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Research article2020Peer reviewedOpen access

Parasite Occurrence and Parasite Management in Swedish Horses Presenting with Gastrointestinal Disease-A Case-Control Study

Hedberg-Alm, Ylva; Penell, Johanna; Riihimaki, Miia; Osterman-Lind, Eva; Nielsen, Martin K.; Tyden, Eva

Abstract

Simple Summary Abdominal pain, colic, is a common clinical sign in horses, sometimes reflecting life-threatening disease. One cause of colic is parasitic infection of the gut. Various drugs, anthelmintics, can be used to reduce or eliminate such parasites. However, frequent use has led to problems of drug resistance, whereby many countries now allow anthelmintics to be used on a prescription-only basis. In Sweden, this has led to a concern that parasitic-related colic in horses is increasing. This study aimed to investigate whether horses with colic differed in parasitological status compared to horses without colic. A secondary aim was to collect information regarding current parasite control measures used by horse owners. Exposure to S. vulgaris, a parasite with the potential to cause life-threatening disease, appeared high as determined by the presence of antibodies in the blood. Horses with inflammation in the abdominal cavity had higher antibody levels than other causes of colic. Despite new legislation, 29% of owners did not use fecal analyses for parasites and the use of extended methods to diagnose specific parasites was low. Also, owners rarely used alternative methods to reduce the pasture parasite burden. The study suggests a need for education in the use of both fecal analyses and pasture management.Abstract All grazing horses are exposed to intestinal parasites, which have the potential to cause gastrointestinal disease. In Sweden, there is a concern about an increase in parasite-related equine gastrointestinal disease, in particular Strongylus vulgaris, since the implementation of prescription-only anthelmintics approximately 10 years ago. In a prospective case-control study, parasitological status, using fecal analyses for strongyle egg counts, the presence of Anoplocephala perfoliata eggs and S. vulgaris Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) as well as serology for S. vulgaris, were compared between horses presenting with or without gastrointestinal disease at a University hospital during a one-year period. Information regarding anthelmintic routines and pasture management was gathered with an owner-filled questionnaire. Although the prevalence of S. vulgaris PCR was 5.5%, 62% of horses were positive in the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) test and horses with peritonitis showed higher antibody levels for S. vulgaris, as compared to other diagnoses or controls. Overall, 36% of the horse owners used only fecal egg counts (FEC), 32% used FEC combined with specific diagnostics for S. vulgaris or A. perfoliata, and 29% dewormed routinely without prior parasite diagnostics. Effective management methods to reduce the parasitic burden on pastures were rare and considering exposure to S. vulgaris appears high; the study indicates a need for education in specific fecal diagnostics and pasture management.

Keywords

horse; colic; gastrointestinal disease; Strongylus vulgaris; Anoplocephala perfoliata; cyathostominae

Published in

Animals
2020, Volume: 10, number: 4, article number: 638Publisher: MDPI