Horse Health

By: Horse Deals

Horse Health
Tango’s laminitis had become so bad that it was untreatable

Treat laminitis early, warns Blue Cross

The Blue Cross is warning of the dangers of untreated laminitis after a pony handed over to the charity had to be put down on arrival.

Tango, a Shetland gelding, was signed over to the equine welfare centre at Burford in Oxfordshire when his elderly owner could no longer provide him with the care he needed. But when the pony arrived he was in agony and virtually unable to walk.

Burford centre vet Natasha Seely said: "This was one of the worst cases of laminitis I’ve ever seen."
Vicki Alford, equine centre manager, added: "This is a shocking example of how dangerous laminitis can be if left untreated and should be a warning to all horseowners."

Download a Blue Cross factsheet for more information on the symptoms, management and prevention of laminitis at

Research links ammonia to respiratory problems

A research project funded by The Horse Trust has confirmed that stabling horses results in increased exposure to the ammonia associated with respiratory problems.

The research, led by Professor Sandy Love at the University of Glasgow, studied eight yearling Welsh Mountain Ponies, who were stabled then grazed for periods of three weeks at a time. Three times each week, a variety of substances in the environment and on the ponies’ exhaled breath were monitored and Prof Love concluded that stabling results in increased exposure to environmental ammonia.

"Horseowners have long worried about the ammonia smell in stables, but there’s been little scientific evidence to back this up. These findings confirm that it’s linked to poor respiratory health, although further research is needed to confirm whether and how ammonia causes respiratory problems," he said.

In the next phase of the project, Prof Love’s team is carrying out a large-scale field study to quantify the environmental risk factors — such as bedding, feeding and ventilation — that predispose horses to respiratory inflammation. The results will be available next year.

Ruggle-It helps Hantu’s recovery

Sandra Betts was in despair when long-standing mud and fly issues made her Arabian Hantu almost unrideable. Sensitive skin left Hantu in torment when insects landed on him, while mud rash on a foreleg had been there for many years.

"I had to ride him out in a full rug with a mask over his face and ears, and have fly spray constantly on hand," said Sandra.

The pair competed in affiliated eventing, but Hantu’s headshaking when a fly went near him left them with poor dressage marks. Sandra then tried Ruggle-it on the mud rash and a small crack on his heel and within 48 hours they had gone. The product also acted as a deterrent to the insects that were causing so many problems.

"The results are amazing! We no longer need to use the rugs or mask. When I fetch Hantu from the field, he has no flies on him at all and I can ride him like a normal horse," said Sandra.

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Avoiding tummy trouble

Q: I recently bought a horse I have now been informed has had a couple of colic episodes and may have had an operation in the past. Should I worry about this? I believe there are several different types of colic and causes. How can I prevent it happening again and what is your advice with regards to feeding, turnout and worming?

Ed Lyall BVetMed CertEM(StudMed) MRCVS replies: Colic is the name given to the group of symptoms that indicate abdominal pain. The incidence increases dramatically in the spring and autumn periods, which appears to coincide with the changes that we have to make in horses’ management because of the weather.

"Medical colics" are incidents requiring a few injections and possibly stomach tubing to cure. Approximately 95% of colics are medical and relatively simple to sort out.

The remaining 5% are "surgical colics", that require major abdominal surgery to correct. Without this type of procedure, the horse would have to put down.
Except in some specific instances, medical colics rarely go on to become surgical. The prognosis for horses and ponies that have colic surgery is improving all the time. There are several reasons for this, including the increased number of practices that undertake these operations, so patients do not have to travel long distances before surgery can done, hence the procedures are carried out and the outcome is more favourable.

Also, the surgical techniques, anaesthetic methods and post-operative care are improving all the time. Often the surgery is the relatively straightforward bit, but the management of the patient after the operation, in terms of getting the intestines working properly and dealing with endotoxaemia, can be the more challenging.

Colic surgery aftercare

Usually, a horse that has had colic surgery in the past has a ventral midline abdominal scar that can be felt in the skin under the belly.

Sometimes this contains small soft areas where there’s been slight breakdown of the muscle wound under the skin.

Horses that have had colic surgery may be a little more sensitive to medical colic in the future, as I think they worry about the pain they experienced before.

