The Most Common Diseases and Health Problems for Horses
We like to think of our horses as big, strong and invincible, but there are some common horse health problems that can become dangerous if not promptly diagnosed and treated. It is important for you to be able to recognize the symptoms of potential health issues quickly.
Prevention and Treatment of Common Horse Health Issues
Lameness—The number one complaint for horses, lameness can be caused by a long list of problems. Know your horse’s healthy gait and be able to recognize any changes in it quickly. Even head bobbing can be a sign of lameness as your horse tries to compensate for pain in other areas of its body. The most common causes of lameness in horses are sprains, strains and fractures, degenerative diseases such as arthritis, and hoof problems such as abscesses and laminitis. To prevent sprains and strains, keep horses well-conditioned for the jobs they do and do not overwork them. Also, check your horse’s hooves carefully at the end of each day for any shoe problems, stones, cracks or abnormalities. Contact your veterinarian immediately for assistance at the first signs of lameness.
Digestive Problems—Horses have very complex and sensitive digestive systems and are easily susceptible to colic (a catchall term for a wide variety of potentially fatal digestive problems). Be sure your horse eats a proper, clean diet (gradually, throughout the day) with plenty of fresh, clean water. If your horse is reluctant to eat, is constipated, nips at his or her sides, is drooling, teeth clenching, parking, getting up and down frequently, or showing any other signs of pain, call an equine veterinarian immediately. Digestive problems can be fatal if not treated promptly.
10 Tips for Preventing Colic The number one killer of horses is colic. Colic is not a disease, but rather a combination of signs that alert us to abdominal pain in the horse. Colic can range from mild to severe, but it should never be ignored. Many of the conditions that cause colic can become life threatening in a relatively short period of time. Only by quickly and accurately recognizing colic – and seeking qualified veterinary help – can the chance for recovery be maximized. While horses seem predisposed to colic due to the anatomy and function of their digestive tracts, management can play a key role in prevention. Although not every case is avoidable, the following guidelines from the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) can maximize the horse’s health and reduce the risk of colic:
1. Establish a daily routine – include feeding and exercise schedules – and stick to it.
2. Feed a high quality diet comprised primarily of roughage.
3. Avoid feeding excessive grain and energy-dense supplements. (At least half the horse’s energy should be supplied through hay or forage. A better guide is that twice as much energy should be supplied from a roughage source than from concentrates.)
4. Divide daily concentrate rations into two or more smaller feedings rather than one large one to avoid overloading the horse’s digestive tract. Hay is best fed free-choice.
5. Set up a regular parasite control program with the help of your equine practitioner.
6. Provide exercise and/or turnout on a daily basis. Change the intensity and duration of an exercise regimen gradually.
7. Provide fresh, clean water at all times. (The only exception is when the horse is excessively hot, and then it should be given small sips of luke-warm water until it has recovered.)
8. Avoid putting feed on the ground, especially in sandy soils.
9. Check hay, bedding, pasture, and environment for potentially toxic substances, such as blister beetles, noxious weeds, and other ingestible foreign matter.
10. Reduce stress. Horses experiencing changes in environment or workloads are at high risk of intestinal dysfunction.
Pay special attention to horses when transporting them or changing their surroundings, such as at shows. Virtually any horse is susceptible to colic. Age, sex, and breed differences in susceptibility seem to be relatively minor. The type of colic seen appears to relate to geographic or regional differences, probably due to environmental factors such as sandy soil or climatic stress. Importantly, what this tells us is that, with conscientious care and management, we have the potential to reduce and control colic, the number one killer of horses. For more information about colic prevention and treatment, ask your equine veterinarian for the “Colic” brochure, provided by the American Association of Equine Practitioners in partnership with Educational Partner Bayer Animal Health. Additional colic information is available by visiting the AAEP’s website at www.aaep.org/horseowner. Reprinted with permission from the American Association of Equine Practitioners.
Viruses and Bacterial Infections—Making sure your horse is always up-to-date on his or her core vaccinations (and any other vaccinations recommended by your veterinarian based on your horse’s geography, travel, work, lifestyle and health conditions) is critical to preventing painful and potentially deadly diseases. Every horse should be vaccinated against West Nile virus, rabies, tetanus and eastern/western equine encephalitis. Other possibly beneficial vaccines include botulism, anthrax, Equine viral arteritis, Equine influenza, Equine herpesvirus (EHV), Potomac horse fever, rotavirus and streptococcus equi. Talk regularly with your veterinarian about your horse’s vaccination schedule and needs.
Respiratory Problems—Many horses develop allergy and asthma-like symptoms called “heaves” when they are exposed to molds and dust from old hay and straw. Coughing and phlegm are symptoms, and shortness of breath in horses is a medical emergency.
Parasites—Horses are often unwilling hosts to pinworms, ticks, lice, tapeworms, lungworms and roundworms. Stick to a proper deworming and bathing schedule and keep the paddocks and stables cleaned out regularly. If your horse seems itchy or is losing hair, call the veterinarian.
Awareness, prevention and prompt action for these and other health concerns can save your horse’s life. Never hesitate to call your veterinarian if you suspect your horse is in trouble.