10 Illnesses Horses Can Get

Horse illnesses have been in the headlines recently due to an outbreak of equine flu at a top stable yard in Cheshire. Like any animal, horses can get ill but, possibly due to their size, they can go down hill quite quickly.

Here are ten horse illnesses, diseases and conditions that every horse owner should look out for.


  1. Ringworm. Equine ringworm is highly contagious and contrary to what the name suggests, it is actually a fungal infection rather than anything to do with real worms. There are a few types of ringworm and it is usually presented in bald patches, sores or rashes. It does usually clear up on its own but treatment from a vet is often sought as it is one of the few conditions a human can catch from a horse.


  1. Laminitis is probably one of the most feared things for horse owners apart from Strangles (see 6). It is very painful and potentially fatal affecting the tissues which hold the wall of the hoof to the pedal bone and, once a horse has had the condition once, it is likely to reoccur. Lameness is the most common symptom and medical treatment should be seeked in a emergency cases. You can find more out in this guide to laminitis by Spillers.


  1. Rain scald is similar to ringworm in the way it is a fungus. It is caused (as the name suggests) by your horse being subjected to long periods of rain fall. Thankfully, unlike ringworm, rain scald is not contagious.


  1. Cushings syndrome tends to be seen in older equines-especially ponies and is also referred to as Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction (PPID). It is often missed or mistaken for old age or other conditions but weight loss, a pot belly and general lethargy are the symptoms to look out for. Unfortunately animals with PPID can also be at a higher risk of laminitis. Regular clipping can help as well as weight management and medication.


  1. Mud fever is usually diagnosed when a horse has been in wet conditions, dirty bedding and/or mud. It is also known as pastern dermatitis and is cured by keeping the legs dry and a sometimes tricky procedure whereby scabs are removed, cleaned and dried.

  1. Strangles is a highly infectious disease which tends to have a bit of a stigma about it in the horse world. It is essentially, an infection of the upper respiratory tract and manifests itself with a high temperature, yellow snot from both nostrils and pussy abscesses on the side of the neck. Symptoms aren’t always typical though and a blood test is usually needed to diagnose the disease. Some horses are carriers of strangles yet never show symptoms themselves. Scientists are currently hoping for a strangles vaccine which should be available in the next few years.


  1. Sweet itch is another form of dermatitis and once a horse has suffered with the condition once, it is usually recurrent. It is actually an allergic reaction to a midge bite and is best prevented than seeking a cure. Many horse owners use an insecticide on their pets and fly rugs are also a good preventable measure. It is very itchy for the horses.


  1. Equine flu is the illness that prompted me to write this post. It presents itself as nasal discharge, a cough and often a high temperature. It can take months for animals to recover but there is a vaccine available. It is always a worry that pneumonia may follow a bout of equine influenza.


  1. Common cold. Just like humans, horses can get colds and, like us, it will often go for the weak and old animals who may be hit hardest by an illness. Owners can help reduce the risk of their horses getting a cold by exercising good hygiene to prevent the infection spreading.


  1. Colic in horses can often be much more severe than it is in babies. Unfortunately, back patting and tummy rubbing does not work but, just like babies, getting the trapped wind out really helps. A horse’s digestive system it seems has not evolved as quickly as the change in their diet and exercise meaning any horse is at risk. If the symptoms are in the early stages or mild, walking your horse around can help but severe cases need a vet and sometimes surgery to prevent death.


Like any animal, often the list of things that can go wrong can seem endless and frightening but with careful management, many of them can be avoided all together.



*This is a collaborative post


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