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The Tick Factor

posted by Horse Owner Today    |   May 17, 2012 17:42

May 11th, 2012

By Christina Weese

A horseback rider on a trail ride like many Saskatchewan residents, I’ve have had to resign myself to dealing with ticks in recent years. Slowly but surely, ticks appear to be creeping into parts of the province that were previously (and blissfully) tick-free.

The first tick I ever encountered was flung clear across the room in horror (never to be seen again). But I’ve since become a pro at pulling them off of whatever animal they happen to be attached to and delivering a quick death between a boot heel and the cement barn floor.

I must confess I’ve actually developed a rather morbid fascination with the little bloodsucking arachnids – but I won’t go quite as far as Dr. Katharina Lohmann does.

“Once you get over the ‘ick factor,’ they’re really quite pretty,” says the large animal internal medicine specialist.

I am not convinced.

Lohmann, an associate professor in the Western College of Veterinary Medicine, is project director for a new study on tick-borne disease in Saskatchewan.

Funded by the WCVM’s Equine Health Research Fund, the project involves Lohmann as well as WCVM graduate student Dr. Gili Schvartz, veterinary pathologist Dr. Hilary Burgess and Dr. Tasha Epp, an epidemiologist at the veterinary college. The team also includes two tick experts: Dr. Neil Chilton of the University of Saskatchewan and Dr. David Pearl of the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College.
A WCVM-led research team begins a new study on tick-borne disease in Saskatchewan

The study focuses on testing for tick-borne bacteria Anaplasma phagocytophilum, which causes granulocytic anaplasmosis in horses and humans, and Borrelia burgdorferi, which causes Lyme disease. Both bacteria are carried in Canada primarily by Ixodes scapularis, commonly known as the blacklegged tick.

“For some reason, tick experts haven’t really looked at horses even though they’re a perfect subject – horses are large, live in areas where ticks are present and they tend to have close contact with humans,” says Lohmann.

The first part of the study will see a total of 300 blood samples collected and tested from labs located in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario. Lohmann and her colleagues estimate that two per cent of their samples may turn up positive for antibodies, indicating animals that have been exposed to either A. phagocytophilum or B. burgdorferi.

If positive results are found at this stage, the next step is to test those particular samples for the presence of the bacterial organisms themselves.

This is a preliminary study that will hopefully be followed up by more detailed research. “Since these particular diseases are not a big problem in Saskatchewan at the moment, now is a good time to establish a baseline for Saskatchewan as compared to other provinces,” says Lohmann. “Also, if tick populations are migrating north and west as they seem to be doing, we want to see where they’re at today so that we can better monitor changes in the future.”

To complement the blood sample testing, the WCVM is also conducting a “tick survey”: researchers are asking horse owners in Saskatchewan to collect and submit any ticks found on their horses throughout the year.

So far, the variety of tick species submitted to the survey includes Dermacentor albipictus (winter or moose tick), Dermacentor andersoni (Rocky Mountain wood tick) and Dermacentor variabilis (American dog tick).

Lohmann says the survey will continue at least until the end of 2013. “As far as we know, there is no Ixodes scapularis (blacklegged tick) population established in Saskatchewan, though they may be carried in from different areas of the country and from the U.S. by migrating birds.”

An “established population” means that all stages of the tick’s life cycle – eggs, larva, nymph and adult – are found in a particular area.

“If we do get any Ixodes ticks, we’ll test them for disease-causing bacteria. Dr. Chilton is testing other species of ticks for other purposes as well. We’ll also be able to identify their sex and what stage of the life cycle the ticks are at.”

In terms of anaplasmosis and Lyme disease, the level of concern at this point for horse owners is very low. There have been only three cases of anaplasmosis reported in horses in Canada, one of which was found in Saskatchewan in 2010 and is the case that prompted some of the questions in the study.

“Right now we want to see if anaplasmosis should be placed on the list of diseases that veterinarians in Saskatchewan can consider when making a diagnosis,” says Lohmann.

She adds that the symptoms of anaplasmosis – fever, low white blood cell count, jaundice, and suppressed appetite – are common among a range of equine diseases including swamp fever (equine infectious anemia).

“Bacterial titer levels will persist longer than we can see the organisms or detect them by PCR (polymerase chain reaction) assays, and a positive titer in connection with clinical signs is a strong indication of anaplasmosis,” says Lohmann.

