Diseases in Horses – Horse Diseases

Horses are majestic animals that people purchase for casual riding or as work animals. A lot of owners and caretakers of horses are engulfed with pride when taking care of these splendid creatures. This pride also entails that they take good care of the horses to maintain their health, and in order to successfully do that, one needs to know ailments horses are susceptible to, its causes, cures, and prevention. It can be saddening to see a horse go through the pain but the good news is that many diseases in horses can be prevented by simply understanding how these diseases occur. Some of the more common diseases are mentioned in detail below.      

Cushing’s disease

Cushing’s disease in horses is scientifically known as pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID). This is an ailment wherein the pituitary gland, responsible for the production of hormones, works incorrectly.

What is Cushing’s disease in horses?

Cushing’s in horses is a condition where the normal mechanisms that control the production of hormones are damaged. The inhibitory control in the pituitary gland is lost, and hence, there is an excessive production of hormones that passes into the blood stream of the horse.

The main cause of Cushing’s in horses is due to the enlargement of the pituitary gland, thereby, causing increased production of certain hormones. There is also a possibility of the gland reducing in size. In this case, the horse produces lesser amount of hormones resulting in seizures or blindness in horses.

Physical signs of this disease include delayed shedding of fur, lethargy, increased length in the coat, excessive sweating, weight loss, excessive urination, and increased water consumption.

Cushing’s disease primarily affects horses that are over the age of 10, and the average age at which it is diagnosed is 19. It is in fact quite prevalent in aged horses.

Is Cushing’s disease natural in horses?

Cushing’s disease in horses is a rare, hormonal phenomenon that occurs when there is an excessive production of certain hormones in the horse’s body. This can be caused either due to genetic or environmental factors, or a combination of both.

Although there is no cure for this disorder, appropriate diet, careful management, and veterinary treatments can help a horse live a long, active life.

Some good ways to manage this disease are mentioned below.

Will all horses get Cushing’s disease?

Avoid horse feed that is high in cereals

Feed small amounts of food often, rather than providing the horse with large amounts of food at once

Ensure that the horse has a balanced diet that comprises good quantities minerals, proteins, and vitamins

Opt for fiber-rich foods that are low in sugar and starch

Soak hay in water before feeding the horse

Consider adding a nutritional supplement after consulting with a veterinarian doctor

Cushing’s disease in horses is not subject to one particular breed. All breeds of horses are vulnerable to Cushing’s disease. This condition is primarily witnessed in older horses in older horses. Interestingly, ponies are more susceptible to Cushing’s disease than other breeds.

Laminitis in horses

Laminitis is an ailment that generally occurs in horses that are over the age of 10. Also known as Laminitis, overweight horses are more prone to developing it, and therefore, this should be the main focus of prevention.

What is laminitis?

Commonly referred to simply as founder, it is a condition suffered by horses wherein there is an inflammation in the laminae of their foot. Laminae is a sensitive, delicate tissue attached to the bone in a horse’s feet.

A horse suffering from laminitis experiences less blood flow to these tissues, therefore causing it to decay and separate from the bone. This would result in the tissues separating from the bone, causing tremendous pain to the horse. In more severe cases, the bone rotates through the sole of the horse’s foot, ending in the horse having to be euthanized.

How does it occur?

Sugar fructans are produced in rapidly growing grass. This stimulates an overgrowth of bacteria in the horse’s stomach which releases toxins to the bloodstream, which is then carried into the foot causing damage to the laminae and blood vessels.

Veterinarians believe that horses can develop this issue if they eat too much grass or are introduced to grass rather quickly. Grass stores excess energy as fructans. During spring, grass receives way more energy than it requires. More fructan is stored during this time and is the reason why horses are more prone to this ailment during spring.

Tips to prevent laminitis

  • Keep your ponies and horses away from rapidly growing grass until the rate of growth has slowed down. The slow rate of growth indicates that the grass is using or has utilized all of the excess energy it had once stored.
  • Graze your horses on fields that have a high percentage of legumes as they do not contain fructan.
  • Avoid allowing your horses to graze on pastures that have grown through winter.
  • Keep overweight horses away from pastures that have a rapid growth rate until the rate of growth has deteriorated.
  • Fill up the horse on hay before letting it free for grazing.
  • Use a horse muzzle to limit the intake of grass.

