If you’re like most riders, you’re probably not terribly
enthusiastic about picking through your horse’s latest
gift of road apples. But like it or not, any natural horsekeeping
or deworming program should include regular
fecal tests. This simple test can save you money and
improve your horse’s health by ensuring you don’t bombard
his system with unnecessary chemicals.
Fecal tests are typically not routinely recommended by
local veterinarians, so it’s no surprise that many riders do
not understand what this test is and what it does. To help
us understand why this test is so important, we talked
with veterinarian Dan Moore.
How often should riders have a fecal
test done on a healthy horse?
DM: This depends on the age and condition of the
horse, as well as prior fecal results. Older horses generally
have fewer issues, due to a natural worm resistance that
has developed over time. Young horses, especially those
under three years of age, need more frequent testing.
Quite often, we will deworm a young horse that appears
wormy (poor hair coat, pot belly) even if no parasites are
seen on the fecal exam.
As a rule of thumb, we suggest fecals be done a minimum
of four times a year for adult horses. If a horse is under
three, every other month is best. This schedule should
be followed until there are no parasites, or until very low
numbers are seen on a few consecutive samples. Then, and
only then, can the time between samples be increased.
It is not uncommon, even in a herd situation, to find
many horses that are always negative, or almost always
negative, in their worm counts. Such horses have either
developed a resistant immunity, or are simply no longer
being exposed to the worms. If no or very low numbers
are consistently seen on fecals, you can increase the
length of time between testing. Conversely, if you consistently
find positive results in a horse, then test more often
and consider boosting the immune system.
Veterinarians and riders in general have got into the
habit of deworming because the calendar says it’s time
to do so, without considering the negative consequences.
Resistant “super worms” are being created by such
practices, and the immune system and general health of
the horse may be threatened. All one has to do is listen
to a pharmaceutical commercial on TV to realize that
all drugs have some consequence. This common sense
seems to have been forgotten when it comes to traditional
How should one go about collecting
a fecal sample from a horse?
DM: Collecting a sample is as simple as picking up a
small amount of fecal material and putting it in a sealed
bag. Ziploc type bags work well, and even work as a
glove if turned inside out while picking up the sample.
Properly label the bag with your horse’s name, your
name, address, and date of collection.
The sooner you get the sample to your veterinarian, the better.
However, we frequently have samples mailed from as far
away as Hawaii. These may take a week or more to arrive
by first class mail. As long as the sample has been sealed
properly and has not dried out, we can get great results.
Are there any factors that can affect
the test’s accuracy?
DM: The factor with the most negative impact would
be a dried out sample. If such are received at our lab, we
ask for new samples to be sent. Improper labeling can
also be an issue. Occasionally we will receive a “group
sample”, where samples from multiple horses in the
same herd were mixed together to be tested. These we
refuse to test – just because there are worms present in
some horses, doesn’t mean all the horses in the herd are
positive. Such thinking completely disregards individual
immunity and resistance. For the most part, all horses are
exposed to parasites on a regular basis, but that does not
mean they should be dewormed “just because”, any more
than we should be treated with antibiotics every time we
are exposed to the flu.
Will my veterinarian collect a sample
during a routine visit or annual exam?
DM: Many veterinarians will not even do fecals on
horses. Unfortunately, they have bought into the misunderstanding
that all horses have worms all the time.
They will frequently tell their clients that fecal tests are
ineffective and it is best to simply deworm on a calendar
basis. This practice has led to a resistance issue, and what
I refer to as “super worms”. Fortunately, this is changing,
and the need and recommendation to do fecals is trickling
down from parasitologists to vet schools, and finally
reaching veterinarians in the field.
What process does a fecal test
DM: At our practice, we do a fecal flotation test that concentrates
any eggs. We have a veterinary microbiologist
review the samples – it is important to have someone who
frequently does fecal exams to do the testing. Equine samples
are much more difficult to read than dog or cat fecals.
What worms, if any, may not be
visible in a sample?
DM: Tapeworms, bots, and parasites that are migrating
through tissue (encysted larvae) may not show up.
How do you interpret test results?
DM: A positive test indicates that worms are present.
Generally, if we find more than two or three eggs per
slide, we suggest deworming. Of course, we suggest a
more natural approach over chemical dewormers.
If a worm overload is discovered,
and the horse is dewormed,
should he have another fecal test done afterwards?
DM: Yes. I would suggest a follow-up in three to
Any deworming program, whether chemical, natural
or combined, should include regular fecal tests for
each individual horse. These tests are easily done and
relatively inexpensive. Best of all, they can save you
money in unnecessary deworming products, and enhance
your horse’s health and longevity.
Dr. Dan Moore graduated from Auburn School
of Veterinary Medicine in 1980, then completed
the Professional Course in Veterinary Homeopathy
and the Advanced Course in Veterinary
Homeopathy. He is the founder and developer
of thenaturalhorsevet.net, an online source of information,
products and services about natural and complementary
alternatives for horses. Information can be obtained
by calling 1-877-873-8838.
Published in the March/April 2009 issue of Equine Wellness Magazine