Miniature Horse
Information Pages

General Health

 Please see this page about Your Horse's Vital Signs!!!

Dwarfism in Miniature Horses - Genetic questions regarding Dwarfism in Miniatures with John Eberth...


i410.gif (1027 bytes) Plants can be toxic to horses (and animals)! 
Here are some to watch for!

Alsike Clover
Azalea, Rhododendron
Star of Bethlehem
Black Locust
Black Walnut
Bouncing Bet
Buckeye and Horsechestnut
Common Burdock
Christmas Plant (Poinsettia)
Dumbcane (Aroids)
Dutchman's Breeches
Easter Lily
English Ivy
Foxtail Barley
Green False Hellebore
Poison Hemlock
Water Hemlock
Buckeye and Horsechestnut
English Ivy
St. Johnswort
Easter Lily
Black Locust
Red Maple
Black Walnut
Water Hemlock
White Snakeroot
Yellow & White Sweetclover
Stinging Nettle
Red Oak
Christmas Plant (Poinsettia)
Poison Hemlock
Senecio, Ragwort
Red Maple
Azalea, Rhododendron
Rosary Pea
White Snakeroot
St. Johnswort
Star of Bethlehem
Yellow & White Sweetclover

Danger - Plastic Bags - I was talking to a friend who mentioned she was having problems with neighbor kids feeding her minis & it made me remember. About 30 years ago- my first horse, a full size mare came down with colic. The vet did everything possible that long ago, but she died. The autopsy showed she had eaten a small "fold over top" plastic sandwich bag & it had opened in her stomach, filled with hay & caused a blockage. We don't know where the bag came from. Maybe in her hay, you never know what is blown in the fields & baled in the hay. I mean we all peel off a flake & throw it to the horses without carefully going through it. It could have been some friendly neighbors bringing treats. I see people bringing treats to horses all the time in baggies. I just want to warn you to watch for these killers. You can get the one horse that is so picky not to eat its feed & it would probably gobble down something that you would never think it would eat- & die from.


Cause Cause - Strangles is the most important infectious disease affecting horses. It is caused by a bacterium, Streptococcus equi.

Signs - strangle.gif (4933 bytes)Typically, horses suffering from strangles have pus discharging from the nostrils and swellings (abscesses) forming in the lymph glands under the jaw. These abscesses often burst and exude a thick yellow pus. Affected horses can have fever, be depressed and may stop eating. Most animals recover, but horses that contract even a mild case of strangles must be isolated and removed from training or heavy work for up to 3 months. In some cases the infection can cause chronic illness or even death. strangle.gif (4933 bytes)Typically, horses suffering from strangles have pus discharging from the nostrils and swellings (abscesses) forming in the lymph glands under the jaw. These abscesses often burst and exude a thick yellow pus. Affected horses can have fever, be depressed and may stop eating. Most animals recover, but horses that contract even a mild case of strangles must be isolated and removed from training or heavy work for up to 3 months. In some cases the infection can cause chronic illness or even death.

Epidemiology - Strangles is very contagious, especially with foals, spreading easily from horse to horse and often leading to large outbreaks with many horses affected. It is spread in the discharges (pus) from the nose and burst abscesses. Objects such as water troughs, feed buckets, brushes, reins and other equipment, if contaminated with infected pus, can also spread the disease. Recovered horses can spread the disease for up to eight months, even though they can appear clinically healthy and normal.

Immunity - In common with other respiratory diseases, such as canine cough and feline respiratory disease, immunity is short lived and incomplete. In fact 25% of horses infected with strangles do not appear to develop immunity. This makes it very difficult for a vaccine to provide complete protection and it is not claimed that the vaccine is an absolute preventative. However, field experience has shown that vaccination can control the disease by reducing the degree of clinical disease and reducing the number of horses affected.

Treatment - Penicillin is the antibiotic of choice against S.equi. Abscesses may need to be opened and drained and good supportive care is vital for recovery.

Control - It is strongly recommended that all horses be included in a regular program of vaccination. It is particularly important that booster doses be given prior to periods of greater risk of infection, such as the breeding or performance season. Pregnant mares may be vaccinated up to two weeks before foaling. Consideration should be given to vaccinating high risk horses (eg. brood mares, stallions, performance, pony club, racing and eventing horses) every six months. In the event of an outbreak of strangles, horses should be segregated into three groups and handled as follows: (a) Those affected by the disease should be treated, but not vaccinated. (b) Horses with no known contact with the disease should be vaccinated immediately. (c) Horses known to have been in contact should be observed for seven to ten days and vaccinated only if they have a normal temperature and show no clinical signs of the disease.

Colic Emergencies - Colic! A dreaded term for anyone who has had to deal with a serious bout of colic in his or her horse. This disruption of the horse's natural digestive process can range in severity from a case of simple discomfort to a truly and agonizingly life threatening condition. The purpose of this information sheet is to give the reader some perspective into this disorder, which can occur in any horse, and provide some insights as to how colic can be managed. Please contact your Vet if you are not experienced in treating Colic! This article was written for a full size horse!

