THINGS I NEVER WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT PINWORMS
Parasites are nasty creatures. Regardless of whether they are harmful to the body or not -- like the ones that live in your eyelashes -- most of us are pretty grossed out over creatures inhabiting our bodies without our permission. For the last five or so years, I have been curbing the parasite population in horses, dogs, cats and myself through preventative and natural means as I am trying to reduce the amount of chemicals that are introduced to our bodies. There is no argument over the fact that chemical-based anti-parasitics, both internally and externally, are damaging to fleshly beings, whether you have fur or not.
For the last five years, my program has been based mostly on prevention, i.e. healthier eating=healthier bodies=uncomfortable environment for parasites. I have also incorporated the use of natural parasite “expellers” such as herbs, garlic, and diatomaceous earth (DE). These have all been very successful, until three months ago.
Enter Memory, stage left. Memory is a 28-year old Arabian mare. She spent her life as a dressage trained show horse, which you can easily see by her princess-like attitude. When I first started caring for Memory however, almost two years ago, she had a dull coat, dull eyes, was underweight, had high pain levels, and was very grumpy! She could no longer eat hay and was on a diet of beet pulp and senior feed. I began introducing herbs to her diet to balance out her nutrition levels and reduce her pain. Even on the same basic diet, she was showing improvements. Over a six-month period of time, the beet pulp and senior feed was removed and her diet was changed to orchard and alfalfa pellets, my IRON HORSE mix, and her choice of herbs. She was also given my natural deworming mix one week out of each month. She gained weight, her eyes and coat began to shine, and she went from zero energy to being able to move well enough to be used as a beginner lesson horse.
However much that I improved her health over a year’s period of time and no matter how many issues I resolved, I still could not fix old age. When the cold weather hit in the fall of 2014, Memory’s joints began to stiffen up and even with extra blankets, leg wraps, and a higher amount of pain herbs, I ended up having to give her a vacation from being a lesson horse. It was at that time that she began scratching not only her tail end, but under her ears as well. For a solid month, I tried attacking the scratching from every angle with different deworming herbs, anti-fungals, anti-bacterials, and even anti-allergy herbs. I would see some improvement and then right back to rubbing her hair off!
One day after mounting frustration and feeling like Jesus on the cross, “Oh Lord why hast thou forsaken me?” <insert melodrama here> I was once again checking her back end for clues, and I saw a large mass I hadn’t noticed before, situated right next to her “ahem”…girly parts. It was strange and lumpy and I thought it was odd I hadn’t noticed before. I have seen grey horses with melanoma type masses in this location but this had suddenly appeared. And just as suddenly, two days later it was gone. It was then I noticed a white worm about 2 inches long crawling around near the same area. When I went to scratch it off in hopes of putting it in the light to have a good look at it, I discovered it was UNDER the surface of the skin! Thanks to search engines and very graphic pictures on the internet, I had now had my very first, up-close, and personal interaction with PINWORMS! Pinworms, also known as “threadworms”, can be transferred to the horse from the ground, mutual grooming, grooming brushes, fence posts, or anywhere else the horse has rubbed or defecated.
After three months of fighting the infestation, disinfecting brushes, treating the stall, and trying different deworming herbs -- I even caved in and tried a paste dewormer -- I was completely stumped. I had tried everything in my bag of tricks and it didn’t appear to be working. The paste dewormer had obviously had a negative effect on Memory as her joints were even more swollen and the “itchiness” was worse. Back to the internet I went, this time looking up reasons why my normally effective deworming protocols weren’t working. What I found was page after page of people talking about how resistant parasites and especially pinworms were becoming. I also discovered that paste deworming companies were having to use larger doses of deworming chemicals to “get the job done”. About that time I tripped upon a site that said it could take an entire year to rid a horse of an infestation, especially with parasites found in the body but outside of the digestive tract.
So what did I do?
First of all, I sat down and thought about what could cause an infestation in the first place. While my other horses showed positive for pinworms for a short time as they do indeed spread easily, I was able to clear up their issues with some simple changes to their normal stall cleaning protocols such as dusting everything with DE, disinfecting brushing, washing brooms, and poo picks. After all, an otherwise healthy body does not succumb to an overload of parasites! Even if there is a presence of parasites a healthy body will naturally be more resistant to an overload. So here I was, dealing with an “old lady” who came to me with a very lowered immune system, who was obviously now trying to expel a most likely long term case of parasites. I asked myself what causes the body to resist parasites. A higher PH level! Parasites are very happy in a lower PH, or unhealthy, environment and an easy way to raise the PH level in a body is with Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV).
One month ago, I began introducing ACV into Memory’s morning “mash” at about 1 tablespoon at a time. I then increased that over the next two weeks to 2 tablespoons in her morning and evening mash. As straight ACV can be damaging to soft tissue, I mixed it into her wet mash with warm water. I am happy to report that not only have the signs of parasite reproduction gone away but her hair has grown back on her rump, and the itching she was doing around her ears is also gone. The itching around the ears was most likely a secondary yeast infection that ACV is also reported to help clear up. She still continues to do a bit of rubbing of her tail end, but since it can take a while to completely wipe out an infestation, I am definitely happy with the progress.
I could have happily gone through life without ever knowing this much about pinworms but when life throws you a curve ball, you’ve just got to go with it. It was a good learning experience and it will definitely give me ideas in helping those customers that come to me with horses that have the “itchy scratchies” that nothing seems to help with. Sometimes it’s just a matter of trying new ideas and applying brain power but that is true of every problem in life, isn’t it?
Photo by John Guenter "You Scratch My Back"
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