This is a question Dr. Gary Webb, department head of animal science at Missouri State University, has been researching for nearly a decade.
Throughout the years, the number of animals infested with internal parasites – or as some call them, worms – has increased dramatically. This is especially true in horses.
Webb hoped to gain a better understanding of how animal owners are reacting to this increase by researching groups of horse owners.
“Through our research, we were trying to get some idea of the knowledge level of the horse owners and determine areas where education was needed,” Webb said.
In response to the parasitic increase, Webb and a graduate student began investigating this issue in cooperation with a small team from Texas Tech University.
Webb’s research was based around investigating the fecal egg count of horses owned by different owners. in different parts of the country.
The fecal egg count is a diagnostic test on a sample of horse manure to identify the type and number of parasites.
First, they wanted to look at how different owners treat their horses. Second, they wanted to see what role location plays in horse maintenance and health.
“Different groups of owners take care of their horses in different ways. The climate in which a horse is living also has a big effect on the number of parasites they get and how long they live,” Webb said.
Webb’s team identified three groups of horse owners: trail riders, horse show participants and college rodeo teams. Then, they began to gather data from these three main groups.
The team assembled a survey to present to horse owners around the world, and each team member was given a region to conduct the survey.
The 25-question survey included demographics, like education level of the owner, breed of horse and location.
“The survey also included questions like how often you deworm your horse, what products you use and where you get your information,” Webb said.
The surveys were conducted at:
They also retrieved a fecal egg sample from the horses in each location. They tested these samples and sent the results back to the owners.
After months of data collection, Webb and his team analyzed the results.
“We were surprised to learn that the students from the college rodeo and competitive horse show teams weren’t that much more knowledgeable than the general public,” Webb said.
Many of the horse owners were unaware of the type of medicine they were giving their horses. Many owners in their survey said they were rotating the drugs they administered to their horses, but the researchers found they were actually using the same drug with a different name.
“Sometimes they think they’d be rotating trade names but they’re actually the same drug.”
This has become a very common problem since many of the drugs are available over the counter, Webb noted. The survey indicated that 96% of owners administer the dewormer themselves.
But based on the fecal egg count tests, Webb’s team deduced the owners probably weren’t administering the dewormer properly.
“In Europe, dewormers are prescription, not over the counter. There’s a push to be like Europe, which is going to be a tremendous cost. At the same time, there’s a need to use them more judiciously,” Webb said.
Even though the popular press had highlighted this issue in recent years, results showed very few horse owners knew what a fecal egg count test was.
“65% of respondents noted they make their purchasing decision based on the price of the drugs.”
The research team also found an inverse relationship between the fecal egg count results and the owners’ knowledge on this subject.
“We were trying to get some idea of the knowledge of the horse producers and look at areas where they needed some education,” Webb said.
Webb and his team used these data to show how important it is to address the lack of education for these animal owners and help educate them.
Today, he continues to research and study in the field of animal science and educate those in the industry.
Webb is currently focusing on the process of semen preservation and looking at efficient ways to transport that semen.
“Dr. Webb has generated dozens of publications through his own and graduate student research in equine reproduction, exercise physiology and nutrition that focused upon practical methods to improve the horse industry,” said Dr. Anson Elliot, emeritus dean of Missouri State’s Darr College of Agriculture.
“His more than two decades at MSU has been key in transforming the Darr College into having a highly respected comprehensive animal sciences program.”