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President Obama Signs The Veterinary Medicine Mobility Act

By Grant Miller, DVM, August 11, 2014


The Vet Med Mobility Act permits veterinarians to carry controlled substances with them for field work.


Some of you may recall that we posted information about the Veterinary Medicine Mobility Act back in February asking all of you to write to your United States Congress men and women to urge their support.  Thanks to all of your collective efforts, the Act sailed through Congress at a record rate and was signed into law by President Obama on August 1, 2014.


What this means for you:  If this law had not been passed, the Federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) would have pursued enforcement to stop your horse’s veterinarian from bringing important drugs to your farm.  Vets would not have been able to effectively sedate your horse for some procedures, and more importantly, they would have been able to perform euthanasia on-the-farm. 


As a reader from Los Angeles writes on “The importance of a veterinarian having euthanasia drugs for a field emergency is significant. What do I do if my horse breaks a leg on my farm? How do I put the animal out of her misery if these drugs are unavailable to my vet? I live in the outskirts of Los Angeles where it is against the law to shoot a gun. What do I do? This law must be passed to right this situation.”


Thankfully, the U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives, and the President agreed.


This bill would have not had the success it did if it weren’t for the original co-sponsors Kurt Schrader (D-Oregon) and Ted Yoho (R-Florida.)  Both are veterinarians and represent the only two animal doctors in all of Congress.  When a bill of this nature is introduced, fellow Senators and Representatives have an easier time getting behind it when they know that the leaders for the bill have expertise in matters pertaining to it.  For this reason, it is vital that we have veterinarians serving in Congress.  Both men are running for re-election, so if you happen to be a voter in their district, don’t forget this great public service that they did to protect your horses.


Do any of you have important horse-related legislation going on in your states?  Write in and let us know!

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Three Equine Diseases to Watch For

By Grant Miller, DVM, August 04, 2014

Diseases can be transmitted by contact, insects, and shared medical equipment.

The summer is shaping up to be an active one with horse enthusiasts enjoying shows, competitions and pleasure riding during the long days and warm temperatures.  However, the summer is also being plagued by the increased reported prevalence of three important equine diseases.  Prevention is key, so being on the lookout for risk factors while you play with your horse this summer can help you reduce risk of exposure and infection.


Equine Piroplasmosis


Equine Piroplasmosis (EP) is a blood-borne protozoan infection transmitted by ticks or by use of one hypodermic needle between many animals. Once infected, horses can take 7 to 22 days to show signs of illness.  EP-infected animals can develop fever, anemia, weakness, lack of appetite, yellowing of the membranes in the eyes and mouth, swollen abdomens, labored breathing, and dark brown to red-tinged urine. Equine Piroplasmosis can also cause equine to have roughened hair coats, constipation, and colic.  


Some animals may die from the disease, while others never get sick. Horses with persistent EP infections are carriers of the parasites that cause the disease and are potential sources of infection to other horses. Equine Piroplasmosis is present in South and Central America, the Caribbean (including Puerto Rico), Africa, the Middle East, and Eastern and Southern Europe. Only the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan, England and Ireland are not considered to be endemic areas.


The greatest risk for introduction of this disease is through trading of animals or international equestrian sports, where infected and non-infected animals are in contact. Many disease free countries have the climate suitable for a foreign tick vector, or have ticks which could act as vectors.


In addition to horses, EP can also infect donkeys, mules, and zebras. 


Recent reports of Equine Piroplasmosis have come from California.


Equine Infectious Anemia


Equine Infectious Anemia (EIA) is a viral disease of horses, mules, donkeys and zebras that is sometimes fatal. In about 95% of cases, however, the virus does not kill the host, but instead makes the host a life-long carrier.  Although most cases only present as occasional fever lasting 24 hours, more severely affected horses can become weak, depressed and unwilling to eat, with additional signs that may include jaundice, increased breathing and heart rate, edema on the abdominal midline, and blood-stained feces. Anemia can but does not always occur, although it is more likely to be severe in chronically infected animals.