Also there is a risk that some adhesions have formed due to the previous surgery. These are fibrous bands that attach to the bowel and possibly stop it moving and expanding as it needs — the bands pull tight and periodically cause pain. The incidence of abdominal adhesions has decreased over the years as the surgical techniques have got better.

Understanding digestion

The horse’s digestive system relies on bacterial fermentation to break down the ingested food. When the management routine has to change abruptly, such as when access to grazing is denied, there is often an imbalance in the types of bacteria present in the bowel. This bacterial imbalance can result in irritation of the bowel and increased gut contraction (spasmodic colic) or excessive gas production (gas or tympanic colic) that stretches the bowel, causing pain and the symptoms that we call colic.

Changes in bacterial balance can also result in a reduced ability to digest fibre and the possibility of the bowel becoming blocked at one of its many "S" bends, such as the pelvic flexure, causing an impaction.

The management changes are not just dietary, but are also associated with the amount of exercise. A reduction in the amount of exercise can also reduce gut activity and predispose to impactions, as can horses suddenly coming in onto a straw bed and eating it.

Change the bedding to shavings or paper if your horse is a bed eater. And if your horse has to have box rest, adjust its diet accordingly, give plenty of bran with the feed and consider hand-picking grass to feed it.

Wise up on worming

Worms are a significant factor with regards to colic. Horses and ponies are susceptible to different worms at different stages of life. For example, foals and yearlings have more problems with ascarids, but small red worms, cyathostomes and tapeworms are significant for all ages.

We are now seeing an increased incidence of resistance by worms to wormers. Small red worms in large numbers can cause bowel irritation and colic, but are more likely to cause diarrhoea.

Tapeworms are certainly very significant as a cause of recurrent colic in some horses. They can be quite large and if they attach to the wall of the bowel where there is a nerve plexus that stimulates intestinal contraction can cause spasmodic colic where the bowel cramps or contracts excessively. In young horses these excessive contractions can be so marked that they cause the bowel to telescope inside itself, causing an intussusception, which requires surgery to fix.

Understanding gastric ulcers

Another significant factor with regards to colic due to management change in some horses may be the development of gastric ulcers. These occur when horses are fed high cereal diets and not allowed access to enough roughage. They are relatively easy to diagnose using a very long video endoscope to look at the lining of the stomach.

Gastric ulcers cause aberrations in the digestive process and the build up of abnormal bacteria, this predisposing the horse to colic. Treatment is with oral anti-ulcer medication and is very effective.

Managing medical colic

There are several steps that can be taken to reduce the incidence of management associated medical colic that may occur in the spring and autumn.
During these seasons, try to make the change from stable to grass and grass to stable as slow as possible, gradually reducing the grazing time and vice versa in the spring.

Allow access to roughage little and often. Horses are supposed to eat for a large proportion of the day.

Consider the use of a probiotic preparation to supplement the diet with normal digestive bacteria.

Make sure the teeth are in good order. Poor teeth may predispose to impactions.

Take advice from a nutritionist as to the best diet for your horse’s exercise level. Base it on a high-fibre, low-cereal diet and then feed the required volume by eye. If you find it difficult to judge your horse’s weight, using a weigh tape can be useful.

Cut back the hard feed by half when the horse isn’t going to be exercised. This will also prevent tying-up.

Make sure the worming programme for your yard is satisfactory and take advice from your vet. Using worm egg counts from a droppings sample to monitor the effectiveness of the wormers being used is important to check whether you have a resistance problem. Tapeworm levels are monitored using a blood sample.

Obviously, paddock management in terms of picking up droppings is important. Don’t be worried about worming. It may be coincidence that the colic is occurring around the time of worming, as of course this is the time the management regime is changing also. Autumn is the time when tapeworms should be treated. You should also deal with small red worms before they encyst in the bowel wall at this time.

Try to allow some exercise on a daily basis. Horse walkers are very useful for this.

Try to keep management constant in terms of feeding and exercise routine. Rapid changes can result in changes in gut bacterial flora and the build up of gas-producing bacteria can result in tympanic colic.

About Ed Lyall

Ed Lyall grew up at his parents’ North Yorkshire equestrian centre. He graduated from the Royal Veterinary College in 1994 and was awarded a scholarship to continue his studies there. He is now a partner at Arundel Veterinary Hospital in West Sussex. He is an examiner in equine stud medicine and a treating vet at Hickstead and the South of England Show. His interests include competing his grade B horse in affiliated show jumping.