What is Colic? - Colic is a general term which applies to two types of disruption of the horse's normal intestinal processes. Depending on the cause of the colic, the horse may be experiencing a digestive spasm (temporary hyperactivity of the digestive tract) or his intestinal activity may be reduced.

Increased activity colic, or hyperperistalsis, can be caused by excessive parasites (worms), eating moldy or spoiled hay, grain or forage, and in a few mares colic spasms can be triggered by heat cycles and pregnancies. See Note-1.

Decreased activity colic, or hypoperistalsis or aperistalsis, can be caused by excessive parasites (worms), excessive increase in grains (such as the horse getting into the grain barrel), sudden feed changes, feeding grain to an exhausted horse, allowing a very hot horse too much water, dental problems (improperly ground up feed) and ingestion of foreign bodies and materials (including dust and sand).

Typical Signs and Symptoms - Most horses will show some restlessness or uneasiness as the digestive process starts to go awry. As the discomfort increases, a horse may paw, look at his flanks, nip at his flanks, kick at his abdomen, keep getting up and lying down, roll or stretch into odd positions, stand and rest in odd positions, rock back against a solid object and repeatedly change weight on the hind legs.

Oftentimes the first noticeable difference between a resting horse and a colicing horse who is laying quietly on the ground is unusual and frequent jaw movements such as partial yawns, rocking of the lower jaw, raising of the upper lip and curling of the tongue when the mouth is open. As the colic intensifies, the symptoms usually become more pronounced. As the heart and breathing rates increase and the inner eyelids become congested (show a brick-brown to a bright red color), you are rapidly approaching a terminal situation.

Physical findings around the barn or pasture can also provide clues to a colic condition in what otherwise appears to simply be a lackluster horse. These signs include evidence of unusual chewing activity, unusually hard or runny manure, lack of normal quantities of manure and signs that the horse has laid down and moved around to relieve gut pain (flatened areas in dirt, sand or bedding with horizontal marks caused as he moved his legs around to get comfortable).

The differences in symptoms between increased and decreased activity colics generally run as follows:

If you hear significant amounts of gas rumbling when you place your ear to the horse's abdomen and the horse is passing manure, you are most likely seeing an increased activity colic. Unless the horse has already gone into shock or is passing a great deal of diarrhea, the outcome is usually favorable when proper care is provided.

If you hear decreased gut sounds, the horse is not passing manure and the horse appears to be in acute pain, these are usually "red alert" symptoms of a decreased activity colic and a veterinarian's assistance, and the medications he/she can provide, are probably of vital importance. In cases of sand or dust impaction, the horse may show early signs of diarrhea but all other signs are of decreased activity. In this instance, only the fluids are making it past the sand or dust obstruction.

If you suspect sand or dust in your horse, take a zip-lock food storage bag, turn it inside out over your hand and pick up two or three relatively fresh and clean manure balls. Turn the bag right side out again and squish up the balls. (If the manure balls feel unusually hard when you squish them, you probably have a dehydration impaction rather than a sand problem.) Fill the bag about half full with water and pin or clip the bag to hang on a post or wall. After a few minutes inspect the bag and see if sand or dust has settled out of the manure. Discuss these findings with your vet and let him/her see your manure test when he/she arrives.

Before the Colic Occurs - There are several things which you can do to improve your horse's chances BEFORE he colics. Discuss colic with your veterinarian, what to look for, what "standing orders" he/she has for you until you can reach him/her, what symptoms to describe when making the call and what medications you should keep on hand (and how to administer them). Know how to take pulse, respiration and listen for gut sounds. Know and record what is "normal" for your horse. When you suspect colic, be able to take these "vital signs" and be able to describe to your vet how they compare with your horse's normal signs when you first place the call for help. Realize that with good information, your vet may recommend a course of action which you can undertake yourself in mild cases, or in more severe instances, your vet may realize that you have a true emergency, not just "another colic," and can rearrange his/her schedule to get to you more promptly.

Standard Practices for Colic - Assess the situation. What has recently happened (the probable cause of the colic)?

Take vital signs. (see this page about Your Horse's Vital Signs)

If things don't look good, and especially if it appears that you are approaching "red alert" conditions (as agreed upon by your vet and you), immediately phone your vet with your findings.

Don't medicate the horse unless it is part of your veterinarian's "standing orders."

Keep the animal quiet and try to prevent him from hurting himself. He may need to lie down or even roll from time to time to help relieve pressure and move gas bubbles. If he is not thrashing, this is not necessarily bad and if done between walking sessions, it may even be beneficial.

Quiet walking for 10 to 20 minutes per hour may help distract the horse from the pain and particularly in the case of an impaction, can help "move things along," but do not mount the horse and force exercise him! Unnecessary stress can develop fatal complications in some situations.

