Friday, December 20, 2013

What's Eating These Hooves? Readers' Photos Document Stable Pests Have Hoof Hunger

Back in October, the Hoof Blog offered some photos of horses' hooves that could have been gnawed by rodents. The blog post was big news to some, old news to others.

As the weeks have passed, many people have mentioned the article and run-ins they have had with mice, rats and other unwanted stable residents.

A few have sent in photos of their own to document strange hoof markings that they attribute to teeth.

You might want to read the October story before you start this one:
Rats in the Stable? Check the Horses' Hooves and Your Grandfather's Stable Manual

California hoof trimmer Dawn Jenkins sent in these two images of feet on a horse in her care. Dawn had been haunted by the thought of mice and rats for years in her practice. Then she had proof of one.

This horse was stabled in Chatsworth, California and the owner eventually moved the horse to a different, rat-free barn, much to Dawn's relief.

There doesn't seem to be much doubt that those are teeth marks. But notice that these mice or rats are not dining on the hoof wall or nibbling on the frog; they are scraping off the waxy periople. Could this be an easily available source of protein for them?

This horse could be suffering from chafing on his heel bulbs from ill-fitting hoof boots but a second look shows that he's wearing shoes. So what are those marks? Dr. Raul Bras of Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital shared this photo.

He said that both front feet were like this. The horse lives in Florida, where apparently the condition is quite common. He diagnosed it simply as "mice and rats".

"Honestly, I think it's more rats than mice," Dr. Bras said. "The teeth marks are bigger than just a tiny mouse. I was amazed when I saw it, but for the people at the barn, it was something very normal and common. One of the grooms told me he couldn't believe it until he saw them one night.The farrier (Drew Golden) said that's very common there...he acted like it wasn't something unusual or even a big deal!"
Connecticut farrier Geoff Goodson was either the best storyteller or had the most dramatic stories to share. I turned on all the lights in the office the night he told me his tales of catching rats in the act of eating the chestnuts on horses' fetlocks.

Geoff said that he sees the rat problem mostly during winter months when there is snow cover.
"Always in old show barns with high population of horses," he mentioned. "You see it more on hind soles. While horses rest a foot, they will nibble on dead soles. (I've) even seen them shimmy up the legs of draft horses."

He had my attention now. How does a rat shimmy up a horse leg? And don't show horses have trimmed and tidy feet, rasped away perioples, and clipped chestnuts and ergots? What's left for a rat to eat?

"They hold the feathers," he assured me. "Of big draft legs to nibble on chestnuts. Mongolian tribesmen make an alcohol drink from mares' milk and ground-up chestnuts. So why wouldn't rats want to eat them?" 

We'll stay in Connecticut to see some draft horse hooves shared by Dr. Stacey Golub of Connecticut Valley Equine Veterinary Services, LLC. "I didn't believe it when the owner told me what happened but you'll see in the pictures they are clearly rodent teeth marks," she began, adding that the horse also "had his ergots and chestnuts gnawed. I had a hard time believing a horse would tolerate that until I saw it with my own eyes."

"Apparently the horse tolerated the gnawing while he was lying down at night," she concluded. "It stopped as soon as the owners saw a hawk swoop down and carry the rat away."

Barn owls might be something to encourage, too.

On this hoof, as with Dawn's, the animal seems to prefer the periople. But instead of gently gnawing at the waxy deposits below the coronet, it peeled the coronet away in sheets. 

I wondered if this might be an after-effect of environment. Dawn's horse was living in the dry California climate while Dr. Golub's horse, probably a Percheron, was in a wetter New England climate. The periople may vary in thickness from horse to horse and the Percheron may have had a rich supply of it. A wetter climate might have prevented the spent periople from flaking off, which it might do in a drier place. I don't think the farrier in either location would have touched the periople with a rasp.

What can you do to prevent this problem? Get rid of the rats, of course, sounds easy but it isn't always. Finding the right cat is key, as apparently not every cat will go after rats. They should help with mice, but mice will also reproduce quickly enough to replenish the population.

While I heard from a lot of people in tropical places, there seems to be a definite problem in northern climes when snow limits the rats' access to the outdoors. So this is the time of year to bring on the cats and traps and whatever you can do to keep them from setting up camp in your barn.

Rebecca Ramaccia from Connecticut recommends rubbing hooves with yellow soap. It sounds logical, and I think it's great to have another reason to keep Fels-Naptha soap around. It's right up there with bungee cords, duct tape and WD-40; yellow soap has 101 uses around a barn. You might be thinking that saddle soap would work, too but you should check the ingredients and be careful what you put on hooves in case the horse rubs his hooves or the substance gets into bedding.

Rebecca Ramaccia checked in on the Hoofcare & Lameness Facebook page to recommend rubbing horse hooves with yellow soap to discourage rats, if you think you have a problem. (Jackie Anne Wilson photo)

So what began as a query about tiny teeth marks on a horse's foot led to some very interesting sharing of hooves that were affected by some sort of animal.

But then, at the 11th hour, along came Astrida Plenty from the south of England with her pony, who has a nervous paddock habit of laying down and, well, biting his nails.

Is this a form of equine obsessive compulsive disorder? Instead of cribbing or stallwalking, does this horse choose to chew on his own hooves? More importantly, does he ever chew on any other horses' hooves? And if he's left alone to chew his own hooves, what part does he prefer to chew?

So mice and rats like to chew on hooves. We know that dogs love hoof trimmings. And at least one horse out there thinks his own hooves are a great snack.

Are there other creatures out there with an eye on the hoof for a midnight supper? There is one more group of strange hoof-eating invaders to document. Can you guess which species hasn't been mentioned?

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Wendy said...

Well we all know dogs will chew on discarded hoof. I have yet to hear of a dog chewing on hooves still on the horse though.

Anonymous said...

Just having pet rats in the past makes me think that this is absolutely true. Very fascinating and I guarantee it's rats chewing the extra keratinized tissue. The actual chewing doesn't seem to hurt the horses; almost seems symbiotic if it's basically keeping the hooves neat. However I would be worried about zoonotic diseases just because of the mere presence (and subsequent leavings-behind) of the wild rat, for my horse's sake and my own.