Worming & correct management of your worming program is very important as worm infestations left untreated can result in serious illness & indeed death of a horse, it is worth remembering that reassessing your program on a regular basis is important to ensure it is still appropriate to your circumstances. If you are in any doubt consult your vet or one of the worm egg testing companies who will help you formulate a suitable program, ideally a program with reduced chemical input, which can easily be achieved by utilising worm egg testing (WET) to monitor your horses worm burden. Unfortunately Tape worm is not effectively monitored by WET so you will need to look to other options such as blood tests or worm for tape worms annually regardless, there is a new test that is being tested at the moment that will enable you to test for tape worm at home. I will update this as and when new information on that test becomes available.


Why you Might be looking for alternative solutions:
Chemical wormers can be quite harsh for a horses digestive system to cope with so reducing the frequency you use them if not required is sensible. There are some horses that may have reactions to some or all of them. I have had to be very mindful in how I am able to worm my horse since he suffered toxic induced laminitis and many people are now finding themselves in a similar circumstance with horses that simply can’t tolerate the chemical options.
Another problem that is developing with the chemical wormers is that there are now areas where the worms are developing an immunity and the wormers are no longer effective. This is a serious situation not just for those in the immediate area but for all of us as horse owners and we need to realise we need to play an active role in helping to ensure we don’t add to these problems if and when we choose to use the chemical wormers, otherwise we will find ourselves with very few options. How you can help:
  1. Make sure you are using the correct dose: You need to accurately weigh your horse to do this, ideally use a weigh bridge to get an accurate weight. However this is not always possible either at regular enough intervals for it to be helpful. In which case you need to have in your possession a weigh tape and know how to use it to estimate as accurately as possible your horses actual weight. Not a general guess based on his height and breed. Once you have accurately determined the weight it is then important that the exact recommended dose is administered, this is what the manufacturers believe is the most likely reason for the developing immunity. Click on the link for our blog with more information on weighing your horse.
  2. Utilise worm egg testing so that worming only occurs when it is actually needed. This is beneficial to your horse too as they are not having to cope with the burden of chemicals that aren’t necessary.
  3. Rotate the wormers you are using, make sure you know what the active chemical is & it is this that you should rotate on an annual basis. Just changing the “brand” is often not enough to ensure you are using a different chemical.
  4. Be aware which parasites you are worming for and choose the right wormer and dosage to target these.

Another reason you may be looking for an alternative is concerns about the environmental pollution caused when the chemical wormers pass through the horses system and are excreted onto the land. Although this may not be high on most horse owners list it may be something to be aware of and consider.

WORM EGG TESTING what you need to know:
  • Worm TestEnables us to use a reduced-wormer strategy, (reducing the amount of times we use wormer) & therefore reduces the number of chemicals we use in the horses.
  • Enable us to monitor the number of large & small redworm in the horses. Although they can’t help us detect encysted red worm, bots or tapeworm – tapeworm can be tested for, using a tapeworm antibody test, but this would need to be done by your vet & you would need to speak to them to discuss this options. This means that it may be necessary to treat for these annually regardless. However that means you might only need 1 chemical wormer annually if your egg tests are clear rather then having to worm your horse multiple times a year.
  • You only need to worm if your horse returns a high egg count. This means your horse is only actually wormed when it is needed and not on a regular basis regardless of whether they are carrying worms or not.
  • Becoming increasingly popular in the UK where we have started to have problems developing with worms becoming resistant to some of the available wormers on the market. As it allows you to not only stop using wormers when they aren’t needed but also to check if the wormer you have used has actually been affective or whether you have resistant worms present.
  • You can send samples through your vet, although there are an increasing number of labs offering the service. I have used both Westgate Labs and Abbey Diagnostics in the past, search for reviews to ensure you are using a quality facility & service (they are not all good unfortunately). You can often order sample packs in bulk which can reduce the cost. They are also often able to help you formulate a schedule for testing and worming that is suitable for your circumstances.

Natural Wormers: What are the Options?

