Ask the Vets!

There is a significant lapse in the time between when these questions are sent in and when the answers appear in the Gazette newspaper and online. If you feel your horse needs to be seen by a veterinarian do not wait for a response. Call a reputable equine veterinarian in your area and let him/her examine the horse!
Retama Equine Hospital

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I looked at a 5-year-old horse to purchase that was weaving. I was told that the horse just needed a job, that he was bored. I didn't buy the horse, but I'm curious, can weaving be cured? - Jason, Lake Charles, LA

Behavior problems and other vices can be challenging to deal with. There is no specific veterinary treatment for weaving. Sometimes a change in the individual horse's environment can improve or eliminate bad behaviors, but frequently the habit becomes a life-long problem. Luckily in your situation you became aware of the problem prior to acquiring the horse. Part of the veterinary pre-purchase examination is to examine and question in an effort to ascertain whether or not the horse has any objectionable behavior. For this and many other reasons I recommend always scheduling a pre-purchase examination with a veterinarian prior to finalizing an equestrian purchase. - William A. Symm, DVM, DACVS, Retama Equine Hospital, Inc.

Rhodococcus By Dr. William Symm

Your foal is now several months old and things have been going great. You are looking forward to halter breaking and weaning your next champion, but you go out to the pen and he is breathing hard and has a cough! Upon closer examination you feel his skin and he feels hot. You have been instructed by your veterinarian to take his rectal temperature and he has a 104.5 degree F rectal temperature. Oh no!

Unfortunately this is an all too common problem that we see in our area with foals. Of the many things that can cause a foal to get sick, pneumonia caused by Rhodococcus equi is one of the most frustrating problems that we see in our practice area. R. equi is a bacterium found in the environment that is one of the more common causes of bacterial pneumonia in pre-weaning and weanling aged foals. The exact way in which an individual foal contracts the infection is not entirely understood, as research into the disease is ongoing. Much of the research is focused on how exactly do individual animals contract the bacteria and then how do certain individuals ultimately end up getting abscesses and pneumonia?

It seems that there are some regional variations in the disease incidence. It seems from our experience and from the research that is available that early in life foals are exposed to the bacteria that is aerosolized in the air which leads to infection later on in life in susceptible individuals. There is not a single diagnostic tool that can be used to diagnose foals prior to them getting sick. In farms that have a history of the infection it has been recommended that regular veterinary examinations, early blood work and ultrasound exams be performed to facilitate early detection. Also, in some populations of horses and locations that have a history of infection prophylactic treatment with hyperimmune plasma has been advocated and seems to help lower infection rates and severity.

The peculiar thing about R. equi is that it has a unique propensity to cause abscesses, specifically in the lungs. These foals can seem perfectly normal one day and then the next be near death. This is due to the innate ability of a young animal to compensate for respiratory deficits caused by severe injury and dysfunction of the lungs caused by the infections.

The R. equi bacteria can also cause abscesses in other locations of the body, such as within the lymph nodes within the abdomen, joint infections and bone infections. Uncommonly it can also infect older animals. Treatment is often successful, but requires specific medications and sometimes long-term care and treatment. Also, we often need to run diagnostic blood work, endoscopically collect and culture the tracheal fluid and do ultrasounds of the lungs to determine the severity of infection. If you notice your foal coughing, having a runny nose, not eating or just acting depressed, call a veterinarian to schedule an exam.

Although R. equi is common in our area there are many other causes for young pre-weaning to weanling age horses to get sick. It is important to know that a young horse should be bright, alert, active and eat/nurse regularly. A foal that is several weeks old should have a resting rectal temperature between 98.5-101.5 degrees F. Keep in mind that foals will often lay out in the sun and have an elevated temperature momentarily and that their temperature can be elevated briefly by strenuous exercise. Healthy foals that are within an hour or two of birth may have a seemingly elevated respiratory rate of 70-90 breaths per minute. Normally though, a foal that is several weeks to a few months old will have a regular resting respiratory rate of less than 30 breaths per minute.

In our experience it is very important to monitor young horses very closely for any signs of illness and communicate with your veterinarian about any symptoms that might be of concern. Young horses; and foals particularly, tend to rapidly deteriorate medically if left untreated. If you are ever worried about your foal, call your local veterinarian.

