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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.

Clinical Signs 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. The head bobbing is often a typical sign of lameness as your horse tries to take weight off the limb that is injured when it touches the ground. Common causes of lameness in horses include but not limited to the following: hoof abscess, subsolar bruise, tendon or ligament injury. Less common causes include fractures, degenerative diseases such as arthritis, and navicular syndrome. To prevent sprains and strains of the tendons and ligaments, keep horses well-conditioned for the jobs they do and do not overwork them. Warm them up prior to putting them through their work outs. It is just as important to cool them down once their workout is completed. Also, check your horse’s hooves carefully at the end of each day for any shoe problems, stones, cracks or abnormalities. Contact us immediately for assistance at the first signs of lameness.

Gastrointestinal 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 gastrointestinal problems). Be sure your horse eats a well balanced 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 out, getting up and down frequently, or showing any other signs of pain, call us immediately. Gastrointestinal disorders can be fatal if not treated promptly.

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 us 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 and equine influenza. Other possibly beneficial vaccines include botulism, Potomac horse fever, and Streptococcus equi.

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, flared nostrils when breathing, wheezing, and shortness of breath are important signs that this is of medical urgency.

Parasites—Horses are often unwilling hosts to pinworms, ticks, tapeworms, lungworms and roundworms and strongyles. An integrated parasite management plan is the best means of attacking the problem. This entails an annual fecal examination, keeping paddocks and stall mucked of manure, disposing of collected manure in a compost pile or spreading it in an area where the extreme temperatures will kill the parasite eggs and larvae. Unexplained weight loss assuming the teeth are in good condition can be caused by intestinal parasites. Is your horse constantly rubbing its hind end on a fence post or board, and the tails hairs appear stubby? Are your water and feed buckets crushed all the time? Pin worms are the most likely suspect. Never hesitate to call us if you suspect your horse has any of these signs.

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