Do not let the horse eat hay. However, providing a warm bran mash (Note-2) with ground up aspirin or phenylbutazone (bute) can often get the animal through without use of heavy drugs. (Don't give your horse anything orally, however, unless it is part of your veterinarian's "standing orders.") If within 30 minutes of eating the bran mash the horse is not showing signs of improvement, call your veterinarian.

If aspirin or bute is part of your "standing orders" and the horse will not eat the bran mash, you can either administer bute paste (like administering a wormer EXCEPT you only administer a small portion of the tube according to label directions) or grind the aspirin or bute into a powder, mix with a small dollop of honey and daub the mixture with your finger into the corner of the horse's mouth.

We must repeat: The administration of any drugs, including aspirin, should be done only after consultation with your vet or under "standing orders" as these medications will affect the appearance of your horse to the veterinarian during the exam and in some cases may impact what drugs the veterinarian can use once he/she arrives.

If You Can't Reach the Vet! - If you suspect a colic and the symptoms all indicate that a digestive problem is occurring and is getting worse, you should always contact your veterinarian. However there may be cases where you cannot reach a vet, or perhaps you in a situation where you don't even have a phone! The horse may well need some relief from pain so that his intestinal muscles can relax and the gas or obstruction can resume its journey. In such circumstances the following suggestions are offered by James Naviaux, DVM, in his book Horses in Health and Disease:

Offer a bran mash with aspirin and attempt to reach any large animal vet that you can. If veterinary care is not available within 4 to 8 hours, the careful administration of 16 oz. of Milk of Magnesia with a "turkey basting syringe" is indicated. This can be done by holding the horse's head slightly elevated while slowly expressing the contents of the syringe into the corner of the horse's mouth. Allow the horse to make voluntary swallows. Do not attempt to give this medication while the horse is lying down. Do not attempt to give mineral oil by mouth as it is relatively tasteless and can get into the lungs easily, resulting in death. Too often colics are "overtreated" by less experienced persons which have contributed to the horses' deaths.

Note: If your horse experiences sand or dust colics, it may be more appropriate to administer psyllium mucilloid instead of bran, however the choice depends a great deal on your horse's history and the actual symptoms which you are seeing (e.g., your horse is passing manure but it doesn't look right, contains a lot of sand, and the horse is uncomfortable). Again, the value of "what to do" discussions with your vet and establishing "standing orders" in advance of such emergencies cannot be overstated!

Prevention - The best cure for colic is prevention!

Manage your horse's diet. Give him good quality feed with adequate roughage and avoid sudden changes. Dispose of suspect feed and grains. Don't let other people feed ANYTHING to your horse without your knowledge and permission.

Keep grains secure and out of reach

Provide the horse with regular exercise, either voluntary (e.g., in an active pasture) or controlled (e.g., turnouts and/or riding).

Don't over water a very hot horse. Give him enough water for about 12 swallows and then come back again later. (If you are riding the horse, as out on trail, you can reasonably increase this intake if you are continuing your ride after the water stop.)

Make sure your horse is drinking properly, especially during unusual weather changes. Many horses tend to reduce their drinking during cooler months, then during an unusually warm day they can sweat unnoticed and become dehydrated.

Make sure your horse has adequate water; that automatic waterers are working, that buckets and barrels are full of fresh water and that they aren't contaminated with manure or a dead mouse, etc., which would cause your horse to avoid drinking.

When cold weather sets in, wet the feed and provide warmer than air temperature water.

Exercise prevention in the case of horses which tend to ingest dust or sand. Regular doses of psyllium mucilloid can help purge the intestinal tract of sand and dust buildup.


Note 1: Parasites - If you suspect a severe parasite problem, discuss treatment with your veterinarian prior to administering wormers. A sudden influx of "dead worms" in your horse's system can have toxic effects. You may need to provide three wormings, the first two being half doses followed by a full dose.

Note 2: Bran Mashes - We typically use "Vita Bran" or red flaky wheat bran for bran mashes. We put up to a one pound coffee can of bran into a feed tub, add some ground hay and/or shaved carrots for flavor, then add hot water to which a modest amount of molasses has been added to make the mash enticing. We stir the mixture, adding more water a little at a time until it becomes the consistency of sloppy oatmeal. If the mix is too runny or the horse is especially picky, we will add small amounts of grain ration to give it some body, but the mixture should still be moist and slightly "loose". (Count on the horses making a big, sloppy mess when they eat it!)

In the event you don't have red flaky wheat bran, it is suggested using half a box of 100% or 40% "All Bran" cereal. He also recommends 2 tablespoons of baking soda, and if your veterinarian approves or is not available, 10 ground up or dissolved aspirins. (This article was written for full sized horses!)

KBR Horse Health Information, (c) 1997 Lamm's Kickin' Back Ranch and Willis & Sharon Lamm. All rights reserved. Duplication of any of this material for commercial use is prohibited without express written permission. This prohibition is not intended to extend to personal non-commercial use, including sharing with others for safety and learning purposes, provided this copyright notice is attached.



Get me back to L'il Beginnings Miniature Horses main page please!