I get a lot of questions about deworming, in addition to other topics. I think a lot of people are curious about finding alternatives to the old school methods but still want to keep their horses healthy. There is so much conflicting advice on this topic… and so so many different opinions. As it is often said of the horse industry “Ask ten people the question and you’ll get 12 different opinions!”
I think if we step back and look at a few facts, though, things become much clearer. There are still decisions that you’ll have to make for your own herd, but lets just clear the waters a bit, shall we?
We know these things FOR SURE:
- Overcrowding is a HUGE source of parasite reinfection–too many horses on too small a property is a recipe for continual worm infestation.
- Manure piles are another huge source of parasites… do you regularly pick up poop out in the pasture? If not, its time to start. Yesterday. There are so many reasons, but worms definitely hit the top of the list.
- Horses that are under stress, in competition, have regular exposure to new/different horses, heavy demand/training schedules, pregnancy, and young growing horses are all more susceptible to parasite infestation.
- If you are deworming ONE horse at a time, or even 10 out of 11 horses, you might be throwing away money and dumping chemicals into your horse for no reason. ALL horses on a property need to be on the same schedule (ideally with the same exact deworming product)
- Deworming a horse with a HEAVY load can be deadly if done too rapidly and must be done with care and under veterinary supervision
- Fecal tests can be done to determine the amount of worms a horse has. Remember that there ARE worms that do NOT show up on fecal exam and there are horses that are “heavy shedders” that are otherwise healthy. Basically, don’t use fecal exams as your one and only source of information about your horses worm load.
Okay. So now that we’ve cleared all that up, what to do? Some recommend traditional routine deworming twice a year, regardless of the horse. Other recommendations vary from daily deworming done via pelleted feed to never deworming at all. This is where I believe we need to use our judgement.
Horses that are new to us, unsure of the previous care they’ve had, or otherwise unhealthy appearance probably need a dewormer, in my opinion. I personally would use a natural dewormer whenever possible. I do think the chemicals in traditional dewormers can cause harm and have unwanted side effects, but obviously for some circumstances the benefit outweighs the risks.
There are tons of options out there for natural dewormers. Things like diatomaceous earth can be fed daily as a natural dewormer* (MUST be pure and free of additives!) and many herbal products are safe and effective choices. There’s a great article here if you want more information about specific products.
If you have a consistent herd (same 4 horses), with no introduction to outside animals, manure picked up daily, and a spacious pasture, obviously the concern and need for deworming is much less than horses exposed to others frequently, living in muck and manure in a small cramped pasture. My personal goal is to never need to use a traditional chemical dewormer.
In the end, it is your choice. Be informed. Ask questions. Do research. Don’t be afraid to balk the system a little. Take good care of your animals, to the best of your knowledge and ability. And don’t let someone else tell you that you are wrong just because you are willing to do things differently.
*NOTICE: I am NOT A VETERINARIAN and in no way does anything in this article constitute or replace veterinary advice. Before changing anything in your horses routine it is your duty to gather information from respected sources, including your primary veterinarian.