So, should you find ticks on your horses this summer, Lohmann hopes that you’ll take the time to send them in to the WCVM’s tick survey. You’ll be helping out a good cause, and who knows – you might even develop a scientific appreciation for the tenacious little beasts. You might even call them . . . pretty?

Visit the WCVM tick surveillance site to learn more about the steps of submitting ticks to the survey.




Reprinted with permission of Horse Health Lines, news publication for the Western College of Veterinary Medicine’s Equine Health Research Fund. Visit www.ehrf.usask.ca to sign up for Horse Health Lines’ e-newsletter

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Managing Dugouts Efficiently

posted by Horse Owner Today    |   May 5, 2012 10:29

Leah Clark – Regional Livestock Specialist, Weyburn
Colby Elford – Regional Livestock Specialist, Moose Jaw

Although most cattle producers are in the midst of calving season, it is not too early to start thinking about getting pairs out to pasture.  Many producers have a system of grass management that they put a lot of time and thought into.  Often water quality and availability is an afterthought, but because water can have such a drastic impact on production and performance it is a good idea to ensure lots of good quality water is available to all animals.

Using a dugout as a summer water source is common practice in this part of the province.  Getting the dugout ready for the grazing season is extremely important and can have big influences on the quality and availability of water for your livestock. There are a few things to consider when preparing a dugout for use.

The first, is addressing the issue of dugout nutrient loading. Nutrient loading of dugouts leads to increased bacterial and algae growth. Some of the bacteria and algae that grow in our dugouts can cause off tastes in the water, sickness and in some cases death. The best way to limit nutrient addition to dugouts is limiting livestock accessibility to the dugout. Restricting direct access to dugouts from livestock not only extends the dugout life by reducing trampling and collapsing of banks, it allows forage growth which helps to trap nutrient run off. Restricting access also reduces fecal and urine addition to water. Some producers are eligible for funding to install an offsite watering system. Research has shown that cattle will choose to drink from a trough rather than the source.  Using an offsite watering system improves both dugout health and animal productivity.

Summer heat, nutrients and sitting water is the perfect combination for algae growth in our dugouts. This may be a concern, as cyanobacteria, commonly called blue green algae, produces toxins that have the potential to cause sickness, and in some cases death, when consumed by our livestock. Algae is easy to prevent with the addition of one of the registered copper sulphate treatments available for dugouts. Growth of algae occurs as water warms so prevention entails an initial dose followed by visually inspecting dugouts and adding the treatment when necessary as algae growth is observed. It’s important to note that correct doses should be used as toxicity can occur if too much product is added.

Aeration can also have tremendous long term positive effects on dugout water quality. In a study done at WBDC near Lanigan, SK. Yearlings gained 0.2lbs per day more when drinking aerated water compared to water straight from the dugout. Aeration helps to prevent algae growth as well as decreases the population of anaerobic bacteria in our dugouts. Examples of anaerobic bacteria effects in dugouts include ammonia formation and hydrogen sulfide gas which are associated with odor and poor palatability.

For more information, you can contact the agriculture knowledge center at 1-866-457-2377 or visit our website at www.agriculture.gov.sk.ca.

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Shock Waves for Speedy Healing

posted by Horse Owner Today    |   May 3, 2012 17:33

Before and after photos of treatment- Photographer: Dr. Judith Koenig


Dr. Koenig began studying shock wave treatment when a particular horse with a broken leg came in for treatment.  Koenig was interested in all the work that had been done in humans using shock wave therapy and preceded with her studies using a wound healing model.

Koenig has found shock wave treatment beneficial in reducing proud flesh in large wounds, if used immediately after injury occurs.  “Although the treatment is expensive,” says Koenig, “savings can be realized in reducing stall rest time and eliminating the cost of treating proud flesh after wound healing.”

Horses are known to have a long and weak inflammation phase post-injury especially in their limbs.  Shock waves work in wound and tendon healing by inducing a stronger inflammation in the tissue for a shorter healing time.  Although it is not fully understood how shock wave treatment works, the theory is shockwaves are acoustic waves that are created by a shockwave generator and travel through fluid in the shockwave head.  These acoustic waves create shear forces when they meet tissue of a different density (i.e. tendons) which release gas bubbles on the cell surface and release inflammatory mediators and growth factors.  Koenig’s challenge has been attempting to measure the up and down regulation of growth factors to support the research.  Funding for this research has been provided by a grateful thoroughbred owner who donated the equipment and Equine Guelph.

Jackie Bellamy

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