Farm Ireland

Wednesday 24 January 2018

ISPCA fears horse death toll will rise as cold snap bites

Pleas for rugs and food to help keep animals alive

Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

Hundreds of horses are at risk of dying from exposure and hunger during this freezing weather, experts have warned.

The equine death toll, which was already predicted to hit its highest ever this winter, is now expected to climb further as the harsh weather takes its toll.

Barbara Bent, chairperson of the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ISPCA), warned that weanling and yearling horses were particularly at risk because they had little fat cover on their bodies.

"Nothing that is thin, cold or not wormed is going to survive this winter," she said. "Not with those skinning winds that are whipping around every night."

ISPCA inspectors last week found a group of 14 six-month-old foals struggling to survive in a forested area close to New Ross, Co Wexford. Two of the foals had succumbed to the cold and died by the time inspectors arrived, while a third had the highly contagious respiratory disease strangles.

The ISPCA chairperson has appealed for the public to donate rugs for the 60-odd horses currently in the charity's care.

"We are particularly in need of rugs for youngsters, anything from 4ft6in in size to 5ft," she said.


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Meanwhile, Horse Sport Ireland chairman Joe Walsh and Veterinary Ireland president Joe Collins have issued advice for horse owners in the extreme weather conditions.

"Many water pipes and automatic drinkers are frozen -- check them daily. Ensure that horses have access to an adequate supply of clean water that is not freezing cold -- they drink a surprising amount even in cold weather," said Mr Collins.

"Horses generate large amounts of heat through digestion, especially the breaking down of fibrous food in the large intestine, so provide forage [hay or haylage] on an ad-lib basis supplemented with concentrates, and not the other way round."

The vet said horses cope with cold weather remarkably well unless they were thin-skinned or clipped.

"They fare worst when extreme cold is combined with wet, windy conditions -- they now need protection from over-exposure. Don't clip the natural hair or groom all the natural oils from horses' coats without good reason. Provide shelter from driving wind and rain using barriers like waterproof rugs, hedges and man-made structures."

He added that owners should check horses at least once a day for signs of illness and injury, and act promptly because sick horses deteriorate more rapidly in severe weather conditions.

Irish Independent