Dealing with horse injuries, issues
for Tri-State Livestock News
Horses can be plagued by many issues and are injury prone. Here is a brief overview of some of the most common problems.
COLIC: Abdominal pain, signs include looking at flank, lifting upper lip, no appetite and kicking towards belly in mild cases. Severe signs, sweating, increased heart rate, stretching out, laying down and getting up repeatedly, violently rolling and throwing themselves down. Horses should see a vet immediately, gums may appear dark too. Banamine is given to relax the pain and mineral oil administered via a tube as a laxative. The majority of horses when treated early will respond well. If the horse remains uncomfortable a re-examination by the vet is needed and surgery might be recommended. Horses that responded to treatment are kept fasting until all signs have disappeared and preventive measures put into place to avoid a reoccurrence.
FOUNDER/ LAMINITIS: Grass founder is most common in the spring; vulnerable horses are over age 10, easy-keepers, overweight or cresty-necked. Laminitis is inflammation of the laminae of the horse’s foot. Laminae are the delicate, accordion-like tissues that attach the inner surface of the hoof wall to the coffin bone. Laminitis causes a decreased blood flow to the laminae, which causes it to die and separate. The final result is hoof wall separation, rotation of the coffin bone and extreme pain.
Laminitis is caused by repeated concussion on hard ground (road founder), grain overload, retained placenta, hormonal imbalance (Cushing’s syndrome), certain drugs (corticosteroids), obesity, retained placenta and lush grass. Diagnosis is fairly straightforward and is based on history (eg, grain overload) and posture of the horse, increased temperature of the hooves, a hard pulse in the digital arteries and reluctance to move. X-rays are taken to measure the rotation and displacement.
Acute laminitis is a medical emergency because phalangeal displacement can occur rapidly. The prognosis is guarded until recovery is complete and it is evident that the hoof architecture is not altered.
ARTHRITIS: Is inflammation in a joint, sudden severe joint inflammation with pain, heat and stiffness is referred to as acute arthritis. Long-term joint inflammation is chronic arthritis and Osteoarthritis is a condition involving progressive degeneration of the joint cartilage, enlargement of the bone margins and changes in the membranes around the joint capsule. Acute can be caused by injury, bacterial or viral infection. Chronic is caused by the cumulative effects of day-to-day activities and stress.
Although common in older horses, arthritis can occur well before old age. It is important to identify causes of stiffness or lameness no matter the age to help the animal continue a productive and comfortable career. A veterinarian will watch a lame or stiff horse walk, feel for swelling and heat and may also take an X-Ray to examine the condition of the bones and joints. Early treatment includes rest and medication, a veterinarian’s assessment and recommendations should be the guide for treatment. Proper nutrition, exercise, and hoof care are essential to helping minimize strain to legs and feet.
HOOF ABSCESSES: Sudden and acute lameness caused by a pocket of pus creating pressure behind the hoof wall or sole. It can be caused by injury, wet conditions, poor hoof quality or care. There is little room for swelling inside a hoof so as the pressure builds it causes pain and severe lameness. The abscess must be located and drained, iodine and bandages are used to keep the abscess open and draining. Most mild cases the horse will be sound within a week, deep infections may take several weeks to heal and may lead to laminitis if not taken care of. Horses should be kept in clean, dry environments, hooves trimmed regularly and sharp objects removed to prevent injury.
GASTROINTESTINAL PARASITIES: Horses become infected when they ingest worm larvae in contaminated forage; stomach worms are carried by flies that pass them onto the horse through the mouth. Large strongyles travel throughout the body but mature in the large intestine. They can cause anemia due to blood loss, weakness, weight loss and diarrhea. They can damage the cranial mesenteric artery which interferes with intestinal blood flow causing: colic, tissue death, intestinal damage, rupture and bleeding. Small strongyles and stomach worms can cause a loss of condition and diarrhea. Tapeworms can cause weight loss, anemia and colic. Diagnosis is based on egg detection in the horses’ feces. Your veterinarian will often recommend both antiparasitic medication and parasite control.
HORSE BOTS: Are the larvae of bot flies found in the stomach of horses. The adult flies lay eggs that stick to the horse’s hair, once hatched the larvae travel into the mouth and embed there before passing into the stomach when they attach. They can cause stomach wounds and ulceration. Diagnosis is made by identifying the larvae in the feces. Treatment involves appropriate antiparasitic drugs. Your local veterinarian will recommend a treatment program based on your local environment and bot fly season.
SWEET ITCH: Is a seasonal skin allergy in horses caused by biting midges (“no-see-ums”). It is characterized by intensely itchy patches along the back of the horse from the ears to the tail. Fly control, medication to control the itching and allergic reaction and using a fan to move the air around stalled horses.
RAIN ROT: A common bacterial skin disease in horses known as Dermatophilosis. The bacteria lies dormant in the outer layer of the horse’s skin. When the skin is compromised by prolonged exposure to high humidity, high temperatures, wetness or biting insects, the bacteria produces threadlike tentacles that penetrate the skin and spread in all directions. An acute inflammatory skin response is the result. Crusty scabs develop that peel off, taking the hair too and resulting in bare spots. Insects can spread the infections from horse to horse. The patches are typically along the back, neck and hindquarters, and are common in animals with very thick hair coats that retain moisture. It is very contagious to other animals and humans, all shared equipment should be cleaned and infected horses quarantined. Most mild cases will resolve themselves but some will require medical treatment.
WIRE CUTS AND WOUNDS: Injuries to the skin and tissue are best treated early and it is wise to involve your veterinarian. Clean the wound with a cold hose, bandage to slow blood loss and call the vet are the first things owners should do. Suturing a fresh wound closed can speed healing time and reduce blemishes. Keeping the wound clean with a diluted betadine solution and cold hosing for ten to fifteen minutes will reduce any debris and infection in the wound bed. Initial bandaging can help keep things clean but if kept on too long it might lead to proud flesh. This is the granulation tissue that rises above the margin of the skin, keeping the skin from moving across the wound. High motion areas are more prone to developing proud flesh. The best treatment for that is frequent debridement (tissue removal) by a vet. Cuts often look worse than they are so stay calm when evaluating injuries and have some supplies on hand just in case. There are many products marketed to aid healing but it best to talk to your veterinarian about what they recommend.
Having a good relationship with your veterinarian is important for horse owners as is a basic knowledge of equine first aid treatment.