We’ve all seen those horses with a huge belly on them and wondered if it was a mare about to give birth, then later find out it’s actually a gelding. We are told that the horse just has a “hay belly”. Well recently I adopted a mustang with a “hay belly”, and when changing his feeding and exercise didn’t fix his protruding gut, I decided to do a little more research. Come to find out, his big belly is more than likely the result of having encysted strongyles.
Strongyles are a type of parasitic worm that live part of their life cycle in a horses digestive system. Typically a strongyles infestation can be treated with regular deworming of your horses; however, this is not the case when the strongyle larvae become encysted in the wall of your horses cecum or colon. Yes the larvae actually bury themselves in to the wall of your horse’s digestive system. Sounds pretty bad? It gets worse.
The larvae can hang out encysted in the walls of the cecum or colon for 45 days up to a few years. And regular deworming will have no affect on these larvae. Actually, regular screening of the fecal matter of your horse won’t even show that these larvae are buried in the walls of your horse’s digestive tract. Oh it gets worse yet. Encysted strongyles may emerge all at one time in the winter or spring and cause some major problems in you horse. On the mild side of the problems caused is poor weight gain and runny stool. On the other side of the spectrum, your horse could suffer a ruptured bowel and even death.
So if you have a horse that is showing some signs of having encysted strongyles, such as a dull coat and a hay belly, I recommend treating him as soon as possible. The best and safest treatment for encysted strongyles is a fenbendazole purge. This is where you give your horse a double dose of a fenbendazole base wormer for five consecutive days. There are packs you can purchase that actually come with five double dose tubes for your convenience. I used Power-Dose by Safe-Guard on my horse, which I purchased on line form horse.com.
Here is a picture of Weego the first day I had him home. See how big his belly is, but how the rest of him looks so thin? Wish I would have known then what I know now, and I would have treated him right away. I just finished his fifth dose of Power-Dose and can already tell his tummy is getting smaller.
Good feed and exercise helped him some, but he still had a huge tummy.