Lameness issues affect 18.6% of British horses – survey

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Shaun-hoof138Lameness is the most common syndrome affecting Britain’s horses and ponies, a national online survey has shown.

The Blue Cross National Equine Health Survey revealed that 18.6 percent of horses were affected by lameness issues, predominantly degenerative joint disease. This represents a 5 percent increase on 2012 figures, which placed lameness as the second most recorded condition below skin disease.

The survey, run annually by Blue Cross in partnership with the British Equine Veterinary Association, revealed that the most prevalent conditions were:

  • Lameness (18.6 per cent – a considerable increase on the 13.8 per cent recorded in the 2010-2012 surveys). Degenerative joint disease was the most prevalent cause of lameness (14.8 percent of horses) and foot lameness was recorded in 3.8 percent of cases.
  • Skin disease (14.6 percent, compared to 15.2 per cent in the 2010-2012 surveys). Sarcoids were again a prevalent tumour (2.8 percent, compared to 3.25 percent in the 2010-12 surveys), reinforcing previous surveys and the published data.
  • Overweight (7.8 per cent, compared to 7.5 percent in 2010–2012), with most horses (41 percent) being recorded as ideal/normal weight and 4.1 percent recorded as being underweight. This is a consistent trend in the surveys.
  • Back problems affected 5 percent of horses, compared to 3 percent in previous surveys.
  • Respiratory disease (5 percent, reflecting the same result in the previous surveys). Allergic respiratory disease was reported more frequently (4.2 percent, compared to 3.6 percent previously). It was more frequently recorded than infectious respiratory disease (0.3 percent, compared with 0.5 percent in the previous surveys.)

The 2013 survey attracted a 21 percent increase in responses from across the sector.

The data will be released to equine and veterinary colleges and universities to be used as primary source material.

This year a new question on vaccinations revealed that 95 percent of horses were up-to-date with flu and tetanus jabs. This figure is much higher than the 65 percent identified by Blue Cross on assessment of the horses and ponies taken in by the charity during 2012 and is also far higher than pharmaceutical data that suggests as few as 45 percent are vaccinated.

“It is excellent that nearly all who completed the survey were also keeping their horse’s flu vaccinations up to date,” said Josh Slater, Professor of Equine Clinical Studies at The Royal Veterinary College, who is responsible for analysing the results.

“However, the lower estimates of flu vaccination rates from other research remain concerning. With a mobile virus like flu, any horse can be susceptible and herd immunity is vitally important in order to prevent the risk of serious outbreaks.”

Blue Cross education officer Gemma Taylor said: “The significant increase in participants and the consistency of results over the past three years confirms the relevance of our work to the equestrian industry.

“We are particularly excited by the fact that colleges are now recognising the value of [the] data, not only as a guide to study topics but also as important source material for students.”

The annual survey, supported by Zoetis UK, was launched in 2010. It is conducted as an online snapshot survey of common health issues in horses, communicated directly by horse owners themselves.

The results help establish benchmarks for equine health and disease in the UK and define priorities for future research, training and education.

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