One of the most obvious signs of welfare issues in working equids is emaciated body condition. While we might be quick to judge that these animals are not receiving enough food, the reality is that dental issues, parasites, or other diseases or conditions might be contributing factors.

Sara Gomez-Ibanez, DVM, of Sustainable Veterinarians International, has participated in a number of equitarian projects in Central America—“equitarian” referring to volunteer equine veterinarians sustainably improving working equid health. During an October 2014 Equitarian Workshop in Nicaragua, she decided to investigate several infectious and parasitic conditions of working equids there and see how they correlated with low body condition scores.

She presented her results at the 2015 American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention, held Dec. 5-9 in Las Vegas.

“As a veterinarian, I wondered why some horses looked so much better than others in the same area,” she said. “I started asking (the owners) questions and got recurring complaints: lethargy, inappetence, and ill thrift.”

She said she immediately wondered whether these horses might be suffering from tick-borne diseases, equine infectious anemia (EIA), or parasite infections.

In her study, Gomez-Ibanez selected 35 working horses at random from four of the Equitarian Initiative-organized veterinary clinics. She conducted full physical examinations on the horses and took blood and fecal samples for laboratory analysis.

Based on her observations and the lab results, Gomez-Ibanez determined that:

  • The horses were, on average, 8