You can contact Retama Equine Hospital at 210-651-6385 or visit

I have never missed any shots for my mare in the 8 years that she's owned me. This fall I've had a couple financial setbacks and have not scheduled her shots. Would it hurt my mare to go without her shots until spring? - Susan, Midland, TX, submitted via

Ideally, we recommend staying current with your horse's vaccination schedule. If however, financial setbacks prohibit timely vaccinations, it is important to practice good insect control and minimize travel. Mosquitoes carry West Nile virus, which makes insect control essential. Fly spraying your horses daily will help reduce possible exposure in an unprotected horse. It is also important to remember that horses are often exposed to respiratory diseases through interactions with other horses. So, taking an unvaccinated horse to horse shows, trail rides, or other venues where other horses with unknown vaccination histories will be present is not safe. Most importantly, talk with your veterinarian and have your horse vaccinated as soon as possible.

What temperatures can horses safely handle? Many people blanket at certain temperatures and others don't blanket at all. It gets below zero here sometimes and my neighbors don't even have shelter for their horses. - Kirk, submitted via

You would be surprised to know that horses can handle extreme weather, especially those that are acclimated. Horses grow a winter coat, like many other species, that allows them to adjust in these types of situations. It is important, however, that horses are provided some sort of shelter to escape the wind, rain, and snow. Blanketing horses usually occurs when the temperatures get low and the horses have been body clipped, when they are under lights to keep a slick coat, or when they are in a cold environment that they are not accustomed to. It is also very important to make sure they are provided with an adequate amount of hay and fresh water. Horses generate heat by consuming forage and water troughs can become frozen and go unnoticed for long periods of time. If there is a specific situation that is concerning you, please contact your veterinarian to discuss an alternative plan.

What things can I do to make my horses more comfortable in the summer heat?

Some things that you can do to keep your horse comfortable during the summer is make sure that they have clean, fresh water available at all times, and ensure adequate ventilation when stalled. Make sure your horse is drinking enough water, which should be around 8-10 gallons a day for a 1000 pound horse. If they are not drinking well, add electrolytes to their feed or water, or even place a salt block in their stall. Also, it is important to make sure that your barn is well ventilated and if needed, provide fans for each stall. Allowing air to pass over them can aide in the regulation of their body temperature. If facilities allow, it can also be helpful to turn your horse out during the night. - Shana Bohac, DVM

Should I do different things when it's more of a humid hot versus just plain old hot? When is it too hot to work my horse?

There is no rule that tells you when it is too hot to work your horse, however knowing how they maintain body temperature can help you determine when the heat becomes dangerous. An increase in environmental temperatures can cause heat stress in horses. Their primary method of regulating body temperature occurs by sweating and subsequent evaporation of that sweat. Relative humidity can decrease the evaporation and ultimately decrease a horse's ability to stay cool. If temperatures and humidity are high, caution should be taken when working horses in this type of weather. Make sure to provide plenty of water during a hot summer, even if your horse does not appear thirsty, because water consumption increases when horses are in work. Hydration and electrolyte balance become very important factors in keeping a healthy horse in a hot, humid climate. - Courtney Pace, DVM

Can they colic if they drink cold water after a workout?

Letting your horse drink a large volume of cold water directly after a workout should be avoided as it could cause an episode of spasmodic colic. It is best to allow your horse sufficient time to cool down after any work out before offering them water. - Courtney Turner, DVM

I have three questions - Darlene Howard, Kyle, TX

Advertising has been talking about worming smarter. What do they mean and how would it work?

Worming smarter typically refers to a selective deworming regimen based on the actual number and type of parasites found when evaluating your horse. It has become increasingly common to determine the amount of parasite eggs per gram of feces. This evaluation is used to make decisions on the type of deworming agent that is most suitable for your horse and the optimal time to administer the medication. Your veterinarian will collect feces from your horse, determine the amount of parasite eggs contained within the feces, and recommend an appropriate course of treatment based on that evaluation. It is important to remember that this method is tailored by your veterinarian and targets your specific situation. Dr. Courtney Pace, DVM

With the drought last year, should we be anticipating a decline in the nutrition of our coming hay crop? If so, what sort of supplementation would be needed for optimum nutrition?

