Horse Health Q&A: Herbal Horse Wormer & Natural Parasite Control
More and more horse owners are asking for a non-chemical, alternative way to either prevent a parasitic infestation or to treat their horses for suspected parasitic problems. They are questioning the standard approach and no longer want to compromise their horse's immune and digestive systems with a toxic daily wormer or by using a paste wormer every 4 to 8 weeks.
While I was raised with alternative medicine and practice it with my own animals, I acknowledge there may be a time and a place for "traditional chemical wormers" in any alternative program if the need arises. However, I advise their use be considered on a case-by-case basis – rather than following tradition without question.
Case-by-case considerations include:
- The health & age of the horse
- If there is a medium to high egg count or other obvious signs?
- How is the stable management program run?
Read on to learn more about how a natural parasite control program and using herbal products can work for your horse. I'll also provide general parasite control guidelines - and outline the protocol I use for my horses at Earth Song Ranch.
How Can I Tell If My Horse Has Parasites?
Have your vet perform a fecal test, preferably a quantitative (demonstrates a specific count in eggs per gram) rather than qualitative (simply shows the presence or absence of eggs). Fecal tests can be done on a regular basis to see if your horse has - or is beginning to have - a parasite load. Then you will know what you are dealing with and how you might need to approach it.
If the parasite egg count is low you can choose to do nothing or you can use an Herbal Wormer monthly on the full moon cycle and test again in 3 month’s time.
You can also do a fecal count yourself with a $50 microscope, a McMaster slide and some instruction from your vet on what to look for. Or your local vet may do fecal tests for you at a low cost.
Are there Visual Signs that I Should Do a Fecal Test or Treat for Parasites?
Because parasites can more easily gain entry into the system when the gut and digestive health of your horse are out of balance - and move right in to set up housekeeping - you'll often see signs in your horse's overall condition.
When parasites invade, the horse will eat but may not be able to digest properly or assimilate the nutrients he needs from his food to maintain a healthy immune system. The intestinal flora becomes compromised and instead of being able to maintain a hostile environment to parasites, it then becomes a welcoming one.
Signs of Digestion and Assimilation Problems:
- Dull coat
- Skin conditions
- Inability to maintain weight
- Slow foot growth
- Diarrhea or other medical conditions
Supplementing your horse with an equine friendly "blend" of probiotics provides an excellent way of limiting the number of harmful bacteria, parasitic infestations, and pathogens in the digestive system, thereby limiting their effects on your horse’s overall health and well-being. All horses benefit from a well-balanced, concentrated, probiotics/digestive enzyme supplement added to their daily feed ration because they all share common "stress" factors.
What Can I Do to Help Prevent a Parasitic Infestation?
Since many parasites are primarily transferred through manure from an
infected horse and ingested while feeding, using a ground level feeder
along with cleaning stalls, corrals, and even pastures at least once per
day is just one part of a proactive parasite management plan. (More on management plans later.)
Keeping your horse's immune system healthy is another key preventative factor. The immune system protects your horse's body against viruses, bacteria, fungi, parasites, etc. It is a miraculous and complex network of organs that contain cells that recognize & destroy foreign invaders and those cells are nourished by his ability to uptake all of the necessary nutrients from his feed stuffs. Good horse nutrition is the key to a healthy immune system.
Some horses - because of age, chronic infection, poor nutrition, stress, over vaccination, over use of chemical wormers, or over exposure to environmental toxins (chemical fly sprays, insecticides and pesticides on their hay) - have a compromised immune system, usually resulting from a stressed or compromised digestive system that leaves them more susceptible to parasitic infestations, viruses and other infections.
Stressors to the Digestive System
The most common sources of digestive disturbances in horses are caused by stress, which may be brought on by:
- Sudden changes of weather, environment, feeds and water
- Unseasonable weather conditions
- Competition, training, and the psychological stress of travel & showing
- Chemical worming, parasitic infestations
- Viruses & antibiotics
- Breeding, being in foal, foaling, and weaning (both mare and foal)
Although the effects may not show up immediately, a horse's beneficial intestinal bacteria can be destroyed or depleted during these times. Without the beneficial intestinal bacteria, food passes through the system and is not "fermented" in the way it was intended. This partially undigested food passing through the gastro-intestinal tract may then lead to situations such as colic, bloat, founder or increase the possibility of developing feed-related allergic conditions.
