Protect your horses

Published 8:39 pm Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Take a drive around Suffolk — even in areas that most folks would no longer consider to be rural — and you’ll see a growing number of horses grazing in small pastures alongside. Suffolk has become a hot spot for horse lovers, for leisure riders and for those competing in various equestrian sports.

Most of those folks will quickly admit that caring for a horse is an expensive proposition. Keeping the animal fed and watered, properly exercised and sheltered and humanely doctored and cared for are all tasks that continually drain the pockets of people who own horses. Anyone who considers keeping horses either knows this up front or learns the lesson quickly and painfully.

And there’s really not a lot of opportunity for scrimping when it comes to horses, and least of all in the area of medical care. Visits from the veterinarian can be expensive, and horses are susceptible to a range of conditions that do not afflict other animals.

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Local horse enthusiasts mostly had a break from a couple of those conditions last year, with only one reported case of West Nile disease and no cases of eastern equine encephalitis. Both diseases are incurable and potentially deadly for horses. Both are spread through bites from infected mosquitoes. And both are largely preventable.

Vaccinations can protect horses from both diseases, but they must be administered at least two weeks prior to the animal’s exposure to either virus. Health officials recommend that in an area like Hampton Roads, which has a high level of danger from the disease, booster vaccinations should be given every six months or so.

Again, raising a horse is not cheap and the responsibilities of ownership are not always simple.

For more information about how to protect your horses, contact the Office of the State Veterinarian, Division of Animal Industry Services, VDACS, at 804-786-2483 or visit www.vdacs.virginia.gov. Horse owners should contact their veterinarians for further advice on prevention, diagnosis and treatment.