Care for Adopted Wild Horses and Burros

Wild horses and burros adapt well to changes in their natural environments. The same holds true for their transition to domestic life. With a few preventive measures, they should have few health problems and won't need veterinary care beyond that appropriate for any new horse or burro added to the backyard herd.

After the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) gathers wild horses and burros from the range, they prepare them for adoption. This includes applying the unique BLM freeze mark to identify each animal and doing an equine infectious anemia (Coggins) test, deworming, and vaccination. Each animal is vaccinated twice to help protect against Eastern and Western equine encephalomyelitis (sleeping sickness), tetanus, influenza, rhinopneumonitis (herpes), rabies, West Nile virus, and Streptococcus equi (strangles).

These vaccinations, deworming, and hoof trimming are repeated periodically depending on how long the animals are in BLM facilities before adoption. A health record accompanies each animal, and adopters can share this with their veterinarian to keep the animal on a schedule most appropriate for the owner's region.

When a wild horse or burro is brought home after an adoption, it is important to help the animal settle into its new surroundings with as little stress as possible. They aren't used to being cooped up in a stall, so an open and airy corral with some shelter is best. Horse-quality alfalfa or grass hay should be offered along with a large container of fresh water. Chances are the new wild horse or burro has never seen water in a bucket or an automatic waterer. A clean muck bucket or a plastic barrel cut in half works great; be sure to monitor water intake for at least a few days.

Wild horses and burros don't really know what grain is and most don't need much--if any--in their diets. A veterinarian, local extension agent, or the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Specialist at the adoption agency can help new adopters formulate appropriate plans for the age and condition of their animals.

Any time you bring new horses or burros into the barn, consider keeping them isolated from other animals for a few weeks. The immune status of the resident animals and the new wild horse or burro might not be the same. Just like children during the first few weeks of school, when you mix them together is when any of them could get sick. Total isolation can be hard on the individual psyche, so the best plan is to try and keep new arrivals together, within sight of other residents of the farm, but not in direct contact for the first few weeks.

Wild burros are by nature relatively shy and tend to bottle up their stress more than horses. If they get over-stressed, they might mope about and not eat or drink well. Sometimes, it is best to give them some extra personal space or privacy during the first couple of weeks. The same is true of mares with foals, and remember--any mare adopted the same year she was removed from the range could be pregnant!

Once your adopted wild horse or burro settles into its new home, health care needs aren't really different from domestic horses. Providing a safe, strong corral, good-quality hay, clean water, and gentling the animal so you can provide for regular hoof trimming and preventive veterinary care will go a long way toward preventing problems down the road.

About the Author

Albert Kane, DVM, PhD, MPVM, et al.

Albert Kane, DVM, MPVM, PhD, is a Post-Doctoral Fellow in Biomedical Sciences in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Colorado State University

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