Rise in skin ailments reported in Britain’s annual equine health survey

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Skin problems have been revealed as a common health issue among Britain's equines.
Skin problems have been revealed as a common health issue among Britain’s equines.

A jump in skin ailments among horses has been recorded in Britain’s latest annual National Equine Health Survey with 31.1% suffering skin problems compared to 25.5% reported the previous year.

It was also found that 26% percent of all horses reported with back problems were showing signs of lameness. This is said to tie in with recent studies conducted at the Animal Health Trust linking the two problems.

Results from the 2017 survey, conducted by Blue Cross in conjunction with the British Equine Veterinary Association, show that more than a third of horses surveyed this year had one or more health problems.

The top disease trends of lameness and skin disease remained consistent with previous years.

Participation in this year’s survey was similar to previous years, with 5235 people taking part and returning records for 15,433 horses.

Most horses were kept in livery or a private yard and were used for leisure and hacking. The majority fell within the age range of 5 to 10 years.

A broad variety of breeds were represented, including natives, thoroughbred types and warmbloods. Fifty-nine percent of horses were recorded as healthy and 41% with one or more health problems, compared to 62% and 38% respectively in 2016.

Disease trends shown in the survey have remained broadly consistent year on year, showing important evidence is being generated to help owners and experts to understand and improve the health of the country’s horses.

Gemma Taylor, the Blue Cross education officer who co-ordinates the survey, said much had been achieved in the last six years with the survey. It was, she said, now regarded as one of the UK’s most important endemic disease monitoring initiatives.

The results were often referenced in veterinary and equestrian publications as guides and benchmarks for current and future research.

“In the longer term the data we have gathered will significantly help to improve day-to-day horse health and welfare.”

The top five disease syndromes recorded this year were:

  • Skin diseases: 31.1% compared to 25.5% in 2016 (17.2% in 2015, 18.3% in 2014, 14.6% in 2013 and 15.2% in 2010-12). Sweet itch and mud fever were the most frequently reported individual syndromes within this category and made up 6.1% of all returns (6.8% in 2016).
  • Lameness (including laminitis): 23.4% compared to 32.9% in 2016, (24.4% in 2015, 21% in 2014, 19.2% in 2013 and 12.9% in 2010-12). Overall, as in previous years, if laminitis is excluded from the analysis, lameness due to problems in the limbs proximal to the foot was more common than problems in the foot.
  • Metabolic diseases: 8.1% with PPID (Equine Cushing’s disease) accounting for 73.4% of this figure, consistent with previous NEHS findings.
  • Eye problems: 7.6% with ocular discharge (weepy eye) accounting for 54.2% of all ocular syndromes recorded.
  • Gastrointestinal problems: 7.5% with gastric ulcers accounting for 39% of this figure and 3% all syndromes recorded (2.7% in 2016).

Of the 5.5% of horses recorded with back problems, 26% were also showing signs of lameness. While the details of the results do not confirm that the two are necessarily connected, these findings reflect the outcome of recent studies conducted by Dr Sue Dyson at the Animal Health Trust.

Dyson, who is head of clinical orthopaedics at the Centre for Equine Studies at the Animal Health Trust, said: “It is a common observation that horses with lameness stiffen the back as a protective mechanism and develop muscle pain which may be misinterpreted as a primary back problem.

“We have shown objectively that abolition of lameness by diagnostic analgesia results in an immediate increase in range of motion of the back. The current data supports this close relationship between lameness and back pain.”

Josh Slater, professor of equine clinical studies at the Royal Veterinary College, who advises Blue Cross about the survey, said it was a unique initiative that had shown it was possible to generate reliable syndromic disease surveillance data direct from horse owners.

“The National Equine Health Survey has, for the first time, provided us with data on the disease problems faced by horses in the UK,” he said.

To help keep the nation’s horses in better health Blue Cross has produced nine essential healthcare tips:

  • Ask your vet to conduct a horse health check at least annually.
  • Keep your horse’s vaccinations up to date.
  • Have your horse’s teeth checked by your vet or a qualified equine dental technician every 6-12 months.
  • If your horse is shod, make sure your farrier visits every 6-8 weeks.
  • Follow a good worm control programme – ask your vet or SQP for advice.
  • Have your saddle checked regularly by a qualified professional.
  • Make sure you are the right weight for your horse.
  • Be sure that your horse is fit and able to carry out the work you expect him to do.
  • If in any doubt about your horse’s health discuss it with your vet sooner rather than later.

The survey is conducted each May. It is sponsored by Dodson & Horrell and Zoetis and supported by the UK’s leading equestrian organisations and charities.


One thought on “Rise in skin ailments reported in Britain’s annual equine health survey

  • September 30, 2017 at 8:27 pm

    Most back and lameness problems can be attributed to poor fitting saddles, and especially poor riding technique. Most riders do not understand or even know how to effectively train a horse or pony to elevate the chest through the withers to carry the load on top of it…..the rider.


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