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Top health problems of horses

Top health problems of horses
Horses are very resilient creatures but even these large mammals can have medical problems that can turn fatal.

Sydney equine veterinarian Dr Stephen McClintock has been caring for horses for 35 years - on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week for all sorts of medical troubles.

"Some health problems require a simple medical treatment or can improve on their own, but others can be emergencies, such as breaking a leg or signs of colic, which sometimes requires surgery and even then can be fatal," says Dr McClintock. 

Horses are like all animals; they require careful attention to their wellbeing, their food and shelter. If you see anything out of ordinary, get an equine veterinary opinion, he advises. 

Here are some of the top health problems of horses and the signs to watch out for.

Wounds and Injuries

One of the most common reasons why Dr McClintock sees horses are for wounds and injuries.

"Horses get frequently caught in fences and cut themselves. They have accidents and injure their feet. They can step on a nail and get an infection (abscess) in their feet," he says. "During wet weather in autumn and winter, we see more lameness and foot problems (eg infections) due to muddy conditions."

You can help your horse recover from simple-looking wounds by vaccinating for tetanus. Preventative measures, such as having a good horse aid kit and a tetanus shot, can help protect your horse from a fatal bacterial infection, he says.

Colic happens year round; it is not a disease but a symptom of a disease, explains Dr McClintock.

Colic is abdominal pain. Some causes are blockage of the intestines, excessive gas in the intestines or intestines become twisted. It can also be caused by gastrointestinal parasites.

"Some causes of colic are minor and respond to simple medical treatments, whilst others get better on their own. Some causes of colic are more serious and needs surgery, and even then the horse can die," he says.

You need to call your vet immediately if you see a horse showing any signs of pain, as well as constipation or infrequent bowel movements, teeth clenching, salivation, stretching the legs out from the body, pacing, pawing the ground, rolling frequently or looking at its sides.

Laminitis is an inflammation of certain internal structures of the hoof. It is a painful and serious condition that causes lameness, sometimes for life, says Dr McClintock.

"There are many causes of laminitis. The most common form is due to obesity and access to rich Spring or Autumn pasture.  It can also be due to some kind of whole-body stress, such as trauma or colic surgery, or eating too much grain," he says.

If the affected foot feels hot to the touch and/or you see your horse lie down to try to relieve the pain in his hooves, seek veterinary attention immediately. 

"To help prevent laminitis, maintain a good diet and make sure your horse receives regular hoof care from a reputable farrier," says Dr McClintock.

Parasites - Internal And External
Parasites are a big problem in horses, with internal parasites often going unnoticed whilst they do extensive internal damage. The four most serious internal parasites are large and small strongyles, roundworms and tapeworms.

Ticks and lice are examples of external parasites, which can cause minor skin irritation, itchiness and hair loss, says Dr McClintock.

"Whilst worms have become less of a problem with modern worming drugs, unfortunately in the past several years we are seeing increasing resistance to those worms. It's a major problem with farm animals, including horses," he says.

You can help protect your horse from parasites by continuing to deworm regularly, and have droppings tested once or twice per year for worm eggs by your veterinarian, he adds.

Strangles is a bacterial infection that is highly contagious. It will often occur in areas where there are many other horses, such as breeding farms, says Dr McClintock.

Signs of strangles include fever, swollen glands, loss of appetite, nasal discharge and unwillingness to socialise with other horses. Vaccinations are available to reduce the severity of the disease.

"Strangles occasionally has severe complications but mostly horses recover without a problem," he says.

And yet, many horse owners fear the word 'strangles' because if one horse on a farm is infected with strangles, then every other horse is at risk.

The entire premises need to be strictly quarantined and uninfected horses need to be isolated to prevent the spread of the disease, says Dr McClintock.
Tying - Up
Tying-up is a muscle problem that is often very painful and usually affects the muscles of the hindquarters. In mild cases, it can cause some stiffness after exercise, but it can also be so severe that it can incapacitate a horse so that it is unable to stand and bear weight, explains Dr McClintock.

Signs of tying-up include a gradually cramping or stiffening of the gait, being reluctant to walk, sweating profusely, and increase in heart and respiratory rate.

"Tying-up is usually a result of a bad diet and work schedule mix, a build up of lactic acid after being worked too hard after consuming a high grain diet," says Dr McClintock. "Anti-inflammatory medications and hydration will help to treat it."

Topic: Owning a Pet

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