November 20, 2023

Equine Immunity – Looking after your Horses health

With the recent cold and wet weather, it’s important to help support your horse or pony’s immunity.  The best way to do this is by ensuring they are healthy, have low stress levels and are fed a nutritionally complete diet.

To maintain good health:

Ensure your horse is free of internal parasite burdens. An effective worming program, picking up faeces in paddocks to reduce worm burdens in pastures, and doing faecal egg counts are important steps.  Help your horse to cope with the changing weather by providing covering and extra shelter and food for uncovered horses.  Even “thin skinned” Thoroughbreds can adapt to life without a cover but older or sick horses may benefit from being covered well.  If you choose to cover your horse, make sure the cover is waterproof and warm.  Once a cover is on, horses can’t raise their hair to help insulate themselves, so it’s important that the cover is warm and waterproof. For Tauranga weather,  a 200g fill synthetic cover is usually adequate. This should be removed on sunny winter days or changed to a lighter cover to prevent sweating and wetness under the cover.

Nutrition and Immunity:

Nutrition is very important for maintaining a healthy immune system.  Your horse needs a complete and balanced diet. Feeding the correct amount of hard feed will help to provide your horse with minerals and vitamins which may be missing from your grass.  There are a wide range of diets available for specific needs ie: horses prone to putting on weight.   It is important that you provide the recommended amounts of feed to meet any deficiencies. Providing good quality hay over winter will provide adequate roughage for your horse and there is wisdom in the saying “a bellyful of hay will help to keep them warm”.  Add a salt block to your paddock or yards and they should be nutritional balanced.

Nutrients and Immunity:

Selenium, Zince and Omega3 fatty acids are nutrients known to support the immune system.  Most New Zealand hard feeds have selenium and zinc as our soils are naturally deficient.  For most of us, feeding the correct amount of a balanced hard feed will provide adequate levels.  However if you know your soils are very deficit in selenium it is important to test blood selenium levels before you supplement as toxicity can occur with over supplementation.  Ensure any fatty acid supplementations are stabilised and remember these will go rancid quickly so store well and watch expiry dates.  If you have an older, unwell or high performing horse you can have your grass tested to see what your soil may be lacking.

Stress and Immunity:

Stress will lower immunity, such as high intensity exercise, regular travelling or underlying disease or pain.  Supporting old arthritic horses with a good quality joint support will help reduce pain and can help reduce non-steroidal anti-inflammatory use.  Exercise is important for a healthy immune system – just like us! But if horses are working at very high levels extra support should be given.

Getting the basics right will help ensure your horse gets through winter healthy and with no loss of condition.

Katherine Hansen BVSc