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Horse Survey Reveals Limbs are Main Cause of Lameness, not Feet

07 September 2015

UK - The results of the latest National Equine Health Survey (NEHS) show that lameness is three times more likely to be caused by conditions such as osteoarthritis in the limb rather than problems in the foot.

The results are consistent with previous NEHS survey findings, showing evidence rather than opinion is now being generated by report, helping owners and experts to understand and improve the health of the country’s 944,000 horses.

Blue Cross runs NEHS in May each year, in partnership with the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA).

It is sponsored by SPILLERS and Zoetis and supported by the UK’s leading equestrian organisations and charities.

This year saw a 35 per cent increase in participation compared to 2014, with survey records returned for almost 15,000 horses, ponies, donkeys and mules.

The horse’s foot is fundamental to soundness and performance but NEHS results have shown consistently that limb lameness, as opposed to foot lameness, is in fact the biggest syndrome affecting horses.

In the latest survey, conducted in May, a total of 18 per cent were recorded as lame. 13.5 per cent of these were recorded as suffering with lameness such as osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease (13.9 per cent in 2014 and 14.8 per cent in 2013). Meanwhile foot lameness was recorded in 4.5 per cent of returns, a similar figure to previous years.

Josh Slater from the Royal Veterinary College, who is member of BEVA’s Health & Medicines Committee and analysed the NEHS data, said: “NEHS is now producing important evidence that is replacing subjective opinion. While the lameness figures were initially surprising, given that the foot has been generally regarded as the main problem area, the fact that these figures have remained consistent over the past three years gives constructive credibility to the data. Our findings will help owner vigilance with day-to-day healthcare as well as help prioritise on areas for future veterinary education and research.”

The six most notable disease syndromes identified in the 2015 National Equine Health Survey are consistent with findings over previous years:

  1. Lameness 18 per cent with 13.5 per cent having limb lameness such as osteoarthritis (degenerative joint disease) not relating to the foot, compared to 14.8 per cent in 2014, 14.8 per cent in 2013 and 9.3 per cent in 2010-12 and 4.5 per cent with foot lameness compared to 4.6 per cent in 2014, 3.8 per cent in 2013 and 4.5 per cent in 2010-12.

  2. Skin diseases 17.2 per cent (sweet itch, mud fever and external parasites) compared to 18.3 per cent in 2014, 14.6 per cent in 2013 and 15.2 per cent in 2010-12.

  3. Back problems 7 per cent compared to 7.7 per cent in 2014, 5 per cent in 2013 and 3 per cent in 2010-12.

  4. Recurrent Airway Obstruction 6.7 per cent was the most frequently recorded respiratory problem, compared to 6.9 per cent in 2014, 4.2 per cent in 2013 and 3.6 per cent in 2010-12.

  5. Laminitis 6.4 per cent compared to 7.1 per cent in 2014, 4.4 per cent in 2013 and 3.6 per cent in 2010-12.

  6. PPID (‘Equine Cushing’s Disease) 6.4 per cent confirmed or suspected compared to 5.6 per cent in 2014, possibly reflecting increased surveillance through sponsored testing programmes as opposed to true increases in prevalence from the pre-2014 surveys.

Over 23 per cent of horses were reported as being overweight with a Body Condition Score of 3.5-5, continuing the upward trend seen in previous years (16.9 per cent in 2014 and 7.8 per cent in 2013).

Next year’s survey will explore links between obesity and the possible associated rise of obesity-related diseases such as equine metabolic syndrome (which was reported in 2.4 per cent of 2015 returns) and laminitis.

The Survey also enables participants to report on any health problems not covered in the survey questions, giving them a chance to shape future survey subjects.

Gemma Taylor, Education Officer at Blue Cross explains: “This year 11 per cent of our free text answers mentioned gastric ulcers giving a valuable insight into the prevalence gastric ulcer syndrome in the principally leisure horse NEHS population. As a result we will be adding new questions to the 2016 survey to help us find out more.”

Further Reading

You can view the full report by clicking here.

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