Why Diligence and Experience Count in Equine Fecal Worm Egg Testing


Nikki Alvin-Smith

If you’ve made the smart decision to take control of your horses’ health and manage their worm control program based on actual evidence rather than blind administration of treatments, then you are probably aware that mail in laboratory options like Horsemen’s Laboratory are available. You may use your regular vet, or a tack shop mail-in option, or work directly with a laboratory that specializes in F.E.C.T. like ours. 

What you may not have considered is that not all laboratory testing is created equal.

The nature of equine fecal worm egg counting is subject to human error. So, experience with the handling of samples, the accurate reading of results and diligent reporting is imperative. A good technician will handle each sample carefully, and ensure that the profile information for each individual horse and their owner does not become separated from the sample throughout the laboratory testing process. This will ensure you receive accurate reporting.

Additionally, the lab technician’s experience reading samples counts. A technician that does not have the necessary experience or conscientiousness may mistake pollen, mite eggs or other protozoa in the sample as worm eggs. 

Ivy Lewis, who has worked at Horsemen’s Laboratory for nearly five years, explains what she does and what you can do to ensure the most accurate test results. Ivy graduated from the University of Illinois with a Bachelors degree in Pre-Veterinary Medicine in 2006 and a Masters degree in Animal Physiology in 2014. While getting her Masters she ran the University of Illinois Standardbred horse breeding farm and over saw the worm control program.

“I started working at Horsemen’s Laboratory with Dr. John Byrd in May of 2014. It’s hard to label my position at Horsemen’s Laboratory because Dr. Byrd and I share the responsibility depending on what the day brings. I answer the phones as well as emails. Then depending on the day I set up samples, examine the samples and then enter the results into the computer. The best part of my job is ensuring that our clients get the best service possible as well as feeling secure in knowing how well their horses’ worm control program is working. 

When clients send in their samples the number one thing that the clients can do to help ensure an accurate result, is to ensure they firmly and completely pack the sample container full. This makes certain that we get enough sample to run the test, as well as making sure the client gets the most accurate results. When the containers are firmly and completely packed full there is no air for the eggs to hatch and the eggs are preserved. So, when we receive them the eggs look just like they did when they were passed from the horse. It is also important to make sure the baggie has the information for the horse as well as the client, as the bag stays with the sample through the process.”  

It is all too easy to dismiss the importance of filling out all the information requested on the sample bag. Some owners and stable owners have their information and their horses’ information in their computer so they can just print out a label for each horse and attach them to the sample zip lock bag which is convenient for both themselves and the laboratory. Many samples are received with abbreviated horse names, not labeled with the owner’s name, or incomplete deworming history.

Dr. John Byrd explains the issues that incomplete data can cause:

“ Large barns may send in many samples at one time. When they retest the same horse may be named something different to the previous test for example, Jon, Johnnie, John. For accurate reporting and record keeping it is important we know if this is the same horse or a new one in the barn. If the bag is filled out with all the horses’ information then we can look in our records and make sure the breed, age and color match if the name is similar to one in our records, otherwise we will email or call to ask, because it matters to us that all our testing and record keeping is on point.”

In other cases folks may not fill in the last deworming date for the horse. The reason this question is asked is so that the results can be properly interpreted for optimal treatment efficacy. For example, the horse may show a negative or low shedding strongyle egg count, but it may have been dewormed two weeks before. The F.E.C.T. can obviously only read the egg count passed in the stool sample. So the horse may still harbor strongyle worms in his gut in an encysted stage. For this reason the horse should be retested at the appropriate time. 

As a horse owner the convenience of having an auto-fill account with a reliable laboratory who will go the extra mile to make sure your F.E.C.T.s are properly run, matched to the right equine individual and owner, can provide much peace of mind. The auto-fill option means your retest sample kits will arrive automatically, along with a note of which horses are due for retesting as long as there is money on your account. 

At Horsemen’s Laboratory their record keeping means you can email or call and ask them at any time for a full report on a particular equine individual, which can be very helpful at the time of sale of a horse or if the horse shows any medical issues your field vet needs help to diagnose. 

As horse owners we all want to ensure that our horses are kept in the best possible health, and all help we can receive in this endeavor from an educated and diligent source is very important. Advanced level riders spend a lot of money and time to ensure that their equine partner reach their true potential. All of us benefit from a truly good resource to help us navigate the equine internal parasite world and manage a targeted worm control program. We have questions and at Horsemen’s Laboratory there is always an expert there to address those questions. 

What is the number one question that clients ask about F.E.C.T.? Ivy Lewis was happy to share her experience:

“The most asked question is what does the cost of the test include and how does our program work. I let them know the cost includes the kit, the cost for the postage to ship to them as well as back to us, and includes processing the sample and emailing them a report. I explain that our program works by letting them know what worms their horse or horses have, if any, and advise if the sample counts are negative or  positive.   If positive, what the egg count was which determines the egg shedding category for the horse.  The egg shedding category is used as a guide to determine how often the horse is likely to need deworming. We also list any other worm eggs we find such as roundworm eggs, tapeworm eggs. We can determine if the sample fits into a low category (no eggs found on counting chamber -200eggs/gm), median category (200-500eggs/gm), or high shedding category (500 or more eggs/gm).  Horses in low shedding category should be dewormed 1-2 times/year, medium shedders 2-3 times/year, high shedders 4 times/year. 

With our auto-fill program clients can place a credit sum on their accounts and then we automatically send them a recheck kit for after deworming with a hard copy of their results. We also let them know that if their horse’s count is negative, that we will mail them a kit in 3 months if there is money on their account or send an email if there isn’t, to let them know that their horse is due to be rechecked.”

With over 75,000 F.E.C.T.s completed at Horsemen’s Laboratory, and with expert parasitologist Dr. John Byrd always available to address any questions you may have you can rest assured that your horse worm control program is in good hands. He can advise on treatments and time frames for their administration and can help you ascertain the best route to handle any particular problem or issue you experience in your horse’s health that are related to parasite issues.