The drought that has been experienced can have an overwhelming effect on the quality of hay consumed, especially if horses are consuming hay that was cut during the drought. Hay, or forage, typically sees a reduction in protein content during periods without rain. Supplementation of protein is likely beneficial to reach adequate nutrient levels consumed on a daily basis. This being said, it is still extremely important that horses receive about 50-75% of their diet in forage, depending on their activity level. Because nutrient values vary depending on type of hay and geographic location, it is wise to have the hay evaluated. Once the nutrient content is determined, your veterinarian can be instrumental in determining a feeding plan that fits your horse and its lifestyle. Dr. Courtney Pace, DVM

What should we be expecting this year in terms of pigeon fever infections

Pigeon fever cases are definitely out there this year. Some say that due to the dry weather, the enviromental Corynebacterium psuedotubeculous bacteria that is responsible for pigeon fever, is spreading more easily than before. In the Southwestern US, peak incidence is usually late summer and fall. Signs to watch for include painful swellings or nodules, lethargy, fever, lameness or weight loss. The bacteria can be spread through shared tack and by flies. While good management may decrease your risk, the disease has been known to occur under excellent management conditions. If you suspect your horse has pigeon fever, call your vet to examine your horse. Dr. Amy Swendener, DVM

If a horse has had chronic abscesses, does it need to be kept shod from now on? - Lita Besteiro, San Antonio, TX

If your horse is prone to chronic abscesses, keeping up good hoof care can help prevent or detect any problems early. Shoes may or may not prevent your horse from developing future abscesses. Ideally you should work in tandem with your vet and farrier to develop a hoof care plan tailored to your horses purpose. Dr. Amy Swendener, DVM

Hay Quality

As much as I hate to admit it, I cannot get the quality hay my horses were used to before the drought. When we finally get new Texas hay, will I have to go from free choice to building up gradually? I've been feeding less quality hay (because I can't get the quality I prefer) and then One N Only. - KC, Floresville, TX, submitted via

Any change in feed type or quality, be it grain or hay, should be attempted gradually. Even if it is the same type of hay, the nutrient value can vary between cuttings, seasons, etc. You should always attempt to overlap your hay lots in order to make the transition gradual. With any dramatic change in feed, you increase your risk of complications, such as colic. If any of your horses have a medical condition, you and your veterinarian can work together to tailor a feeding plan specific to your horses needs.


Can a horse just develop Anhidrosis? And if so, does he have it forever? - Jason, Corpus Christi, TX, submitted via

Anhidrosis can indeed occur at any time in a horses life and for no obvious reason. While the trigger is unknown it does appear to occur in hotter, more humid climates or seasons. There appears to be a higher incidence of the syndrome in thoroughbreds however it can occur in any breed. Some horses can go into remission and begin sweating again, however it is more common that they continue to struggle with varied degrees of anhidrosis throughout their lifetime. There are various therapies available to help stimulate sweating in anhidrotic horses. You and your veterinarian can discuss which option(s) work best for you and your horse.

5-Year-Old Horse Pigeon Toed and Never Trimmed

I have a question about 5 year old paint stallion. I am looking to buy him but he is pigeon toed and never been trimmed in this life. If I would get him my farrier said he can fix his feet, but with him being pigeon toed that long, will that affect his legs, like his joints? I want to make him barrel horse and cutting horse. Submitted by Red Bull via

Red Bull,
Conformation or the structural make-up of an adult horse can impact performance and long-term soundness. It is difficult to really change much in the way a horse is put together once it reaches skeletal maturity. There has been much written about conformation and its relation to function or performance. G. Marvin Beeman, MS, DVM has lectured on the subject and there are excerpts of his discussions published on the web through the American Association of Equine Practitioners and The Horse magazine. If you are interested I would encourage you to read what he has written. As Dr. Beeman has so eloquently described, and I only paraphrase, form certainly impacts function, but there is a lot that goes into making a horse run fast or jump high. – Dr. Symm, Retama Equine Hospital

This horse I am looking at buying has sweet itch. He has rubbed mostly his tail bone raw and I was wondering how the hair will grow back. If it will grow back and make a full main and tail or what? –
Courtney Wexler, submitted via

Dear Courtney,
Frequently hair will grow back after it has been rubbed out, as long as the underlying problem has resolved. However, the hair growth can be abnormal or grow back white. I would recommend having a veterinarian perform a pre-purchase examination and get their opinion after examining the horse. – Dr. Sym, Retama Equine Hospital

