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Check back often for the latest updates and stories from Meredith and Apollo as they journey 10,000 miles on a four year ride around the USA.

A New Tool in Equine Management - the Fecal Test

Let’s talk about poop!  

As a horse owner and one-time equine science student, I have been told the importance of regular deworming.  Those “worms” or internal parasites are actually several different organisms, including strongyles, roundworms, tapeworms, etc.  Strongyles are the primary cause of colic, and the parasite that most deworming schedules are based upon. 

This year, my vet told me that I could get a fecal analysis done instead of just assuming that I should continue the regular routine.  Why, I wondered, would I do that if he’s been fine so far with the routine?

Well, there are several good reasons.  Fecal exams allow you to see not just whether your horse has internal parasites, but how many.  This can be very helpful in deciding a dewormer protocol so you don’t give too little or too much.  If your horse has a high parasite load, he may need extra treatment, and if he is parasite free or nearly so, there may be no need to give dewormer.

For my own horse, I chose to have a fecal test done on the off chance he didn’t need to be given dewormer.  Not only would this be a cost savings, but more importantly this could help prevent drug-resistant strains of parasites from developing and flourishing.  Unnecessary treatments and improper dosages are two of the major reasons that drug-resistant parasites happen, and I want to do my part in preventing that problem.

Fecal exams also allow you to know nearly right away if your dewormer treatment was effective by doing a follow up exam two to three weeks after treatment (the exact time depends on the type of dewormer you are using).  At that point, the egg count should have dropped 90%.  If it has not, then it is likely that either the dose wasn’t high enough or that the parasites have developed a resistance to that dewormer and a different one should be tried.

The fecal test does have some drawbacks.  It does not test for bots, tapeworms, and a few other parasites, and these should be addressed as needed for your particular management scenario.  It also only tests egg count at one point in time.  If your horse has parasites that are not in the egg-laying part of the life cycle, the results could be inaccurate.  However, this is why it’s a good idea to do this several times a year over his lifetime, so you can monitor the trends of egg counts and notice if anything significantly changes.  The number of times a year that you should have this test done depends on many factors; talk to your vet to determine the best strategy for your horse.

Apollo’s results came back the day after my vet, Dr. Scott McIntosh, sent the sample to the lab.  At 250 eggs/gram, his egg count was “mid-grade”: normal for a horse of his age in a shared pasture, not low enough to skip dewormer, but not high enough to worry.  I’ll continue his regular dewormer treatment this month, retest in a month to make sure it worked, and then again later in the year before the next “routine” dewormer treatment is scheduled.  And although it didn’t save me any money this month, adding a fecal exam to the schedule has given me peace of mind that I am making the best decisions for this aspect of Apollo’s health.

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