westhills equine veterinary services

Winter is upon us in the prairies, and today I am bringing you some thoughtful tips from Dr. Emily Graham of Westhills Equine Veterinary Services! Westhills Equine Veterinary Services is an ambulatory and hospital equine practice based out of Stony Plain, Alberta. They offer a variety of veterinary services which include diagnostics, dentistry, reproduction, emergency care and more.

Westhills Equine Veterinary Services
53110 Range Rd 25, Parkland County, AB T7Y 2M1
(780) 898-9267

Winter Horse Care Considerations- Dr Emily Graham:

Taking care of horses while living in long, cold and dark winter climate takes some extra considerations. Below I discuss a few of the main tips to prepare you and your horse for our super fun winter climate. I’ve also added a few things that as a veterinarian I see as “winter problems”.

1. Feed Modification: Forage (hay) should be the main part of a horse’s diet. The usual recommendation is approximately 2% of ideal body weight per day in forage. This means that if your horse (average size) weighs about 1000lbs, you will need to feed them approximately 20 lbs per day of hay. Some horses that are “easy keepers” can be maintained on closer to 1.5% of their body weight. Other horses with extra energy requirements such as pregnant mares, older horses and performance horses may require up to 3% of their body weight per day.

On colder winter days digesting forage (eating hay) actually keeps them warmer than adding extra grain to their diet. On a colder day for example, a horse that usually eats about 20 lbs of hay per day may require 25lbs to keep warm.

While these are general guidelines it is necessary to consider a variety of factors when feeding in the winter including the body condition score of the horse (how fat or thin they are), the nutritional value of your forage, the energy needs of the horse (example pregnant horse vs easy keeper), and any medical conditions of the horse.

2. Water: Ensure that your horse has access to water at all times. It goes without saying that you need to ensure the water source needs to be de-iced in our cold climate so you can use a heated water bucket or a water heater/de-icer (several variations available). Horses tend to drink more water when it is warmed compared to ice cold water. A horse in pasture that is pawing for feed still needs water—snow is not good enough. If a horse only uses snow as their main source of water there is an increased risk of impaction colic. Also, you are relying on adequate snow coverage which is not always present.

3. Blanketing: Blanketing is essential if your horse is/has

-Working enough to be sweaty
-Poor body condition score
-Certain health concerns using extra energy
-A senior that has poor body condition score or health concerns
-No access to shelter and the weather causes the horse to be wet often

One of the main issues with blanketing is that it requires constant care. Blankets need to fit properly, be appropriate for the type of weather (example if it is often wet the blankets need to be rainproof), and be removed regularly to check the horse underneath. As a veterinarian one of the things I often see is people bringing their horse in for their Spring checkup after a long winter and taking the blanket off in the clinic for the first time in several months. Owners are often surprised with how their horse looks underneath (very fat or very thin) and horses can have blanket sores, or bacterial infections of the skin from moisture being trapped under the blanket. If you are going to blanket your horse during the winter you need to be sure you are regularly checking under the blanket.

Now that we’ve talked about basic management I’m going to mention two things that I get called about A LOT during the winter.

4. Swollen Sheath: I get a lot of phone calls usually in November or December about middle aged geldings getting a swollen sheath. MOST of the time a swollen sheath is from a lack of exercise in overweight, middle aged or older geldings. Edema, or swelling, accumulates in a dependent area of the body- often times- the sheath. Sometimes the swollen sheath is actually just fat accumulation that is mistaken for swelling. In these cases there is often a history of a lack of exercise, a new round bale being put in the pen (they stand at the bale, eat and don’t move much) or a change in hay that has different nutritive value causing some stocking up/edema. This swelling improves with exercise and diet.

Other causes of swollen sheaths can be from a dirty sheath (beans), or more serious issues like low protein levels, circulatory issues or tumors. Heart, kidney, or liver disease, GI issues (diarrhea) and neoplasia (cancer) are common rule outs for swollen sheaths.

5. Peeing Blood: I also get a lot of phone calls with people looking around their pasture and seeing brown or red coloration on the snow and assuming their horse is peeing blood. MOST of the time the horse is not actually peeing blood and the discoloration of the snow occurs once the urine is on the ground. Normal urine is yellow or clear as it is voided and then as it sits on the ground it changes to a red or brown color which is most obvious in the white snow. This is due to a plant metabolite in the urine that changes color when it is exposed to oxygen. This occurs all year round and you may see the change of color on shavings as well, but it is most obvious in the snow.

The concern is when the urine is red or brown while it is being voided, if your horse is straining to urinate or urinating small amounts frequently. This may indicate a urinary tract infection, bladder stones, or bladder tumors. If this is the case please contact your veterinarian!

Emily Graham DVM, VSMT, cVMA
Westhills Equine Veterinary Services
53110 Range Road 25 Parkland County, AB

Thank you Dr. Emily for sharing those interesting and helpful tidbits! I look forward to sharing more from different experts in the Equine industry! If you have an idea for a feature please get in touch at hello@theyegequestrian.com