A study conducted by Blue Cross and the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) revealed the top disease trends of lameness and skin disease in horses remain consistent with previous years. In addition, more than a third of horses have had one or more health problems this year, according to the 2017 National Equine Health Survey (NEHS).
Another significant finding was that a quarter of horses with back problems were also showing signs of lameness, which ties in with recent studies conducted at the Animal Health Trust (AHT).
“It is a common observation that horses with lameness stiffen the back as a protective mechanism and develop muscle pain which may be misinterpreted as a primary back problem,” said Dr Sue Dyson, head of clinical orthopaedics at the AHT’s Centre for Equine Studies.
“We have shown objectively that abolition of lameness by diagnostic analgesia results in an immediate increase in range of motion of the back. The current data supports this close relationship between lameness and back pain.”
Participation in this year’s NEHS was similar to previous years with 5,235 people taking part and returning records for 15,433 horses.
Most of these horses were kept in livery or a private yards and used for leisure and hacking and the majority were within the age range of five to 10 years. A broad variety of breeds were represented, including natives, thoroughbred types and warmbloods.
More than half (59%) of horses were recorded as healthy and 41% had one or more health problems, compared to 62% and 38% respectively in 2016.
“We have achieved so much over the past six years, with NEHS now regarded as one of the UK’s most important endemic disease monitoring initiatives,” said Gemma Taylor, Blue Cross education officer who coordinated the survey.
“The results are often referenced in veterinary and equestrian publications as guides and benchmarks for current and future research. In the longer term the data we have gathered will significantly help to improve day-to-day horse health and welfare.”
The top five health problems recorded this year were:
1. Skin diseases: 31.1% compared to 25.5% in 2016. Sweet itch and mud fever were the most frequently reported individual syndromes within this category and made up 6.1% of all returns (6.8% in 2016).
2. Lameness (including laminitis): 23.4% compared to 32.9%in 2016. Overall, as in previous years, if laminitis is excluded from the analysis, lameness due to problems in the limbs proximal to the foot was more common than problems in the foot.
3. Metabolic diseases: 8.1% with PPID (‘Equine Cushing’s disease’) accounting for 73.4% of this figure. PPID was 6% of all syndromes recorded this year. The figure was 6.6% in 2016.
4. Eye problems: 7.6%, with discharge accounting for 54.2% of all ocular syndromes recorded.
5. Gastrointestinal problems: 7.5%, with gastric ulcers accounting for 39% of this figure and 3% of all syndromes recorded (2.7% in 2016).
To help keep the nation’s horses in better health, Blue Cross has produced nine essential healthcare tips:
- Ask your vet to conduct a horse health checkup at least annually.
- Keep your horse’s vaccinations up to date.
- Have your horse’s teeth checked by your vet or a qualified equine dental technician every 6-12 months.
- If your horse is shod, make sure your farrier visits every 6-8 weeks.
- Follow a good worm control program – ask your vet or SQP (suitably qualified person) for advice.
- Have your saddle checked regularly by a qualified professional.
- Make sure you are the right weight for your horse.
- Be sure that your horse is fit and able to carry out the work you expect him to do.
- If in any doubt about your horse’s health discuss it with your vet sooner rather than later.