Deworming Horse Care Horse Health Seasonal Horse Care Young Rider

Spring Health Checkup for Your Horse

Voiced by Amazon Polly

Budding leaves, blooming flowers and green grass all say that spring is on the way, but one of the first sure signs at any horse farm is the vet truck pulling up to the barn. Spring is an ideal time to schedule your horse’s annual vet checkup to make sure he’s in tip-top health for the busy riding season ahead. This includes vaccinations and deworming, plus preventive care to keep your horse healthy all year long.

A young rider with her pinto pony
Photo by Shelley Paulson

Rae Birr, DVM, an equine veterinarian based in Michigan, is passionate about helping her clients take the best possible care of their horses, and she particularly enjoys teaching Pony Club members about horse management and care.

“Many of us come out of cold temperatures into spring,” she says. “The internal parasites wake up inside our horses in the spring too, and it’s a prime time to reduce the parasite load for our horses and pastures. Spring is a perfect time to have a health check-up with your veterinarian to evaluate how your horse came through the winter.

“Additionally, many of our vaccines protect against diseases carried by mosquitoes, so vaccinating just before mosquito season gives the horses the best protection,” Dr. Birr continues. “In areas where the temperatures don’t get cold enough to interrupt parasite and insect life cycles, your veterinarian can help you choose the best time for a yearly checkup.”

Spring Vaccinations

It’s important to keep your horse up to date on his shots so that he’s protected against diseases.

Talk to your vet about which vaccinations your horse needs, and the best vaccination plan for him. Your vet will know which diseases are common in your area, the best time to vaccinate, and other factors that could put your horse at risk of getting sick.

“Just as people get vaccinated to protect us from serious diseases, our horses can get a number of diseases that can be prevented or, at least, kept from being deadly,” says Dr. Birr. “Some of these diseases come from the environment (like tetanus from bacteria in the soil), some come from other horses (such as the respiratory diseases flu and rhino), and some come from insect bites (like encephalitis).”

There are a handful of diseases that every horse should be vaccinated against because they are so dangerous and widespread. Your vet may recommend other vaccinations for your horse based on the potential risk of infection.

The American Association of Equine Practitioners (a nationwide group of horse veterinarians) recommends certain core vaccines for all horses, explains Dr. Birr. According to these guidelines, all horses should be protected from these deadly diseases: rabies, tetanus, Eastern and Western equine encephalomyelitis (encephalitis), and West Nile virus.

Other vaccinations that are given for specific situations include equine influenza (flu), equine rhinopneumonitis (rhino), strangles, Potomac horse fever, botulism and others.

However, Dr. Birr says, just like people, not all horses can tolerate all the recommended vaccinations.

“Some horses are allergic to a particular vaccine, or they might have an underlying issue like Cushing’s disease (also called pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction, or PPID for short) or laminitis that can make them not respond well to vaccinations. Your veterinarian will work with you to pick the best protection.”

Horses that travel frequently and go to shows or events where they will be around lots of other horses may need extra protection, including additional vaccines and boosters. Make sure your vet knows what you plan to do with your horse throughout the year so she can help you set up the best vaccination program for your horse’s needs.

A veterinarian giving a horse vaccines during a spring health checkup
Your vet can give you lots of great advice on which vaccines your horse needs this spring based on your travel and riding schedule. Photo by Shelley Paulson

“Will you go to shows? Will you go to a camp? Will you move to a different boarding barn? Additional vaccinations may be recommended,” says Dr. Birr. “It is rarely necessary to give horses every available vaccine, and sometimes [even] dangerous to give too many, so be sure to consult with your vet.”

Stay on a Deworming Schedule

Controlling internal parasites (worms) is essential to keep your horse healthy. If left untreated, worms can cause some serious problems.

“Intestinal parasites can cause damage to your horse’s digestive system and other parts of the body,” says Dr. Birr. “He might lose weight or have difficulty absorbing certain foods. He can even colic. Keeping the parasite load low is necessary for good health and strength. Learning about the life cycles of common parasites is good for every horse owner to know so you can help reduce the number of parasites your horse has to encounter.”

Fortunately, most horses only need to be treated once or twice a year with a deworming medication, usually given in the form of a paste. Some horses tend to carry more worms and may need more frequent deworming treatment. However, it’s important not to overuse dewormers, because this can make them less effective.

“Frequency of deworming is determined by each individual horse,” notes Dr. Birr. “Years ago, veterinarians recommended deworming every four to eight weeks. We now know that this procedure created super-worms that are resistant to our dewormers. The dewormers no longer work as well, and we don’t have new products to try! It’s best to find out how well your horse can fight off worms with his own system and have your veterinarian help you schedule appropriate doses of dewormer. Some horses will need more frequent deworming than others.”

With a few simple tests, your vet can check for parasites and recommend the best deworming plan for your horse, including which type of deworming treatment to use, and when.

A young girl deworming her horse for spring health
After checking for parasite eggs in your horse’s manure, your vet can tell you how often to deworm and which product to use. Photo by Elizabeth Moyer

“Your vet can do tests on small amounts of manure and determine how well your horse can fight off worms,” says Dr. Birr. “There are also tests to determine that a certain deworming treatment is working well.”

In addition to an appropriate deworming schedule, Dr. Birr believes in the importance of good stable management to help keep worms under control.

“In the end, deworming is just a part of good parasite control,” she says. “Picking up and safely disposing of manure from stalls, paddocks and pastures is an even bigger way to help control worms in your horse and where he lives. We can’t rely on dewormers to do it all!”

General Health Checkup

During the spring checkup, your vet will examine your horse to make sure everything looks normal and healthy. She will listen to his heart and lungs for any hidden problems.

Your vet will also assess your horse’s weight and overall body condition coming out of winter. Did your horse lose or gain too much weight? How are his teeth? Can he chew food well without pain? Are his feet healthy and strong? These are all questions Dr. Birr considers during a spring health checkup for your horse.

By working together with your vet, you can determine the best plan to keep your horse happy and healthy. Now you and your horse will be ready to enjoy a fun-filled season of riding together.

This article about a spring health checkup for your horse appeared in the March/April 2023 issue of Young Rider magazine. Click here to subscribe!

Elizabeth Moyer

Elizabeth Moyer works in marketing and development for the United States Pony Clubs, Inc. She served as a longtime editor of Horse Illustrated and Young Rider. She is also the author of two Horse Illustrated Simple Solutions books on grooming and horse safety (BowTie Press). Moyer is a lifelong equestrian and horse lover. Prior to becoming part of the equine industry, she worked in advertising and is a graduate of the University of Colorado’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication. She lives in the beautiful bluegrass horse country of Kentucky with a pack of adopted Dachshunds.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *