7 Common Horse Diseases and How to Treat Them

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When you look after horses, you want to make sure they’re healthy and happy at all times. But sometimes, despite your best efforts, your animals can get sick with various diseases. Even with our best efforts, there are times when you just can’t avoid problems.

Some diseases can’t be prevented or cured, but you can definitely make life easier for your horse by knowing what to watch for. Others are easy to prevent or treat if you catch them early.

If you own horses or you’re thinking about getting one, you should be aware of the most common horse diseases and the signs to look out for. Here are a few:

7 common horse diseases and how to treat them

1. Laminitis

7 common horse diseases and how to treat them

For animals that spend a lot of time on their feet, they sure can have a lot of problems with them. Their feet often become infected or inflamed, not to mention all the issues with shoeing.

Laminitis affects the hooves of horses and can be extremely painful. It develops when the layers of laminae (the area connecting the hoof wall to internal structures) become swollen and sore. The horse will try to keep weight off of the impacted area.

This disease is often a result of hormonal imbalances and other problems such as equine metabolic syndrome (EMS). It can also be caused by any disease that causes inflammation or by overloading horses.

It’s also a recurring issue in horses that are overweight as they become insulin resistant, which influences their immune system and makes it hard to fight disease.

This is often a reoccurring disease and can be hard to cure. Many animals are put down each year because of it.

How Do You Deal With Laminitis?

If you notice that your horse’s hooves are warm and it’s struggling to put weight on its feet, then it might be time for a visit to the vet. After a medical examination, the vet will most likely prescribe your horse painkillers to help with the symptoms of the disease.

You might also want to prepare some soft bedding for your horse to help with the inflammation while they are recovering. Your vet will likely recommend box rest, dietary changes, and foot support, as well. It can take months to cure.

2. Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome

7 common horse diseases and how to treat them

Also referred to as gastric ulcer disease (GUD), this illness targets the stomach. It causes ulcers to grow in your horse’s stomach and is often because of digestive acids that have ruined the intestine lining.

If your horse is exercising and running around with an empty stomach, then it could get equine gastric ulcer syndrome (EGUS). This happens as the acids eat away at the lining because they don’t have any food to target.

You should always supply your horse with feed spread out throughout the day so those acids have something to work on.

Don’t give food all at once, but rather over three or four occasions, if possible. Or let them free feed. Ulcers form when acid is produced to digest food but none is present. Regular food prevents this.

The main signs of EGUS are as follows:

  • Poor performance
  • Irritability
  • Decreased appetite
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Fatigue

If you spot that your horse isn’t eating their food and they are more restless than usual, then it would be a good idea to get a health checkup. As ulcers grow internally, it’s important to rule out other possible causes of their symptoms before treating for EGUS.

How Do You Cure EGUS?

Once your horse has had an endoscopic examination, your vet will tell you if the pain is coming from EGUS. If you receive a diagnosis of this disease, the next step is to give your horse oral medicine to treat the ulcers.

Omeprazole is the drug of choice and it works well.

You might also want to increase the alfalfa in your horse’s diet. And, of course, provide regular food for your horse. Plus, make sure they have some feed before going to exercise.

As long as they have medication and something in their stomach before they run around, they should be back to normal in no time!

3. Sweet Itch

7 common horse diseases and how to treat them

When the weather gets warm and your horses are spending more time in the sun outside, there is a higher risk of skin issues. Summer is the main season for sweet itch which is also called Seasonal Recurrent Dermatitis (SSRD).

The primary reason for this disease is that the horse has an extreme reaction to Culicoides midges.

You can see this disease easily when looking at your horse, as it shows up in patches of inflamed skin and red sores. Horses will be itching constantly when they have this condition so you’ll be able to notice it quite quickly.

How Do You Cure Sweet Itch?

As biting midges are their most active in the morning and evening, you might want to keep your horse somewhere sheltered during these times. It’s also a good idea to cover them in a fly sheet, a fly mask, and fly spray.

Use soothing shampoos or sprays and you can give your horse antihistamines or steroids if the vet approves.

Of course, your vet will have some additional advice. But, these tips could also be useful in curing your animal and soothing the itching.

4. Equine Influenza

7 common horse diseases and how to treat them

Just like humans, horses can also catch the flu. Equine influenza is spread by two separate viruses that spread via close contact or can even be carried on tools, buckets, and brushes.

