I have come to look at EPM in the same way I look at worms – the organisms are in the environment all the time but some conditions make a horse more susceptible to them. Like other parasites, the EPM protozoa causes more harm in a host with a weakened immune system. The EPM organism enters the body through the gut wall and then attacks the outer covering of the spinal cord. Keeping your horse’s gut wall healthy and watching for the early warning signs of EPM helps you prevent serious damage to the nervous system from the protozoa.
The EPM organism affects the sheath protecting the spinal cord so inflammation occurs when this covering is damaged. Inflammation in the nervous system can be very mild in the beginning stages and may only show as loss of the muscles of the top line of the horse. This would be a concern especially in a well conditioned horse that begins to look drawn in behind the withers and along his backbone. The quadriceps muscle right above the stifle can also look sunken in. When the muscles of the horse get weak he has trouble performing basic maneuvers such as walking in a straight line or taking a certain lead at the canter. Increased sensitivity around the poll and unexplained spookiness can also be early warning signs of EPM.
Horse Symptoms: Early warning signs of EPM
- Loss of top line muscles
- Sunken in muscle above the stifle
- Inability to stay straight when walking
- Trouble with leads
- Sensitivity around the poll
- Unexplained spookiness
Keeping the gut wall healthy is your first defense against EPM. A healthy intestinal lining will be a barrier against protozoa entering the body. Prebiotics, such as KLPP, Ration Plus, Fastrack and PrePro will feed the healthy bacteria in your horse’s intestine. Healthy bacteria aid in digestion and fill in all the spaces between the finger-like villi in the wall of the intestines. If your horse is not digesting well then the food will sit in his intestine and rot. This rotting food is very irritating to the gut wall. Digestive enzymes help the body break down food when the horse’s body is not producing adequate enzymes or much of his food is hay or formulated feeds.
Stress also contributes to poor digestion. If your horse is concerned about something, his digestion will slow down. Even hard training can worry a horse enough to affect his digestion. Some horses will show their concern by acting out in the stall or during training but others will hide their feelings so don’t think that just because your horse is quiet that he has no problems. Even when you do everything you can to make your horse comfortable he may still occasionally get stressed. If your horse does not greet you every day looking bright eyed and bushy tailed you may want to put him on a product called Eleviv. Eleviv is a gentle herbal product to help rebalance the stress hormones. Eleviv is not a tranquilizer or sedative so it does not cause any problems with drug tests.
At first, stress may just slow down the digestive process but over time the chronic irritation of poorly digested food can lead to ulcers. Once ulcers develop in the gut wall the EPM organism has no problem getting into the body. Products such as Stomach Soother, UF, and Succeed will help heal ulcers that are not too advanced. Aloe vera and slippery elm or marshmallow will help heal and protect the lining of the gut.
Horse Symptoms: Preventing EPM
- Feed prebiotics to feed the healthy bacteria
- Feed digestive enzymes
- Avoid stressing your horse above his abilities
- Keep you horse in as natural a setting as possible
- Treat for ulcers if you suspect them
Treatment for EPM can be done with herbal products. The drugs on the market are very toxic and can have serious side effects. When the early warning signs of EPM are picked up, products such as Epic and Karbo pellets or Karbo Combo pellets can be used. These products protect and heal the gut and kill any offending protozoa with essential oils that are safer than drugs. The liquid Epic and Karbo pellets together will act more quickly but the Karbo Combo pellets will also be effective although slightly slower acting. Since rest is an important part of the healing process either product will be good. More advanced cases of EPM may require a herbal product called Sefacon.
Horse Symptoms: Treating EPM
- Epic liquid and Karbo pellets
- Karbo Combo pellets
Preventing EPM is far superior to treating it after your horse shows symptoms. Keeping your horse’s gut healthy and lowering the stress in his life are important to keep his own immune defenses strong. If you do detect what you suspect may be the early warning signs of EPM it is better to be proactive with safe herbal supplements. — Madalyn
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