I have a 22 year old Thoroughbred gelding. He was diagnosed with Cushings at 16 and has been on Pergolide (1 scoop/day) since then. He has been getting 2 flakes of Orchard or Timothy grass twice a day and a small scoop of rice bran with his pergolide/other supplements. The only type of grass hay my new barn feeds is Ryegrass, I'm having difficulty finding a barn that will feed Orchard/Timothy in the area. My gelding is not overweight, he is in light work 4x a week, and has never foundered. Should he be okay on the ryegrass or should I look into moving barns? – Submitted by Allison Fortis via

Dear Allison,
You should consult with your local veterinarian about the diet for your horse. Generally speaking grass hay of some kind would be ideal for your horse, but the quality of the hay might need to be analyzed and there might be indication for soaking the hay. Soaking the hay will decrease the simple sugars that are consumed by your horse that can be a problem for some horses that have “Cushings” and possibly underlying metabolic syndrome. A thorough examination by your veterinarian would be best before taking any drastic measures, such as moving barns. – Dr. Symm, Retama Equine Hospital

Pealing Skin and Hair Loss
My horse Blue has a very strange skin problem. Her skin is pealing and she is losing her hair. At first I thought it was rain rot so I treated her for that. But that did not work, so I waited a few days to see what it was going to do. After a few days it was worse, it is now all over her body and looks horrible. She also does not like me messing in the areas that seem to be worse! What do you think this is? I have no clue what to do for it! – Thanks, Sierra, submitted via

Dear Sierra,
Your best chance of getting resolution and determining what is causing your horse’s problems is to have your local veterinarian examine her. Your veterinarian will likely recommend skin scraping, biopsy and possibly blood work. – Dr. Symm

Reoccurring Pustule
My horse has had a pustule under his jaw, off and on, for several months. It will almost go away, and then come back inflamed and itchy for him. It will squeeze like a huge zit. The horse has been with other horses and none of them have it. He is a 3-year-old gelding Thoroughbred. Sincerely, Bob Brady, submitted via

Dear Bob,
There are numerous possible causes for a pustule under a horse’s jaw. A veterinary exam would definitely be indicated in this case to try and determine what is actually causing the drainage. Lymph nodes underneath the jaw of, particularly young horses can abscess and burst when the horse has upper respiratory infections. These types of infections generally do not go on for several months though. Your veterinarian will likely want to rule out other secondary causes of drainage underneath the jaw, such as a foreign body or tooth root abscess for example. – Dr. Symm

Stall Latch Wound
My horse had a large neck wound from falling on his stall latch. The vet stitched the wound within 30 minutes of the occurrence. The stitches were removed 14 days later. The next morning the entire wound was reopened. The vet had to start the entire process over again and stitch up the entire wound. Is this a common occurrence? Is there something you can suggest to keep this from happening again? – Kelly, submitted via

Dear Kelly,
Unfortunately this scenario is far too common. A recent study that was published in a veterinary journal showed that a large percentage of wounds that were sutured did not heal by first intention healing, or without complication. We can only speculate as to the cause of why such a large number of wounds that are appropriately treated fall apart, but I would suspect that a good deal of it is caused by the inherent damage that is done by the initial trauma and contamination. All veterinarians are taught in veterinary school the basic principles of wound care that apply to all living tissue and most veterinarians that work on horses get vast experience dealing with wounds as horses get hurt not infrequently. The good thing about most wounds is that eventually they heal. However, there are circumstances that advanced wound care techniques are needed to stimulate and manage a wound for the best cosmetic and functional outcome. Your local veterinarian would be your best source of information, as each wound is different. – Dr. Symm

Does a mineral block also provide the salt or do I need to put out a mineral AND a salt block? - Louise, submitted via

Mineral blocks do provide some salt but it is best to offer both. Your horse will choose which block to utilize based on his needs at that time. Horses require much more salt in their diet than minerals so the plain salt block will likely be used much faster. - Dr. Bohac

I've heard pros and cons with rattlesnake vaccine for horses - it is recommendation from the manufacturer every 4-6 months for horses, but then I've heard other horse owners say that their vets not recommend it as it's expensive. The vaccine is supposed to lessen the severity of the symptoms from the venom, but isn't it more important about where the horse is bit versus vaccinating for rattlesnake bites? - Mark Glairing, submitted via