Equine influenza infects the upper respiratory tract and can be passed on from horse to horse. If you have a group of horses on your homestead, it’s essential that you look out for this disease as it can spread quickly.

The first sign of equine influenza is a white or yellow discharge dripping from the nose. Horses might also develop a high temperature and swollen glands, as well. If your horse is suffering from any of these symptoms then you need to isolate them from other animals.

Not all horses will show symptoms, however. If you hear that canine infuenze is in your area, you’ll need to bextra diligent and on the lookout.

How Do You Cure Equine Influenza?

After isolating the horse with influenza symptoms, you should talk to the vet. Depending on the severity of the illness, there might be several steps to take when it comes to treatment. The most important thing is that you keep the environment cozy for your pet.

Influenza is horrible for both animals and humans, so it’s good to give your horse a little extra attention during the recovery period. That means you can cover them in warm blankets and give them fresh hay that’s free of dust.

You should also give the sick horse its own bowl, feed, and area to sleep.

Your vet might give you medicine to reduce any fever and antibiotics if an infection spreads to their lungs or sinuses. With several weeks of care and time off from any work, your horse should be back to normal, though severe cases can be fatal.

There are vaccinations available to help prevent the disease, so talk to your vet.

5. Arthritis

7 common horse diseases and how to treat them

Another disease that can impact the health of your horse is osteoarthritis. This condition is also named degenerative joint disease (DJD) which might be what the vet uses to describe this illness. This is most common in older horses, so it’s good to know about it in advance.

Learning about the potential diseases that your horse could suffer from is important for protecting their health over the long term. That way, you won’t be faced with unexpected problems later on when your horse is old and they need extra care.

Similar to any pet, you need to be prepared to look after your animal for years to come. Some people adopt pets spontaneously and find it hard to care for them when life stress arises, and there is less time to spend cleaning their living area or providing them with the companionship they crave.

It’s essential that you are committed to caring for horses for their whole life. That means you need to know about diseases that affect them at all points of their life, including when they are seniors.

Arthritis in horses is similar to that in humans. The joints will be swollen and the animal will move slowly and seem to be in pain. They may seem a little better after they’ve had time to warm up, but they’ll be particularly stiff in the morning or after standing still a while.

How Do You Cure Arthritis?

Arthritis is one of those diseases that will creep up on you and you might not notice it at first. Often, horses will begin to slow down and become more lethargic. But, they can also stop moving as much and their joints become swollen.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for this illness. As it is associated with aging, there is not much you can do for your elderly horse to cure it once they develop arthritis. However, there’s always something you can do to make their life easier and more comfortable.

You can give them the right amount of food to keep their weight in check, which will put less pressure on their joints.

Alternatively, you can also give them anti-inflammatory medicine if your vet thinks it would help them during the day and encourage them to exercise lightly.

6. Strangles

7 common horse diseases and how to treat them

Strangles is caused by Streptococcus equi and causes upper respiratory disease in horses. It’s very contagious and typically impacts horses under five years of age. Older horses seem to have a better-developed immune system to withstand the disease.

You’ll see fever, nasal discharge, cough, loss of appetite and weight loss, swollen lymph nodes, and impaired breathing. There is a vaccination that can help reduce infection rates.

How to Treat Strangles

The first step is to keep your horse and all of its equipment away from other horses. Your vet will prescribe antibiotics and you’ll need to do your best to support your horse as it recovers.

7. Tetanus (Lockjaw)

7 common horse diseases and how to treat them

Tetanus is caused by Clostridium tetani, which is present in the soil everywhere around the world. If a horse is wounded, it can infect the horse through the wound. If you clean your horse’s wounds quickly and thoroughly, the disease likely won’t infect your horse.

But if a wound is left untreated or dirty, tetanus may strike. When it does, you’ll see muscle stiffness, difficulty moving, stiff tail, facial spasms, sweating, and eventually collapse.

Treating Tetanus

Get your horse vaccinated and you won’t have to worry about this disease. You should also clean any wounds right away.

If you catch it early, you can usually treat the disease successfully with a high dose of a tetanus antitoxin. Sadly, most cases aren’t caught until it’s too late since the symptoms take time to develop. At that point, there is nothing you can do.

Give Your Horse Love and a Good Home

As an owner, it’s crucial that you provide high-quality food and clean living conditions at all times. You should also be scheduling health checks regularly so that the vet can assess the horse and its health. If you catch any of these diseases early, they can be improved with the right treatment.

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