What Should I look for in an Herbal Wormer Product?
There are a variety of seeds and herbs that when blended together and given for five days monthly - preferably during a full moon cycle - will not only help to expel any parasites the horse may have picked up, but will also assist in destroying most parasites.
The difference between expelling and actual killing the parasites can
depend on the herb used, dosage given and how often it is administered.
There are a number of "Anathelmintic herbs" which fall into different categories; some herbs may have several classes of action in the body and some have a combination of the following properties:
- Vermicides - Kill worms in the gut or elsewhere
- Vermifuges - Expel the dead worms and any associated debris from the body
A Note of Caution: Anathematic herbs can be very toxic in nature and should not be randomly used nor fed to any animal or person unless properly mixed and prepared by a qualified herbalist or vet doing alternative practice. Herbal products meant for humans should not be used on your horses, as most contain Black Walnut, which is very toxic and can be lethal to your horse.
Some of the vermicide and vermifuge type herbs that are found in Earth Song Ranch's Herbal Wormer are:
- Wormwood: Is one of the most bitter herbs and is best used as a part of a natural worming mixture. It is used not only against threadworms but also round worms. Wormwood is an excellent Anthelmintic and also an effective tonic for the whole digestive system.
- Fennel Seed: Is a liver herb which works to help balance horses with either poor or voracious appetites. It is historically used as a part of an herbal worming mixture, as some parasites are known to reside in the liver.
- Cayenne: Helps to set up a hostile environment for parasites and the horses do not mind the taste or the heat from it.
- Pumpkin Seeds: Are noted for expelling tapeworms from the body. Pumpkins seeds are rich in nutrients which can assist in removing large quantities of uric acid in the urine as well. They also contain an amino acid-cucurbitin giving these seeds their anthelmintic actions.
- Garlic: Garlic is a natural antibiotic. It is anti-microbial, anti-parasitic, anti-fungal, and anti-bacterial. Garlic is useful against round worms, tapeworms, pinworms, and hookworms.
- Thyme: Contains anthelmintic properties and is ideal for digestive complaints, including colic.
- Hyssop: This herbs therapeutic actions are due to its natural essential oil which has anthelmintic properties.
- Red Clover: Red Clover is high in Copper and Cobalt and is considered to be anti-fungal, anti-viral herb, and may have anti-parasitic properties. It has been shown to be effective against red-worms also known as bloodworms or large Strongyles.
Does Diatomaceous Earth Prevent Parasites?
Some people believe in using diatomaceous earth daily, but although it is great as a feed-through fly control, it's questionable for intestinal parasites. It is necessary to help prevent infestations and that can be done by feeding specific herbs monthly on the full moon cycle.
Recommended Preventative Management Practices
While natural wormers and digestive enzymes/probiotics for horses are
an important part of your natural parasite control toolkit, it is not
enough to feed an herbal wormer on a monthly basis. A holistic
preventative approach is necessary - including fecal exams and a good
stable and ranch management plan to help prevent parasitic infestations
from taking place.
- If possible, rotate animals on pastures, allowing other grazing animals such as goats, sheep, lamas, or other farm animals to graze them, thereby interrupting the life cycle of the parasites.
- Maintain a flock of free-range chickens, which assist in natural control of parasites, eggs, and fly larva, and have the benefit of giving back natural tasting eggs with rich yellow/orange yolks.
- Group horses by age to reduce exposure to certain parasites and maximize the de-worming programs for susceptible animals, i.e. foals, weanlings and yearlings.
- Keep the number of horses per acre to a minimum to prevent overgrazing and fecal contamination of the pasture.