Although other insects, including stable flies, can transmit EIA, the most effective vectors are biting flies, such as horse flies and deer flies.  The bites of these flies are painful, and the animal’s reaction interrupts feeding. The fly attempts to resume feeding immediately, either on the same animal or on another nearby host, resulting in the transfer of infectious blood. 


EIA survives for a limited time on the mouth parts of insects, and it is less likely to be spread to more distant hosts. This virus can also be transmitted in blood transfusions or on contaminated needles, surgical instruments and teeth floats. It is reported to persist for up to 96 hours on hypodermic needles. EIA may also be passed from a mare to her foal in utero.


This disease is monitored by the Coggins Test, which is required by most states for interstate horse transport.  The test determines if antibodies for EIA are present in the horse's serum.  Although the test is an added cost for horse owners, it helps to keep the horse population safe by identifying and stopping shipment of infected horses.


Vesicular Stomatitis


Vesicular stomatitis (VS) is a virus caused disease that primarily affects cattle, horses, and swine. The disease can also affect many other species of animals and has occurred in sheep, goats, wildlife, and occasionally humans. The major significance of the disease is its nearly identical appearance to the truly devastating foot and mouth disease, which was eradicated from the United States nearly seven decades ago.


VS causes vesicles (blisters) that form in the mouth (on the tongue, dental pad and lips), in the nostrils, on areas around the hooves and on the teats. These vesicles swell and break exposing raw tissue.  The first noticeable sign is usually excessive salivation due to the vesicles in the mouth. Animals may refuse to eat or drink and may show signs of lameness. Affected animals usually recover within two weeks, but not before losing large amounts of weight due to the intense pain caused by the blisters. 


Biting insects and animal-to-animal contact may spread the disease. An infected animal's saliva and fluid from ruptured vesicles can contaminate feed and water, further spreading the disease.


To determine if any cases of VS have been confirmed in your area, see the USDA Weekly Situation Report


All three of these diseases are considered to be foreign/exotic diseases and our government has taken significant steps over the decades to eradicate and keep our country free of them.  None of them have effective treatments available in the United States (although Equine Piroplasmosis can be treated with special medications).  No vaccines are available either.  Therefore, avoiding them is best!  

If you see any signs in your horse that resemble a possibility of any of these diseases, contact your veterinarian immediately.  To help do your part in fighting the spread, read our article on biosecurity and/or download this PDF filled with some great Biosecurity tips to reduce exposure risk.  Remember, prevention is our goal! 

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Equine Alopecia Areata

By Grant Miller, DVM, July 30, 2014


Equine Alopecia Areata Credit: G. Miller

In 2008, a client of mine headed to Kentucky and came home with a trailer load of horses for resale.  One of them, an older mare named “Sugar Babe,” appeared to have a ringworm infection.  She had round, raised welts over most of her body, including her face.  Despite a dozen different types of treatment, we could never get it to fully resolve.  It seemed to just “come and go” on its own, despite all of our efforts to treat it both systemically and topically. 


Another client, who enjoys dressage, has dealt with a similar problem in her 22-year-old gelding for several years.  Every winter, he developed large round lesions of lost hair that would scab and sometimes bleed, but then slowly disappear.  No medication seemed to work on them, which would drive the owner crazy! 


Both horses made their way to the U.C. Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital in Davis, Calif., where they were examined by the dermatology service.  In the end of it all, they were diagnosed with a disease called Equine Alopecia Areata.  This disease causes hair loss due to inflammatory changes within and around hair bulbs and lower portions of the hair follicles.  Although it can look grizzly, it is thought to be more of a cosmetic problem than a serious medical condition. 

Equine Alopecia Areata causes hair loss.

Alopecia areata in general has been known to occur in other species including dogs, cats, cattle, mice, chickens and humans.  Until now, it had not been described officially in horses.  Alopecia areata is an auto-immune disease in which the body produces antibodies to the base of the hair follicle.  The antibodies then attack the hair follicle causing it to break off at the base.  The antibodies will often prevent regrowth of the hair follicle for several weeks.