Laminitis is a painful and life-threatening disease for a horse. It is important to understand the cause of it and ways to prevent it as well. This is mainly caused to horses that have consumed grass that stored excess energy in the form of fructan during spring. This is when the grass grows rapidly. Avoid letting your horse loose for long during this season, and wait until the growth rate of the grass to reduce before allowing them to graze regularly again. Furthermore, consider using a grazing muzzle to avoid overeating. To know more about horse grazing muzzles, click here.

Colic in horses

In a general sense, colic in horses is broadly defined as abdominal pain. However, this can be considered a symptom rather than a diagnosis. Colic in horses, therefore, encompasses all forms of gastronomical issues that cause pain. It also includes abdominal pain that does not involve the gastronomical tract.

Big head in horses

Big Head in horses is a condition that is caused by deficiency in calcium. A diet that persistently lacks calcium, has excess phosphorus, and/or has an imbalance between the two is the man cause of big head in horses.

This can also occur when the horse ingests too many oxalates found in grass. This binds into a calcium oxalate in the gut and prevents the horse from absorbing calcium. This reduction in calcium causes the parathyroid gland to release excess amounts of the parathyroid hormone to aid in the absorption of calcium. Since the oxalates are preventing the absorption of calcium from the gut, the excess hormone production will then dissolve the existing calcium from the bones and release it to the blood stream. The bone then weakens and becomes brittle, and fibrous tissue is generated on the bone. In the facial bones, it appears as though there is a swelling on the head of the horse, thereby giving this condition the name; Big Head.

Equine metabolic syndrome

Abbreviated as EMS, Equine Metabolic Syndrome is a disorder in horses wherein it cannot regulate its blood insulin levels. Horses that are affected with this syndrome often show increased fat deposition and a disability to lose weight.

Cresty neck in horses

Horses that are overweight often develop fatty tissue deposits all over their body. When these deposits start to develop around their neck, it is known to be called Cresty Neck.

Founder in a horse

Also referred to as Laminitis, it is a condition suffered by horses wherein there is an inflammation in the laminae of their foot. Laminae are a sensitive, delicate tissues attached to the bone in a horse’s feet.

A horse suffering from laminitis experiences less blood flow to these tissues, therefore causing it to decay and separate from the bone. This would result in the tissues separating from the bone, causing tremendous pain to the horse. In more severe cases, the bone rotates through the sole of the horse’s foot, ending in the horse having to be euthanized.

Tying-up in horses

It is possibly one of the most frustrating ailments that can affect an athletic horse. Tying up, also referred to as Equine Rhabdomyolysis (ERS), is a term generally used to describe a wide range of muscle disorders that affect a horse’s performance. A horse can experience severe, uncomfortable pain during this experience. It is comparable to severe muscular cramps in humans. Other names for this are set-fast, Monday morning disease, or Azoturia.

Choke in horses

Choke is a threatening condition in horses wherein its esophagus is blocked, generally by food particles. The horse, however, may still be able to breathe, but cannot swallow anything. This may cause severe dehydration and also can form a secondary condition called aspiration pneumonia.

Stringhalt in horses

Stringhalt is a condition in horses where there is a sudden flexion in either one or both of the horse’s hind legs. The often occurs when the horse in engaged in a physical activity like running or walking.

PSSM in horses

An abbreviation for Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy, PSSM is a muscular condition in horses that falls under the broader heading of ‘Tying-up in horses’. It is also called equine muscle disease and is caused when there is excessive storage or accumulation of glycogen in the muscle cells.

Horse arthritis

Arthritis in horses is an extremely common condition, especially in ageing horses. It is a disease wherein the joints degenerate and this causes inflammation and pain. Over a certain period of time, this can cause irreparable damage to the cartilages, leading to chronic pain.

Ulcer in horses

Ulcers are sores that form on the horse’s stomach lining. This is also a very common condition in horses, and an estimated 50 – 90% of horses would suffer from ulcers in their lifetime. Ulcers in horses can creep up at any age but this is more commonly prevalent in athletic horses or horses that take part in high levels of exercise.

Beans in horses

Beans in horses are a common name used to describe a collection of smegma at the tip of the horse’s penis. Dirt and grime that is collected here and this accumulation hardens. This is referred to as beans in horses.