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Common Horse Health Issues

Wednesday January 13, 2010

There are a range of health issues that any horse owner should be aware of when responsible for the health and safety of their horses ranging from nagging coughs to serious ailments.


There are a number of ailments that can rise from a horse's hooves that are usually avoidable or at least treatable with proper hoof maintenance and regular checkups. When talking about hoof maintenance this means trimming the hoof regularly and matching appropriate shoeing to the horse. A qualified farrier will be able to assist in this. Additionally, you will want to clean off a horse's hooves before and after every ride to ensure no stones or such are caught within the sole of the hoof.

Of course, a common ailment that arises with many horses is abscesses in the hoof. An abscess is an infection under the skin that is usually caused by a foreign object, such as a stone, lodging inside the hoof. An abscess can be difficult to locate under a hoof, but the horse will respond in pain when an area is firmly pressed and they will be hesitant to stand on the area. Simply have the abscess drained by a vet and the area keep clean until the area is healed, a process that will take several weeks.

A similar hoof affliction is Laminitis, which is an inflammation of the internal structures of the hoof. Recognisable by the horse being lame, normally by laying down so there is no pressure on their hooves, laminitis will have to be treated or you run the risk of the horse being lame for the remainder of its life. Usually treatments will be anti-inflammatory drugs, cold packs or orthotic devices. Common causes of laminitis include trauma, colic, hormones and untreated infections among others.


Melanomas can often pose a significant problem for many horse owners with regular checkups required to ensure any melanomas do not turn cancerous. Generally more common on lighter coloured horses, especially grey, melanomas need to be monitored for sizing and colour changes.


Respiratory problems can be a common occurrence for many horses, with the source ranging from dry feed to a serious issue with their airways. If a horse does have a cough, first it needs to be determined whether it is environmental conditions causing a cough, such as the cleanliness of the stables or the quality of the feed, or whether it is an actual health issue. If a cough is persistent and nagging, the likely causes could be either an infection, especially if there is mucous or blood evident, or an inflammation. Either way a vet should be called.

Perhaps one of the most common respiratory health issues for horses is Heaves, or recurrent airway obstruction (RAO). Evident by a horse being short of breath, coughing and heavy breathing, RAO is usually an allergic reaction to airborne particles that are usually found within a stable with the best treatment being exposure to clean outdoor air although there are medications available for severe cases.

Other Common Ailments

Colic - is a range of serious digestive problems that are a serious issue for many horse owners that is often caused from disturbances to the digestive tract. This means anything from excessive gas, blockages, gastrointestinal parasites or twisted intestines.

Symptoms of colic include:

  • constipation or infrequent bowel movements
  • inappetence
  • repeated flehmen response
  • stretching the legs out from the body, also known as "parking"
  • laying down often or rolling on their sides
  • pressing against its sides through nipping or pushing against objects

Colic is fatal is left untreated so at the first sign of any symptoms or distress, see your vet immediately.
Preventing colic can be as simple as monitoring the horse's diet and making sure no non-edible materials are consumed such as sand or dirt. Also be sure to deworm regularly, constant clean water and a proper diet.

Strangles - is a highly contagious bacterial infection that will often occur in areas where many horses have regular contact, such as stud farms. Symptoms include high temperature, swollen glands, nasal discharge and unwillingness for social interaction. There are vaccinations available to reduce the severity of the disease.

Tying -Up - usually a result of a bad feed and work schedule mix, Tying-up is a result of a horse having a build up of lactic acid after being worked too hard after consuming a high grain diet. Common symptoms include a stiff walk, especially the back legs, obvious cramping and a reluctance to walk. Treatment is usually some anti-inflammatory medications along with fast hydration to encourage the flushing out of the kidneys.

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