A horse is a large animal to keep healthy, so it’s good to know how to spot problems early to prevent them from becoming serious.
Dr Christine Smith, a specialist in equine surgery at Agnes Banks Equine Clinic in Richmond, NSW, as well as president of the Equine Veterinarians Australia (EVA), shares her advice on what to observe when you next visit your horse to be sure he is healthy and happy.
Your horse’s appetite is a good indicator of his state of health. If your horse does not consume all its feed within a reasonable period of time, this is may be the first signs of a health problem.
Your horse’s weight is also an indicator of good health. Is your horse overweight or underweight? Best to consult your equine vet over the right amount of food you should be feeding your horse for his exercise level and body type.
Is your horse happy to see you when you walk up with eyes bright and ears perked up? Or does he stand with his head down, eyes glazed and ears drooped? Even when your horse is resting, he should seem content and alert.
A healthy horse has bright and clear eyes that are wide open. The eyes should not be cloudy, be discoloured or have any discharge, which could be a sign of eye infection or inflammation and time to call your vet for a check-up.
A horse’s ears show a lot about how they are feeling. The ears should be clear of crust and grit, which could develop into irritating sores.
Insect bites also cause itchy ears, which make horses shake their head – a sign you can check for when putting on their bridle or halter.
Nostrils should be clear of dirt, which can cause sneezing and coughing. Repeated coughing, nasal discharge or blowing air through the nose could indicate a cold, requiring veterinary attention.
You should also not be able to hear your horse breath in and out when he’s resting. This could signify a number of respiratory problems, including heaves (like human asthma) and require veterinary advice.
A healthy horse can have a bit of clear discharge coming from the nose, but a yellow or greenish secretion is a sign of sickness and requires a call to the vet.
If your horse has a light-coloured muzzle, putting on sunscreen will help to prevent a painful sunburn. Check with your vet for the sunscreen product that is right for your horse.
Horses with dental problems may show signs of pain or irritation. Or they may show no noticeable signs at all as horses are a prey species and generally will not show a weakness until it is unavoidable.
Watch to make sure your horse is not dropping a lot of feed when eating and has no malodour coming from the mouth area. If you believe your horse is having trouble eating or appears to be resistant and ‘irritable’ when riding, consult your vet who can check out your horse’s teeth.
Legs and Lameness
Healthy horse legs are cool and tight to the touch. If you feel heat or swelling, it’s a sign of trouble. The way your horse stands and moves also reveals a health problem, such as limping during a walk or trot. Is your horse pointing or placing one front foot in front of the other? He is doing this to reduce pressure on some part of the foot or leg.
If your horse appears to be placing less weight on any limb, it may be sore. Best to call your vet to check for lameness, which can happen secondary to many problems, including hoof abscesses and founder.
Does your horse have solid, trimmed and hard hooves? Great! Long and cracked hooves are not a good sign and this means he is not fit to be ridden. Ensure your horse’s hooves are trimmed every six to eight weeks, and oiled during the summer if you’re riding on dry, dusty ground.
Keeping your horse’s hooves clean and dry also helps to prevent thrush, which is present in soil and thrive in the warm, dark and moist environment in the bottom of your horse’s hooves.
A healthy horse has a shiny coat that should shed out when the weather gets warm. A dull and rough-looking coat that doesn’t shed out indicates a health problem, such as internal parasites or poor nutrition.
A dull coat may also suggest a better grooming routine. Regular brushing helps to keep the coat and skin clean and healthy. Running your hands all over your horse’s body also gives you an opportunity to check for lumps. bumps or bruises that may be causing pain.
The temperature of your horse also tells you if there is something to be concerned about. It can be taken using a rectal thermometer. Normal temperature for a horse is 37 – 38 degrees Celsius, although it can change a little throughout the day (usually a little higher in the afternoon). If the temperature is above 39 degrees Celsius, there is cause for concern and a vet should be called immediately.
Topic: Pet Care, Horses