Four Common Illnesses to Watch For In Your Horse

Four Common Illnesses to Watch For In Your Horse

A big fear for many equestrians is their horse becoming seriously ill. It can be especially scary if you don’t know what illnesses can affect your horse and what to watch out for. Being informed about potential health issues can help you identify them in your horse in the early stages and achieve the best outcome. In this article, we will discuss a few of the most common illnesses in equine and their symptoms.

1.         Colic

Colic is one of the leading causes of death in equine both young and old. It’s estimated that around 10% of horses will colic at least once in their lifetime. Some cases are mild and resolve quickly, especially if they are caughtearly. However, a considerable percentage of colic cases become critical or even life-threatening. Your veterinarianshould be notified right away if you notice signs of colic in your horse.

Symptoms of colic include passing little to no manure, frequently lying down and rolling, looking/biting/kicking at their belly, poor appetite, pawing, agitation and distress, profuse sweating, and severe abdominal pain. Treatment mayinclude pain-relieving medication such as Banamine, fluid replenishment, a nasogastric tube, or surgery, depending on the severity of the case.

2.         Strangles

Strangles is widely feared by the equine community due to its highly contagious nature. Any horse diagnosed with strangles needs to be immediately separated and placed under strict quarantine. It is fairly common in the UK with around 600 outbreaks per year. It is a serious disease and requires immediate contact with your vet if it issuspected in your horse so treatment can be initiated.

Strangles is caused by the bacteria Streptococcus equi which can be transmitted through horse-to-horse contact as well as through contaminated equipment and other items. Clinical manifestations of strangles includeswollen glands underneath the jaw or on the head or neck, a temperature above 38.5 degrees Celsius, lethargy, depression, loss of appetite, difficulty swallowing, cough, thick nasal discharge, and an abnormally low headset. There is a strangles vaccine available to aid in preventing the disease.

3.         Laminitis

Laminitis is an extremely painful condition involving inflammation of the laminae (the tissue within the hooves). It can be acute or chronic. It is regarded as a highly debilitating and oftentimes career-ending disease. It can lead to the coffin bone becoming separated from the hoof and rotating. Severe cases can become fatal. Laminitis has a variety of different causes, including a diet high in sugar, high grain intake, ingestion of toxic plants,and working on hard surfaces such as roads. It is more common in ponies and older horses. Symptoms of laminitis include lameness, standing camped out (the “sawhorse stance”), and signs of pain/discomfort such as shifting weight in their hooves and reluctance to move or rise.

4.         Gastric Ulcers

Gastric ulcers are very prevalent in equine, especially horses that are under high levels of stress, likecompetition horses. Ulcers are caused by gastric acid splashing up onto the upper part of the stomach, creatingulcerations. Horses are more prone to developing ulcers if there are long periods in between meals, have high-grain diets, are on NSAIDs such as phenylbutazone long- term, and are under stress such as being transported or spending long amounts of time in their stall. Symptoms to watch for include abdominal pain, girthiness, decreased appetite, dull coat, poor body condition, reluctance to work, changes in attitude, and weight loss. To treat ulcers, horses are often prescribed a proton-pump inhibitor such as omeprazole.


It is an equestrian’s worst nightmare for their horse to fall ill. However, your horse will inevitably become sickat some point in their lifetime. Knowing the signs and symptoms of the most common illnesses allows you to watchout for them in your horse. Catching illnesses and diseases early by being an informed horseperson can help improve your horse’s outcome.

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