The disease is diagnosed by both visual assessment and by taking skin biopsy samples and then examining them under a microscope.  At this point, immuno-suppressive treatment is not recommended since the condition is cosmetic.  In other words, it does not appear to be hurting the horse enough to risk the potential side effects of immune suppression.  For horses that have light to white skin, a zinc-based sunscreen can be helpful to reduce secondary sunburn as a result of exposure.

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PAST Act Needs Your Support

By Grant Miller, DVM, July 21, 2014


The PAST act will prohibit anything on the horse's leg that "moves."
The Preventing All Soring Tactics Act (PAST Act) (H.R.1518 / S.1406) is gaining momentum in the United States Congress.  It currently has nearly 300 cosponsors in the House of Representatives and nearly 60 co-sponsors in the Senate.    

For those who are unfamiliar with the bill, it seeks to amend the Horse Protection Act (HPA) to strengthen the law prohibiting soring tactics (commonly used in Tennessee Walking Horse training). In other words, it is an act intended to deliberately cause pain to the horse in order to exaggerate the leg motion of high-gaited horses.


Horses are sored in many ways. Caustic materials (e.g., kerosene, mustard oil) may be used to injure the skin of the lower leg, the hoof and/or sole may be ground to expose sensitive tissues, hard objects may be inserted between the shoe pads and the sole, metal hoof bands may be over tightened, or improper shoeing techniques may be used. Irrespective of technique, the purpose of soring is to cause the horse pain so that it lifts its legs faster and higher (known as the “big lick”). 


Editor's Note: YouTube has several videos showing extreme cases of cruelty in this industry, with several from HSUS (the Humane Society). We warn you that they are graphic and disturbing, which is why we opted not to include any here.


If passed, the PAST ACT will:

·        Define “action device” to include any boot, collar, chain, roller, or other device that encircles or is placed upon the lower extremity of the leg of a horse in such a manner that it can: (1) rotate around the leg or slide up and down the leg, so as to cause friction; or (2) strike the hoof, coronet band, fetlock joint, or pastern of the horse. Excludes from such term soft rubber or soft leather bell boots or quarter boots that are used as protective devices.

·        Create a penalty structure that requires horses to be disqualified for increasing periods of time, based on number of violations (from 180 days to 3 years).

·        Require USDA to license, train, assign and oversee inspectors enforcing the HPA.

·        Make the actual act of soring or directing another person to cause a horse to become sore illegal.

·        Prohibit use of action devices on any limb of Tennessee Walking Horses, Spotted Saddle horses, or Racking horses at horse shows, exhibitions, sales or auctions. Also bans weighted shoes, pads, wedges, hoof bands, or other devices that are not strictly protective or therapeutic in nature.

·        Increase civil and criminal penalties for violation.

·        Allow for permanent disqualification for violators on their third or higher violation.


Amazingly enough, the Horse Protection Act was passed in 1970 to stop soring - yet the practice still continues today due to a lack of needed components in the original law. 


In the House, it remains bottled up in the Energy and Commerce Committee, where Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, an opponent of the PAST Act, is vice-chairwoman.  Perhaps now is the time to tell her what you think.

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Avoid Heat Stress in Your Horse

By Grant Miller, DVM, July 15, 2014

Soaring Summer Temperatures
Sacramento, CA



I decided to spend a long weekend in Scottsdale after a new client who had recently relocated from there reminded me how much fun it can be for sun worshipers. So, I escaped the 100+ degree California heat to the 108-degree summer sizzle that undoubtedly helped Phoenix earn its name.  

As I lay by the pool living the good life, I thought about how my client described her horses' irritability in the Arizona heat. For nearly all horses (and all mammals for that matter), high temperature and/or humidity can make strenuous exercise prohibitive, especially if the body is not acclimated and in excellent aerobic condition. In some unfortunate cases, heat illness can cause serious physical consequences or be fatal. Knowing how to identify heat illness, treat it early and, preferably, avoid it completely is key to avoiding catastrophe. 

Heat illness actually consists of several stages with the most recognizable being heat exhaustion and heat stroke. They can come on fast - especially if your horse is not acclimated to high heat. Although they are most commonly observed with strenuous exercise, they can also occur in a hot trailer or stall. 

