One of the best ways to anticipate and mitigate potential health problems your older horse may develop during the winter is arrange for a full physical exam before the cold sets in. Many veterinarians offer an autumn exam as part of a comprehensive wellness package, but if yours doesn’t, call and ask to set up an appointment. Here’s just a partial list of the topics likely to be addressed in the exam and why:
1. Dental health, to ensure the horse can effectively and comfortably chew hay and grain. The veterinarian will also look for loosening teeth or other dental problems that might be easier to address early, before the colder weather sets in.
2. Vaccinations, especially if the horse will be traveling or stabled with others who travel.
Click here to learn how to make sure your horse's vaccination program is still working for him.
3. Joint health, to check the mobility and comfort level. This isn’t a full lameness workup but a general assessment of the horse’s musculoskeletal health and determination if supplements, medications or even injections may be helpful.
4. Bloodwork will help to detect any abnormalities in organ or immune function. If the horse has pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID) or other known condition, blood work can confirm that it is under control.
5. Body Condition Score (BCS), helps determine if the horse needs to gain or lose weight for the season ahead. The fall exam is also a great time to take pictures of your horse’s body condition for comparison later.
6. Parasite control—a fecal egg count can help determine if the horse needs deworming and that the anthelmintics being used on the property are still effective.
7. Respiratory health, including listening to the horse’s lungs and looking for a “heaves line” that develops in the muscles of the flank from the strain of exhaling.
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A fall wellness exam can also be the appropriate time to have what can be an emotional conversation with your veterinarian: If your elderly horse struggled to make it through last winter and still has some of the same underlying problems, is it fair to ask him to go through another? This difficult decision is very personal and depends on the circumstances of each horse and but talking about it with your veterinarian might provide clarity and peace of mind, no matter what you ultimately decide.
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