money-saving horse health care tips

Spoiler alter: Horse ownership comes with vet bills. They’re an unavoidable, and often costly, part of caring for equids. So, when it comes to routine horse care, some owners might try to reduce veterinary costs by forgoing annual exams and treatments. But, veterinarians warn, cutting corners on preventive care often winds up being more costly in the long run.

1. Get Annual Wellness Exams

“Very simply, it pays off to get an annual physical exam for your horse because there are conditions that can show up in those exams that, if not detected, can cost owners money for larger veterinary bills (in the future),” said Fernando J. Marqués, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM, clinical associate professor and chief of services at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine’s Morrie Waud Large Animal Hospital. “Also, horses receive annual vaccinations during those physicals, and that’s not where people should cut corners to save money either.”

During typical annual equine physicals, veterinarians will check the horse’s temperature and heart and respiratory rate, and they’ll auscultate (listen to using a stethoscope) the heart, lungs and gut. Most physicals also include body condition scoring and an eye exam, and some include sheath cleaning and hoof evaluations, as well.

“Annual physicals (should) also include core vaccines recommended by the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AEEP); prevention is key” Marqués said.

2. Follow Core Vaccine Recommendations

The AAEP’s vaccination guidelines recommend that all horses receive annual core vaccines, including Eastern and Western equine encephalomyelitis, tetanus, rabies, and West Nile virus. The AAEP guidelines recommend additional risk-based vaccines as needed, based on the horse’s living situation, how often he travels, reproduction status, and more; work with your veterinarian to determine which risk-based vaccines your horse might benefit from. Some examples include equine influenza, equine herpesvirus-1 and -4, and botulism.

3. Have Your Horse’s Teeth Checked

Annual equine physicals should also include dental exams and treatment, as needed. Some horses, especially seniors and those with existing oral issues, might warrant more frequent dental exams and treatment.

“Dental exams are important because if a horse does not chew properly, digestion could be altered leading to colic and poor absorption of nutrients,” Marqués said. “Also, for example, other conditions such as sinusitis from tooth root infections and abnormal hindgut fermentation can begin in the mouth.”

4. Get a Fecal Egg Count

Owners can also reduce routine costs of health care by adding a fecal egg count to annual equine examinations, which can help eliminate unnecessary deworming treatments in some horses, said Meggan Graves, DVM, an assistant clinical professor of large animal clinical sciences at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine’s Institute of Agriculture, in Knoxville.

A fecal egg count measures the number of parasite eggs, including strongyle eggs, that a horse passes in each gram of manure. A low count—less than 200 to 250 eggs per gram—indicates that a horse has good natural immunity to strongyles and might not need to be dewormed as frequently, Graves said. Higher egg counts indicate that a horse is a high shedder, likely carrying many adult, egg-laying parasites. Those horses will likely require more frequent deworming.

“Depending upon the results of the fecal egg count, you may only have to deworm your horse every six months,” Graves said.

5. Work With an Equine Nutritionist

Your veterinarian or an equine nutritionist can help determine if your horse’s diet is appropriate. In some cases, horses receive more grain or concentrate than they need. Ensuring you’re not overfeeding your horse (of course, while still ensuring he’s getting the nutrients he needs) is a way to save money.

Another place owners can, in some cases, save some money is by eliminating unnecessary supplements—those not recommended by a veterinarian or equine nutritionist for a particular purpose—from their horses’ diet.

“Horses that do specific, hard work—show jumpers, for example—may benefit from supplements added to their diets,” Marqués said. “But I don’t think a horse that is getting a good-quality, balanced diet should necessarily require the addition of a supplement.”

6. Enroll in Your Vet Clinic’s Wellness Program

Finally, owners might be able to take advantage of equine wellness packages offered by some veterinary practices. These packages can include a variety of preventive care options, such as a physical exam; vaccinations; fecal egg counts and parasite control; dental care; and other services tailored to the needs of performance horses, pleasure horses, seniors, and more. Some wellness plans offer discounts on farm calls and other fees. Not all vets offer such plans, and costs vary among clinics, so consult your veterinarian to see if his or her practice offers an equine wellness plan.

Take-Home Message

In the long run, Marqués believes owners can save on veterinary costs simply by practicing good horsekeeping.

“It pays off to get an annual physical exam,” he said. “And if your horse is getting good nutrition, clean water, and his teeth taken care of, you should be able to avoid expensive vet bills.”