Veterinarians at Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital answer your questions about sales and healthcare of Thoroughbred auction yearlings, weanlings, 2-year-olds and breeding stock.
Question: Sometimes stall rest is part of a horse’s recovery program but some horses don’t tolerate it well and may even self-injure. What makes them do this, and what can be done about it?
Dr. Lindsey Rings, Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital: Stall rest can be a very important and necessary part of your veterinarian’s treatment plan for your horse and finding ways to make this time less stressful for you and your horse can be a challenge. Stall confinement can lead to the development of unwanted behaviors such as cribbing, weaving or stall walking. To help to avoid these behaviors, efforts to keep your horse engaged or entertained throughout the day should be utilized.
As herd animals, horses benefit from the companionship of other equids. Stall rest can make this difficult to impossible. Placing a calm companion animal within eyesight of a stall-rested horse can be of benefit and can help to reduce the stress in the stall confined horse. If a companion horse in an adjacent stall is impractical or impossible to provide, the placement of a shatterproof mirror in the stall may be of benefit. Horses that engage with their reflection are found to have reduced stress and anxiety.
Toys placed in your horse’s stall can occupy their down time. Commercial horse toys are available on the market and some even dispense treats or feed to your horse. The addition of stuffed animals, traffic cones, or make-it-yourself stall toys can also engage your horse’s mind during confinement.
Adjustments to your horse’s diet should also be implemented while maintaining a horse on stall rest. A stall-rested horse may not require the same caloric intake as they did while being more active. Therefore, reductions in concentrate/grain intake should be implemented. The use of a slow feeder or nibble net can extend the amount of time a horse spends consuming their hay and this can help to reduce their unoccupied time.
In a horse that is behaving in an unsafe manner towards either itself or its human care takers or whose behavior has remained retractable to management changes, the use of pharmaceuticals should be considered. Medications such as acepromazine, reserpine or fluphenazine have classically been used to reduce anxiety or induce long term sedation in stall confined horses. The use of trazadone orally is relatively new and seems to offer a safe and effective means to facilitate confinement and enhance calmness. Other products such as alpha-casozepine (Zlykene), magnesium sulfate and herbal combinations are also available and can be effective when used appropriately. Always consult with your veterinarian prior to starting treatment with any of these medications or supplements.
While stall rest is never easy for the horse or its human caretakers, there are several key areas of consideration that can help to make this event much less stressful on all involved.
Dr. Lindsey Rings aspired to be a veterinarian since she “could ride around in a car” with her mother, Marylou, who has a farm animal ambulatory practice and her father, Mike, an Internal Medicine Specialist himself.
After graduating from The Ohio State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in 2012, Rings, a Columbus, Ohio native, interned in New Jersey before completing an internship in 2014 at Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky. After completing the internship, Rings returned to her alma mater and completed a three-year residency in Equine Internal Medicine while earning her Master’s degree in Comparative and Veterinary Medicine.
Dr. Rings practices at Rood & Riddle in Saratoga hospital as an internal medicine specialist working heavily with ambulatory veterinarians and other veterinary specialists.
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