- Use a large ground feeder for hay and grain rather than feeding on the ground.
- Remove bot eggs quickly and regularly from the horse's hair coat and use a good natural fly spray, particularly on the horse's legs.
- Use an Herbal wormer monthly for several days during a full moon cycle, to ensure that the horse's immune system is maintained and balanced. Supplement with a good probiotic (we use Equine-Zyme) on a regular basis as well to keep the horses gut healthy.
- Perform fecal exams, preferably quantitative, 3-4 times per year on all horses to determine parasitic infestations loads. Chemically worm only if there is an indication of high egg counts and consider using Ivermectin once, during a full moon cycle following the use of the Herbal Wormer for 5 nights to prevent re-infestation.
What is the Natural Parasite Control Program at Earth Song Ranch?
In my particular case, my horses are at home, they are in a closed herd, and fed premium hays grown in No. California, with no pesticides or herbicides. Their stalls, round pen, and turn outs are cleaned twice per day.
They are fed Equine-Zyme, daily, and also receive horse-specific vitamin and mineral supplements, Rose Hips for the copper, and Joint Juice for those who need it, in their bucket feed rations daily. I also give them a blend of other herbs, some of which are considered to be "Portmanteau" herbs, meaning they have naturally occurring properties or active ingredients that can do more than one thing when all their parts are used together (leaves, stems & roots), i.e. one part may be immune boosting while another part may be anti-parasitic at the same time.
My horses are only given a chemical wormer (Ivermectin) maybe once per year, if needed, usually in the fall once the weather starts to turn a little cooler after I have had fecal counts performed. My horses have gone more than 3 years without needing a chemical wormer due to how they live and are cared for. One of my rescue mini’s, Annie, brought in a huge parasite load and I had to use a chemical wormer on all of my horses after using Power Pack on Annie, disposing of her manure off site/off the ranch, as the worms that came out were in huge balls, there were more worms coming out than there was manure! Prior to giving her the Power Pack she had received the Herbal Wormer for five days, during the full moon cycle and has remained parasite / worm free now for more than 3 years.
Further Reading - Published Articles by Earth Song Ranch
- Anthelmintic Herbs for the Health of Your Horse - Natural Horse Magazine
- Is Your Horse at Risk for Encysted Small Strongyles? - An Interview with Dr. Gerald Wessner, Holistic Vet
- Healthy Gut, Healthy Horse: How Probiotics Help - Equine Wellness Magazine
- Pro-Biotics: Bugs You Do Want in Your Horse’s Life - Equine Wellness Magazine
- The Zymes - What they Do, What they Contain & Why You Should Use them
Questions? We're Here to Help
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About the Author
Jessica Lynn writes articles for various national and international horse publications. She is an Equine Nutritionist and the owner of Earth Song Ranch, a feed & supplement manufacturer based in Southern California. Jessica has been involved in alternative health care, herbs, homeopathy, alternative health and nutrition for almost 40 years. Contact Jessica at Jessica@earthsongranch.com or phone 951-514-9700. Her web site, www.earthsongranch.com, offers numerous published articles and resources on natural health for horses, dogs, and cats.
Listen Now: Jessica Lynn's interview on NBC's The Horse Talk Show where she talks about nutrition and herbal worming.
All Natural and Herbal Alternative to Chemical Wormers
"I am thrilled w/the results of the herbal dewormer; I do quarterly FECT tests (have a wonderful reference for a mail-in service that is very economical) to make sure all is well and typically, there are NO EGGS found in the manure sample!! There was one 50-egg report in the spring, but that is nothing compared to the 200-egg threshhold most vets use...."
"My horses have been free of parasites for a long time thanks to your great herb mix and I want to make sure they stay that way. Friends that I talk to about the product would like to buy it as well. I love the herbal wormer.... thank you."
- Dominique M, Canada
"I have been using your herbal wormer for the last 7 months.... I just recently had a parasite check done on Lakota and it came back clean. When I first started using it, he had just tested positive for Large Strongyles. I am so happy with this product!!!"
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