Horse Health

Horse, Heal Thyself: Part 1

June 17, 2010

Immunostimulants boost the immune system to fight disease.

Sending a young horse to a training stable can be a stressful event. Immunostimulants can fortify a horse's immune system and help it avoid stress-induced illness.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

For years, veterinarians have been concerned about the overuse of antibiotics. Immunostimulants might help turn the use of drugs in some situations toward more natural ways to fight disease. As preventives, immunostimulants can fortify the immune system to help horses avoid becoming ill.

Dr. Elizabeth Davis explored immunostimulants as part of her doctoral dissertation and in studies conducted at Kansas State University, where she is an assistant professor of clinical sciences. Dr. Davis says immunostimulants are ideal for use prior to any situation when a horse’s immune system could become depressed or when it could be challenged by exposure to disease.

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“These would be things like prior to long-distance transport, which typically is classified as greater than 500 miles,” Dr. Davis says. “In some settings, weaning would be considered a stressful event, or sending a young horse to a training stable.”

Dr. Davis also has used immunostimulants successfully in helping horses get over a bout of disease.

“Many times, it might be a bacterial or a viral disease,” she says “The horse is in the recovery phase, but it is just lingering. I like to go ahead and boost those horses.”

Other uses for immunostimulants are to shorten infections in mares and to aid in eradicating equine sarcoids, skin tumors spread by biting flies.

Roll It!

Dr. Kenton Morgan provides information for administering first aid and tips for assembling a first-aid kit.

West Nile Virus

Viruses present a unique challenge to doctors and veterinarians. Unlike bacterial infections that can be treated with antibiotics, most viruses simply must run their course. So healers can do little more than treat the symptoms and provide care to support the patient’s body while its immune system fights the virus.

During the past few years, Dr. Bonnie Rush, head of equine medicine and surgery at Kansas State University, has been using an immunostimulant to treat horses afflicted with West Nile virus. Because no antiviral drug has been found to be effective against the disease, which has a 40 percent mortality rate in horses that show clinical signs, Dr. Rush turned to interferon-a, a naturally occurring protein, to boost the ailing horses’ immune systems to mount a better fight against the virus. In low doses, interferon-a enhances the immune system’s ability to fight disease; in high doses, it acts as an antiviral. Interferon-a also has anti-inflammatory properties, which means the treating veterinarian might be able to reduce the use of anti-inflammatory drugs. For treatment of West Nile virus, the clinicians at Kansas State administer high doses of interferon-a.

Looking back, Dr. Rush says she is pleased with the results she achieved with the novel treatment.

“Interferon-a is still the treatment I would recommend,” she says.

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Immunostimulants have shown promising results in fortifying a mare’s immune system to naturally destroy Streptococcus, a bacteria that causes inflammation of the lining of the uterus. Called endometritis, the condition often affects a mare’s fertility by preventing her from conceiving or causing her to lose the fetus in early gestation if she does become pregnant. Persistent unchecked endometritis also can cause scarring and degenerative changes in the uterine lining.

Stay tuned for the last half of this story.

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