Intestinal nematodes are an important cause of equine disease. Of these parasites, the Cyathostominae are the most important group, both in terms of their prevalence and their pathogenicity. Cyathostomin infections are complex and control is further complicated by ever-increasing levels of resistance to some of the commonly used anthelmintics. There are no new equine anthelmintics under development, so it is imperative that the efficacy of any currently-effective drug classes be maintained for as long as possible.
It is believed that the proportion of refugia (i.e. the percentage of parasites not exposed to a drug at each treatment) is one of the most crucial factors in determining the rate at which anthelmintic resistance develops. It is important, therefore, that levels of refugia be taken into account when designing nematode control programmes for horses. This can be assisted by knowledge of the local epidemiology of the infection, supplemented by faecal egg count analysis to identify those animals that are making the major contribution to pasture contamination. This type of rational nematode control requires equine veterinary surgeons to get involved in designing and implementing deworming programmes. The advice given must be based on a combination of knowledge of cyathostomin biology and epidemiology as well as an awareness of the parasite population's current drug sensitivity and a sound history of husbandry at the establishment.
As anthelmintic resistance will be the major constraint on the future control of cyathostomins, researchers are now actively investigating this area. Studies are underway to develop tests that will enable earlier detection of anthelmintic resistance and an assay that will help identify those horses that require anthelmintic treatments targeted at intestinal wall larvae.