The rattlesnake vaccine for horses is a relatively new vaccine. The distributor recommends each horse receive three doses, spaced one month apart, with subsequent booster doses recommended at six month intervals. The vaccine is designed to lessen the effects of the rattlesnake venom by stimulating the horse's immunity to the venom. While any vaccine is an added expense to the horse owner, the treatment for a rattlesnake bite often requires intensive care and monitoring which can far exceed the cost of the vaccine. It is true that the location of the rattlesnake bite can play a pivotal role in severity of effects. Bites to the face and throat latch area are usually more harmful given the possibility of airway constriction due to swelling, but any bite can be lethal. The rattlesnake vaccine should be seriously considered by any horse owner living in a densely populated area. - Dr. Turner

What is scratches and what is the best way to treat for it? Also is there a way to prevent scratches? - Kathie, submitted via

"Scratches" is a common name for a dermatitis, or inflammation of the skin, that most commonly appears around the pastern area. It is usually found on horses with feathered feet. There are many factors involved in this disease complex, therefore prevention is the key to control. The best way to prevent this situation is to keep these horses in clean, dry pens and prevent excessive moisture build-up. Clipping the hair in this area and keeping the lesion clean can also help. Once the condition has progressed, treatment can include topical antibacterial and antifungal ointments as well as systemic medications. Treatment depends on the extent of disease and should be tailored by your veterinarian. - Dr. Pace

What can I teach my horse to make him vet friendly? - Cali, submitted via

This question is hard to objectively answer without personal bias, but is none the less an important one. In my opinion horses respond differently to each individual and it would be impossible for me to give specific guidelines to be used as a standard. Your best source of support and information is your regular veterinarian. Your veterinarian can serve as an objective observer that can offer advice and possibly some intervention that can make your medical appointments safer, more productive and more enjoyable. Most veterinarians are compassionate people and are more than willing to have an open minded conversation about clients' concerns. This conversation is particularly productive when there is an existing relationship that is mutually respectful. - Dr. William A. Symm

I have heard that it is dangerous to breed a much bigger stallion to a small mare. Can I artificially inseminate my small mare to a much bigger stallion? - Thank you. Taren, submitted via

Breeding a smaller mare to a much larger stallion presents potentially many problems. The largest of which is trying to predict the foal birth weight as opposed to trying to get the mare in foal. Unlike food animal species, bulls in particular, foal birth weights are not predictable for individual stallions. If a foal is too large for the mare, a life threatening situation could arise when she tries to give birth. Although cesarean sections can be done to relieve a dystocia in a mare it is not routine and can end in a dead foal and possibly serious complication for the mare. Your best source of information will be your local veterinarian who can talk to you about your mare and what the chances you might have of getting a healthy foal to have by her side. - Dr. William A. Symm

I heard someone at the barn say that a certain horse had moon blindness. What is moon blindness and what causes it? - Emma, submitted via

Moon blindness is a term that has been used for centuries to characterize horses that are blind or are going blind secondary to profound and recurring episodes of inflammation of the eye or eyes. The term that veterinarians use to describe this syndrome is recurrent equine uveitis. Uveitis means inflammation of the eye. Unfortunately this is one of the syndromes that we see in horses that is not completely understood. The interesting thing is that many things can cause inflammation of the eye, from direct trauma of the eye to a foot abscess and many things in between. There seems to be an immune response that is initiated by various different infections or exposures that results in these episodes of inflammation. These initial episodes are frequently responsive to treatment, but the real issue is that individuals will frequently start having recurrent episodes that are progressively more severe and less responsive to treatment. The inflammation not only seems painful to the horse, but also causes lasting damage to the eye(s), and can result in diminished vision or even complete blindness. Any time a horse shows symptoms of eye pain, which can include: squinting, eye drainage, irritability or shyness, among other things as subtle as turned down eyelids, you should contact your regular veterinarian to determine if an eye exam is needed. - Dr. William A. Symm

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Retama Equine Hospital
17555 Old Evans Road, Selma, Texas 78154

IMPORTANT: Before typing your question, read below.
There is a significant lapse in the time between when these questions are sent in and when the answers appear in the Gazette. If you feel your horse needs to be seen by a veterinarian do not wait for a response. Call a reputable equine veterinarian in your area and let him/her examine the horse!