Claremont Riding Academy: Barn Management Series
Health, Disease and Lameness in Horses

The Healthy Horse: It should be obvious to the observer whether or not a horse has a healthy appearance. If they do not fit the following criteria, there may be an underlying health problem. The horse should always have a good appetite for hay and grain. Indifference to treats or feed may be the sign of a problem. The horse should drink several gallons of water each day. This can easily be observed if you provide the care of the horse. The skin should be elastic and mucous membranes should be pink. The animal should be alert and hopefully enthusiastic for attention. The coat should be shiny and sleek over good musculature. The horse should be fit and conditioned for the work expected of him. This can vary greatly, but a horse's breathing should return to normal (nostrils should not be flaring nor sides heaving) within a few minutes after exercise ceases. Much can be assessed by observing the horse's stall before the daily cleaning: There should be no signs of pawing or digging in the bedding, there should be no grain left in the feed bucket, and there should be signs of water and hay consumption, and plenty of normal manure passed in the stall. If any of these criteria are lacking, some of the following problems may be suspected. Someone such as a veterinarian or other qualified professional should assess the situation.

Common Illnesses and Conditions

Abdominal pain generating from the stomach or intestines is referred to as colic. It is the most common cause for euthanisia in horses. There are a few different types of colic and many causes. The symptoms for each type are similar and can vary in severity. Symptoms include:

Types of colic:

Treatment: When any symptoms of colic arise the horse should be watched carefully to make sure pain does not become violent. If symptoms are minor the horse should be walked to see if this eases cramping. Gut sounds should be listened for on both sides. Inactivity or overactivity of the gut can be serious. If symptoms persist for more than a few minutes, Banamine (common anti-inflamatory and analgesic for horses) should be given either intra-muscularly or intra-venously. IV provides faster relief. If symptoms are not relieved with Banamine within a short period of time, a veterinarian should be called. If an impaction is suspected, the vet should be called as a stomach tube with mineral oil can be passed to lubricate the greater intestinal tract. If symptoms are not resolved, a rectal examination by the vet is necessary to determine the type of colic. If bloating or blockage, or twisting exists, it may be dangerous to tube the horse with oil and a vet can determine the prognosis and best coarse of treatment, which can involve surgery. Usually walking the horse is the best treatment until symptoms resolve or more involved therapy can be provided. It is most important that the horse is prevented from rolling during a bout of colic, as this movement can create or worsen an intestinal twist. A tired or painful horse may be allowed to lie down as long as they remain quiet. When the vet determines it is safe to re-introduce feed, small amounts of wet hay and bran mash may be given.

Also called Azoturia, Tying Up is usually diagnosed by observing a stiffened gait which may progress to reluctance or inability to walk. The horse is often obviously distressed and may sweat profusely and have an increased respiration. The muscles of the hind quarters become hardened and painful to touch. The horse may run a fever and urine may become very dark in colour.

Treatment: In severe cases the horse should not be moved as muscle damage can occur. It is best to administer Banamine intravenously and a small dose of tranquiliser if the horse is very agitated before it is moved to its stall. Often tying up can be avoided with regular exercise without overexertion. When a horse must be out of work for injury or any other reason, the grain ration should be significantly reduced and handwalking or turnout provided if at all possible. Muscle relaxers can be given to horses that have or are prone to tying up as well as a supplement such as Vitamin E and Selenium, which will increase efficiency of blood flow through the muscles. Tying up can be diagnosed definitively by analyzing muscle enzyme levels through a blood test.

A condition which arises from either infectious or non-infections cause of abnormal increase of blood flow to the feet. The abnormal increase in blood flow causes congestion of the laminae, soft sensitive tissue which encases the coffin bone in the foot. The laminae swell, but because the hoof wall cannot expand, the laminae, usually in the toe region, push apart which can cause the coffin bone to rotate downward at the front end. When laminitis progresses to this stage it is called "Founder".

Symptoms: The horse is usually in extreme pain and reluctant to move in the stall. They will often stand with the front feet stretched out as the front feet are commonly effected. In severe cases the horse may sit like a dog. This is usually accompanied by heat and a strong digital pulse in the effected feet. The horse may also be running a fever which can be the cause of the laminitis.

Treatment: Aggressive therapy with anti-inflammatory drugs us usually indicated. A veterinarian should be contacted immediately. Injectable Phenylbutazone (Bute) and Banamine should be given to reduce fever, inflammation and pain. The horse's feet can be soaked in cool water or placed in sand if available. The stall bedding should be such that it provides substantial cushioning to the feet. The vet may elect to provide additional anti-inflammatory drugs and/or other intravenous therapy with dimethyl sulfoxide(DMSO). If this theraoy does not resolve the laminitis symptoms quickly and/or radiographs indicate damage to the laminae or other hoof structures, special supportive pads will be taped to the feet until a farrier can provide special shoeing for the horse. Showing for laminitis is a controversial topic. Many vets and farriers feel that a heart bar shoe provides the most support for a foundering horse. There are even more radical procedures that can be done to relieve pain and pressure when indicated. Regardless of the course of treatment taken, frequent radiographs should be taken to determine improvement or progression of the condition.

Although horses are vaccinated twice a year against influenza, there are several strains of minor viruses (minor if treated properly) that horses are susceptible to, especially in a herd or enclosed environment.

Symptoms: Listlessness, loss of appetite, coughing, thick nasal discharge, fever

Treatment: Banamine should be given injectably to reduce fever. If the horse does not respond to Banamine, Bute can be given either orally or preferably intravenously. When given injectably, Bute must go IV. Whether or not fever persists, antibiotics should be given for usually 7 to 10 days, or longer if symptoms persist. Usually an oral broad spectrum antibiotic such as Trimethoprim and Sulfamethoxazole will be safe and effective.

Fungal infections are fairly common due to the horse's environment and because it is contagious through direct contact. It is most common in warm weather.

Symptoms: Patches of hair loss (circular in the case of ringworm); Scabbiness or scaliness of skin; Raised bumps with scabs, not to be confused with hives.

Treatment: Treatment can be topical, cleaning the effected area with an iodine scrub or anti-fungal shampoo. Panalog Ointment, an antibacterial and antifungal ointment with steroid can be applied. Usually oral medication such as griseofulvin (Fulvicin) powder in the feed is most effective. Grooming supplies and equipment such as saddle pads and girth cover should be cleaned and disinfected after use on a horse with fungus.