; but long term, the problem is not solved.
I’d have a farrier specialist look at your boy. I’d also change his diet from pelleted food or grain to a whole food-based diet. And I’d have a veterinary chiropractor or acupuncturist trained in advanced techniques look at your horse. Yes, these are very specialized experts – but it took time and a combination of factors for this to happen to your horse, so it will take a team of experts to make it better.
Q: My mare just returned from having a sarcoid surgically removed. I was told that if another lesion grows, she will need chemotherapy injections. How likely is this to happen, and is there anything I can do to prevent or delay it?
Sarcoids do one of two things when surgically removed – go away and never come back, or get really angry and come back with a vengeance. When they come back, the question becomes: is it really a regrowth or is it re-infection? Sarcoids are caused by bovine papilloma virus (a virus that causes warts just like human plantar warts). They can be small blemishes, or large, angry, annoying masses of tissue. It’s a coin toss to know if they will come back after surgery – literally 50/50.
There are many ways to deal with sarcoids – and many just don’t work. One treatment I have used with decent success is XXTerra Herbal paste. One patient I treated for flat sarcoids in his ear did not respond to XXTerra or liquid nitrogen, but was successfully treated with Aldara cream, which is used to treat genital herpes in humans.
Another treatment that works to stimulate the immune system is called “autogenous implant”. This method first removes part of the mass, freezes it with liquid nitrogen, then implants it under the horse’s mane. This seems to stimulate the immune system to get the sarcoids to fall off. And, yes, there is also chemotherapy.
A few other thoughts: if sarcoids are present, the immune system is not fully functioning. Such horses should be changed to a less inflammatory diet – more natural foods and fewer extruded feeds. Horses with Cushing’s or metabolic syndrome will have a weakened immune system and bigger problems.
Q: What does feeding kelp do for horses?
Kelp provides trace minerals and iodine. However, it is very hard to regulate as nutrient levels can vary from batch to batch as well from company to company. Thus, it is possible to get too much of some nutrients; it’s also possible that the kelp can be contaminated with heavy metals, depending on where it was harvested.
Q: How would you prepare a horse for long distance (i.e. across the country) travel and trailering?
FIrst, a Coggins test and health papers are necessary. And if your horse doesn’t already know how to load, teaching it on the day of travel is not the right time. Leg wraps protect him from bumps and dings. Bedding keeps rubber mats from becoming slippery from bodily waste. Horses are meant to eat 24/7, so it’s good to keep hay in front of him. Ideally, soak the hay (this decreases dust) and put it in a hay net so it’s elevated. Having the horse tied in the trailer is a good idea so he isn’t turning when the vehicle is changing speed or direction. And don’t forget ventilation – no matter the season, some ventilation is a must. Also, plan on your horse’s meals to be fed as a mash – that way water consumption is known.
Are you hiring a hauler? Good plan – they’re good at it. If you go this route, ask for references and check them, then pay for a box stall – it’s worth it. Even better, many shippers have cameras so they can see the horses from their cabs and monitor any issues. Send your horse’s feed, hay and water along for the trip.
If you’re trailering on your own, try to travel in a tag team and go straight through for the trip. If this isn’t possible, search online for overnight stables to stop at. Three to four weeks before travel, booster your horse’s rhino/flu vaccines, and consider the strangles vaccine – there are pluses and minuses. Bring bleach – one cup in a gallon of water will help disinfect public horse stalls. Don’t fill your horse’s water bucket from a borrowed hose (that’s where the strangles bacteria can hide); instead, fill directly from the faucet or pump. Sometimes you’ll need a flavor enhancer to get your horse to drink someone else’s water; try tropical punch Koolaid or Horse Quencher.