Heat exhaustion is characterized by high body temperature (often times greater than 104 F), high heart rates (60 beats per minute or greater) and respiratory rates exceeding 80 breaths per minute. The horse appears to “not be able to catch his breath” and cool down.  Interestingly enough, depending on the stage of heat exhaustion, sweating may or may not be occurring. 

Why? Because horses with heat exhaustion are inevitably dehydrated and, in extreme cases of dehydration, anhidrosis (the inability to sweat) will occur. 

In such cases, the horse is in critical condition since a key mechanism to dissipate body heat is no longer available. Remember: Excess heat energy leaves the body as sweat evaporates from liquid to gas and off of the skin surface. Horses with heat exhaustion are fatigued and are clearly working to just breathe. Other signs will include dry, tacky gums and nasal passages and the inability to decrease rectal temperature despite physiologic efforts.  

Heat exhaustion will quickly progress into heat stroke if left untreated. Both are serious, but heat stroke is more likely to result in permanent or fatal consequences. 

Horses with heat stroke continue to exhibit the signs associated with heat exhaustion, but also begin to show signs of organ dysfunction (due to electrolyte and water imbalances) and neurologic problems. The most common include an altered mental state (stuporous, obtunded or depressed), walking abnormally (drunk appearing) and in more advanced stages, seizure and death.

For horses that survive, organ failure, laminitis and colic have been commonly reported along with pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs.) OK, OK - enough of the horror story! How do we treat heat exhaustion to avoid it getting to this stage?

Immediately move the horse to a shady area and place him in front of several fans if possible. Fans fitted with misters are also helpful since the mist cools the air that makes contact with the horse. Removing tack, blankets, fly sheets, masks or any item that is insulating the horse is important.

Now, in addition to all of this- the most rewarding chore!  Repeated application of ice cold water on a two to three minute interval is advised to help reduce the core body temperature.  Since the dissipating heat will quickly warm the applied water, it is imperative that water be scraped away and reapplied as much as needed until the rectal temperature returns to normal.

If you are unable to effectively rinse the whole body, concentrate on the neck, chest and the area of large blood vessels on the inside of the upper hind legs since these areas are richest in major vessels that run close to the skin surface.

Also, since horses in advanced stages of exhaustion do not sweat, the moisture adds evaporative ability to the skin surface, which more efficiently dissipates body heat.  Some people also mix rubbing alcohol in with the water, which lowers the evaporation point to allow for quicker dissipation of heat. No problems here - just keep the alcohol out of cuts and eyes!

Horses should be allowed to drink cool temperature to slightly cold water when being treated for heat exhaustion. Many will not drink. It is imperative that in all cases horses receive IV fluid support as quickly as possible. IV fluids provide blood fluid volume, which assists in delivering oxygen and nutrients to tissues as well as balances electrolytes that have been insensibly lost during the heat exhaustion episode.

Some veterinarians may choose to administer medications that can protect the horse from heat shock, which can occur when cells run out of energy due to lack of proper nutrient and oxygen perfusion. This decision must be made on a case by case basis.

Pay Attention to Heat Index and Provide Access to Water 

After reading about this nightmare, you probably figure that the best approach to heat exhaustion is to avoid it altogether. The best way to prevent it is to pay particular attention to the heat index in your area. The ambient temperature only is part of the equation when it comes to heat index. You must also consider the relative humidity.

The heat index is determined by adding the temperature (in degrees Fahrenheit) to the percent humidity.  Rule of thumb: If it is below 120, you are riding in safe conditions.  Between 120 and 150, things can get a little dicey, especially if the humidity is equal to or greater than the temperature.  In these situations, you may only want to do a light ride and consider wetting your horse before you start.

Anything above 150 is an absolute thumbs down!  Do not get on and ride if you are facing this type of heat index - there will be other days to ride.  If you do find yourself riding in a risky heat index, make sure to provide your horse with plenty of fresh cool water and amble opportunities to cool down and rest in the shade.


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