Whilst there are some “natural wormers” on offer, they are somewhat in their infancy, not to say that they aren’t necessarily viable options, just that you need to make sure that you are running them alongside worm egg testing so you can monitor them. You also need to do your research as to how affective they will be in your circumstances. Unlike their chemical counterparts the “natural” ones usually rely on taking a small regular dose over a period of time to be effective. As I have mentioned before just because it is called “natural” does not make it harmless so please exercise the same caution with the natural ones as you would with the chemical wormers. Ensure you are following instructions and giving the appropriate dose and monitor your horse properly.

Verm-X: Is probably the market leader in terms of offering a natural solution to worming your horses. It was initially launched for horses in 2002, they have subsequently released parasite control products for several other species. Verm-X powder for horses is a powerful and effective blend of 11 herbs. It provides a 100% herbal formulation specifically designed to repel internal parasites. Easily added to feed, the Verm-X powder is extremely palatable and is ideal for horses kept on organic farms. It is now also available in a liquid formulation as well as the original powder. It is claimed to be gentler on the digestive system making it ideal for more sensitive and senior animals and animals in competition as its natural formulation does not affect performance.
If you are interested in finding out more information it can be found here: http://www.naturalmatters.net/article.asp?article=2007&cat=28 or on their own website http://www.verm-x.com.


Reduce your risks with good management:
One of the best things you can do is look at your management practices this can be a great way to reduce your risk rather then constantly treating for worms, try and reduce the likelihood of their presence.
  • Ensure the same horses graze together and are on the same worming program. If a new horse is to join the herd make sure they are tested and wormed if necessary before being allowed to graze in with other animals.
  • Removing all the droppings from the pasture is ideal in reducing your worm risks. Ideally it would be done daily. Although this may not always be possible so the more regular the better. If you really can’t remove them from your paddocks or can only do very infrequently the horses need to be rotated to “clean” paddocks regularly and the “dirty” paddocks rested sufficiently to ensure the parasite cycle is broken, this often involves harrowing to break up the piles of droppings and then having these exposed to extended “extreme” weather, very very hot or very very cold periods.
  • Ensure there is enough grazing for the number of animals and that within this calculation you have allowed for regular extended rest periods of the grazing – this will be even more important if you aren’t removing droppings.
  • Grazing other species such as Sheep or cattle either with the horses or in rotation can also be highly beneficial.


What Else You Need to Know:

In your quest you may read about people who have been using WET and going along fine with their horse showing no worms or very few and then suddenly they get a very high reading out of the blue. Often the rational is then used that the WET is useless and hasn’t worked and they want to return to just worming regardless of whether they need to or not.

I believe there is something missing in our knowledge and understanding of worms and their relationship with our horses, but to be able to evaluate this you have to be looking at your horse holistically, so you are aware of all the influencing factors that have occurred if and when you are faced with that situation of a sudden high count.

I do think we are missing part of the picture here, that I want you to think about and be aware of. I have had conversations with both my vet and nutritionalist and they have both mentioned independently that the immune system seems to have a baring on the worm burden the horse will be experiencing. If your horse has had their immune system compromised, which may not actually have gone as far as they were “unwell” or “sick” it could be that they have been under stress or it may be they are just a little “off-colour” it could be as little as that, but they may then be likely to develop a higher worm count as their system is lowered and less resilient.

Something I learnt recently is that Mare’s who are about to foal will develop a high worm burden! I heard of someone who’s mare had an experienced stud vet who she phoned in a panic as this mare had suddenly produced a very high WET and chemical worming at that stage of the pregnancy is definitely not advisable. But this older vet had experienced this numerous times and believed in his opinion it was a natural event and that it had always resolved itself after the foal had been born, although obviously they monitored it closely with further WET at regular set intervals.

Its just something to think about and I think further necessitates that we act holistically when caring for our horses. We can’t take anything in isolation, this is hard particularly with things like worming which we know are vital to maintain our horses health but perhaps there is scope to be proactive in management practices and thoroughly investigate the options that will be most suitable to our individual horses rather then just simply doing what has been done for years with understanding WHY? we are doing it & if indeed it is still appropriate.

If you would like to read more Ellen Collinson has a very thorough article on worms and worming on her website EquineIridology.eu which is well worth a read. http://www.equineiridology.eu/worms.php


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Worming Blog Posts and Articles

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