Health Care

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Parasite Management of Foals

Sustainable parasite control measures on properties with foals is often challenging. Read how to best treat and protect foals while working with your veterinarian.

Resistance to horse wormers has now been reported across all drug classes in Australia and poses a significant concern for owners of young horses. A diagnostic-led approach to worming is easily implemented in adult horses but may not be as straightforward for owners of foals and youngstock.

This was confirmed by a recent study in Thoroughbred farms in Australia which highlighted an over-reliance on wormers and a lack of awareness of stud managers on the importance of delaying anthelmintic resistance1. (Resistance refers to the drug no longer being effective against the parasite)

Key parasites affecting foals

1. Ascarids

  • Parascaris equorum (Ascarids) is an important cause of disease in foals and young horses (<18 months)
  • Most horses develop a strong immunity to this parasite after 2 years
  • Adult ascarids largely reside in the small intestine.
  • When ascarid eggs are ingested by foals they travel through the small intestine and migrate through the liver, heart and lungs before returning to the small intestine.
  • Migrating larval stages through the lungs can lead to respiratory signs (coughing) and intestinal burdens can lead to a reduced appetite, rough coat and intermittent colic. In severe cases, (potentially fatal) intestinal obstruction may occur.
  • Widespread resistance of ascarids to macrocyclic lactone or ‘mectin’ wormers (eg. ivermectin) has been reported across Australia1–3.

2. Cyathostomins

  • Cyathostomes (small strongyles) may cause disease in older foals and adult horses.
  • Younger horses have lower immunity to cyathostome infection and are more susceptible to clinical disease.
  • Signs of disease include poor growth, anemia and diarrhoea.
  • Emerging resistance of cyathostomes to macrocyclic lactones or ‘mectins’ have been reported worldwide which highlights the need for more targeted strategies to limit the development of further resistance.

Worming strategies for foals

  • Blanket worming of foals every couple of months is irresponsible and should no longer be considered acceptable.
  • Foals should receive their first worming treatment no earlier than 2-3 months of age4 with a benzimidazole (BZ) wormer (eg. STRATEGY-T®). Treating foals less than 2 months of age is not recommended as there will be very few adult worms present at this age.
  • Regular treatment of foals with mectin wormers should be avoided. Ascarids are likely to be resistant to these products.
  • Scales should be used to administer an accurate dose of wormer according to bodyweight.
  • Faecal egg counts (FEC) should be carried out at weaning and then every 3 months to help decide which wormer is appropriate.
  • FECRT will help determine the effectiveness of the worming treatment and is an important tool for monitoring drug resistance on a particular farm. Experts now recommend that FECRT be performed annually.

Pasture management

  • Good pasture measurement is an important means by which exposure to parasites can be controlled and dependence on wormers reduced.
  • Foals should be turned out on clean pasture and paddocks should not be overstocked.
  • Youngstock should be grouped by age and the youngest animals should always be placed on the “cleanest” pasture being the pasture with the lowest level of parasite eggs and larvae.
  • Removing manure from paddocks should be done at least twice weekly to minimise pasture contamination. Manure removal reduces the number of parasite eggs on pasture and hence the need for worming treatments is decreased.
  • “Dose and move” strategies are not recommended as this may promote egg contamination of clean pastures by resistant worms that survive treatment.
  • Harrowing (spreading of manure) is commonly practiced on many stud farms in Australia. However, this should only occur in summer months during hot, dry spells. If the weather is not sufficiently hot or dry enough, parasite eggs will not be killed but instead will be spread across the pasture.
  • Following grazing by foals and youngstock, paddocks should be rested as these animals will excrete the highest numbers of eggs onto pasture.
  • Poor management practices should not be an excuse to rely on frequent worming as this will only serve to speed-up the development of resistant parasites on the property.

Implementing sustainable parasite control measures on properties with foals does present some challenges. Working with your veterinarian who has specific knowledge of your property and management practices can help remove some of these complexities. Reducing wormer use to the minimum amount to prevent disease should always be the goal as owners of young horses have the most to lose if resistance develops on their property.


  1. Wilkes, EW, Harrison, J, Raidal, S et al. A questionnaire study of parasite control in Thoroughbred and Standardbred horses in Australia. Equine Vet J 2020;52:547–555.
  2. Beasley A, Coleman G, Kotze A. Suspected ivermectin resistance in a south‐east Queensland Parascaris equorum population. Aust Vet J 2015;93:305–307.
  3. Saeed MA, Beveridge, I, Ghazanfar, A, et al. Systematic review of gastrointestinal nematodes of horses from Australia. Parasite Vector 2019;12:188–188..
  4. Reinemeyer CR, Nielsen MK. Control of helminth parasites in juvenile horses. Equine Vet Educ 2017;29:225–232.

About the author

Dr Tania Sundra BSc.(Hons) BVMS MANZCVS (Equine Medicine)

Avon Ridge Equine Veterinary Services, Western Australia

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