Parasite Control In Horses


Parasite control in horses has been one of my favorite subjects because I have seen the development of control measures evolve from no medications to a plethora of drugs with a concern of resistance.

In 1973 when I started my career with horses, I remember the trainer at my barn describing making a tea using buchu leaves.  After it cooled, it was given as an enema to kill pinworms.   He did this once to show me or to prove that his ways were better than the new medicines the vet was trying to sell us.

In 1975 or so, our farm vet came in excited to show us a new medicine to cure parasite disease in horses.  My first question was, “What disease?”  I had never heard of internal parasites.  Today the medications used to control internal parasites in horses are also approved for humans.  I have seen one for sale on the shelf at my local pharmacy.

Here is a simple question for you.  How did your parents control internal parasites in you?  Did you receive routine medicine dosing to fight these nasty creatures in your gut?  Probably not. After watching a documentary about orphans in Romania, where young children lived in their filth, I realized how humans prevented parasites from invading our bodies in most countries.  These orphans were emaciated with distended bellies as they walked barefoot in their waste, eating food with their dirty fingers from unwashed bowls.  The answer became clear: if we don’t eat where we defecate, wash our hands, and use forks to keep our dirty fingers away from our food, then internal parasites would never enter our mouths.  

The bathroom placed inside our homes is a recent concept, with indoor plumbing becoming a standard living feature less than 100 years ago.  Our parents told us to wash our hands before eating and not use our fingers to eat.  This concept was all about parasite control that the fast-food industry changed with their “finger food.”  Circumvention came from washing the food and cooking it to kill the parasites.  It is a different story for our horses.

Pastures are shrinking, and the number of horses per pasture is increasing.  This density leads to a sanitation problem where horses eat where they defecate.  Medicines created to kill parasites became the solution, and, over time, this developed resistance. 

Over 40 short years, horse owners learned about multiple anti-parasite medications and schemes. Multiple complicated schedules for deworming, various ways to administer medications (stomach tubing, top-dress powders, oral paste, muscle injections), and toxic reactions from organophosphates overwhelmed owners. Yet, vets or researchers never discussed the horse’s ability to address a parasite infection using the immune system or pasture management. Today we are surprised by the concept of parasite resistance, yet the solution has always been what our parents told us – avoid putting them in your mouth.

I have written articles and made a webinar you can follow in the related materials tab.  The bottom line is 1) clean up the environment, 2) improve the immune system and 3) deworm judiciously.

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