Ask Horse Journal: 01/04

Juvenile Wart Problems
My yearling has warts around his muzzle, but a few are around his eyes. One of his pasture mates came down with the condition first. Can you tell me more about it’ It’s unsightly but doesn’t seem uncomfortable for him. I’m concerned about touching his face and spreading the warts to other areas, horses and myself.

-Karen N. Bertrand

Juvenile warts are common in young horses. They can appear at any age between a few months to three years. Warts are caused by a common virus and can be spread to susceptible youngsters by direct contact with an infected horse, contact with anything in the environment that horse has touched, or by flies. These viruses don’t usually cross species lines, but they can appear anywhere on the body. They’re most common on the muzzle and around the mucus membranes of the eyes, nose, lips and genitals. This distribution suggests contact and flies are methods of spread. The only way to block the spread is to isolate affected horses in an insect-free environment, which is usually not practical.

The horse’s own immune response will usually lead to a spontaneous cure in a few months. Once over them, the horse will be immune. If they’re large, they can be removed surgically, by freezing, or by use of topicals, but removal isn’t usually recommended unless the warts are interfering with the bit or being irritated. This is because all the methods create an inflammatory response in the area that can result in permanent loss of pigment and white hairs. Some success with hastening resolution has been reported using injectable immune stimulants (by veterinarians only) like EqStim. You could also try oral levamisole, a common sheep/goat dewormer with immune-stimulant properties, at dose of 5 mg/kg orally, pasted in or added to the feed, three to five days out of the week, four to two days off, then repeat. Clear this with your veterinarian, too.


Laminitic Pony
I have two lovely show ponies that have foundered several times but always have come back sound. I currently feed just hay for a morning feed, but feed wetted beet pulp with vitamins (.5 ml pergolide per day) in the afternoon along with hay. My pastures are all grass, so I shorten their time out until frost to approximately two hours. Should I not give them the beet pulp’ They’ll have increased work (more than two hours work), so do I need to go to grain’ If so, how much and what’

-Mary Grimm

Beet pulp is fine. In fact, it’s the safest thing you can feed. A mixture of 1 lb. of beet pulp and 2 oz. of rice bran will have a calorie density equivalent to good oats, so there’s no need to go to grain. No matter how carefully you try to manage grazing, grass is always going to be a risk factor. Sugar levels in grasses can change rapidly. Your best bet is to use grazing muzzles for ponies prone to laminitis. We like the Best Friend Grazing Muzzle ( 800-681-2495, see also March 2003). Also, unless your ponies have confirmed Cushing’s disease with an elevated ACTH level, the pergolide is not going to help prevent or treat laminitis.


I just learned my 16-month-old Rocky Mountain filly is a wobbler. She only drags one hoof now, but will it get worse’ Was she born with this’ I am afraid I will have to put her down.

-Melanie Rogers

If you haven’t already done so, get the diagnosis confirmed by spinal tap to rule out other causes of neurological problems and a myelogram (dye injection followed by X-rays) to find the location and extent of the problem.

If she’s truly a wobbler, it’s something she was born with, i.e. a malformation of her cervical spine. Because the spine is malformed, it’s unstable and allows motion in abnormal ways. This eventually results in arthritis, bone buildup and pressure on the spinal cord. The deformity itself may also be putting pressure on the spinal cord. Either way, the neurological problems will likely worsen, although how rapidly and to what degree may not be predictable.

There is hope for wobblers now, though, thanks to advances in surgical techniques to correct the problem. For more information on this option, contact the equine orthopedic surgery department of your closest veterinary school. Current estimates are that about 75% of cases are improved by the surgery.


EPO Testing Begins
EPO stands for erythropoietin, a hormone produced by the kidneys that stimulates the bone marrow to produce red blood cells. All mammalian species produce EPO, although it is species-specific. Human EPO has been used illegally in racehorses to produce high red blood cell counts that improve oxygen-carrying capacity and performance. However, if the counts get too high, the blood tends to sludge/clog in small arteries and may even cause death. In addition, horses will produce antibodies to the human EPO, which can then cross-react with their own EPO and result in a severe anemia that may persist for months or be irreversible.

Detecting EPO use by standard drug testing of pre- and post-race samples is not feasible, since the drug can be given several days before a race and be gone by race day, although its effects will persist. Regulatory authorities have been working on alternate testing methods. Tests for antibodies rather than the EPO itself were recently started in Canadian racing jurisdictions. On Nov. 1, the New York State Racing and Wagering Board implemented EPO antibody testing. Horses found positive for antibodies to EPO or a closely related cousin, dabepoietin, will be prohibited from racing until their antibody titers fall to zero. This may take several months. New York also started testing for the long-acting tranquilizers reserpine and fluphenazine.