Common Horse Illnesses

We’ve put together a short list of common horse illnesses, diseases, and ailments. We hope you find this useful. If you would like (or need) an excellent resource for further information, we highly recommend the Horse Owner's Veterinary Handbook by Gore, Gore, and Giffin or the Veterinary Notes for Horse Owners: New Revised Edition of the Standard Work for More Than 100 Years by Hayes and Knightbridge. Either of these books will provide you with detail and more extensive information.


Common Horse Illnesses

Azoturia or Tying Up - When a horse is fed too much and is not exercised regularly. Symptoms - The horses muscles cramp and its painful for him/her to move.

Bots - Flies that lay their eggs in the horse's hair and when the horse scratches, it swallows the eggs and the larvae live in the horse like worms do.

Colic - Pain in the abdomen (a bad stomachache). There are many causes for such pain, ranging from the mild and inconsequential to the life-threatening or fatal. Colic may be a symptom of another horse illness and should be taken seriously.

Cushing's Disease - A disease of the endocrine system and there is no cure. With daily medication to control symptoms, most horses can lead a somewhat normal life. Cushing's is caused by a tumor in the pituitary gland.

Encepalomy - A horse gets a high fever and then is paralyzed and dies within 2 to 4 days.

EPM - Equine protozoal myeloencephalitis (EPM) is a protozoal disease common to horses, particularly in the southern states. EPM is hosted by the opossum and is caused by a parasite called Sarcocystis neurona. This particular horse illness causes mostly neurological problems and can become serious if left untreated.

Equine Infectious Anemia (also called Swamp Fever) - A virus that lives in the blood. Can be spread to other horses. A horse with EIA must be put down.

Equine Herpes Virus/Rhinopneumonitis - A cold. Sometimes called "snots" because of the white discharge coming from the nose. Can be serious in young horses (2 years or younger)

Founder or Laminitis - Serious lameness of the hooves. Symptoms - The horses hooves are hot, painful, and the horse has difficulty moving or standing.

Influenza - The flu. Equine influenza presents with fever, dry coughs, increased mucus production and despondency. Fortunately, unlike many other horse illnesses, equine influenza usually disappears on its own after a week or two

Lameness - Pain somewhere in the horse that makes it unpleasant for the horse (clarify). Symptoms - limping and the horse not wanting to put weight on a leg.

Navicular Disease - A painful condition of the front heels. Navicular Disease may be caused by one of these: Poor confirmation of the hooves and legs, poor shoeing, lack of regular hoof care, working a horse too hard or on poor footing.  Symptoms - Horse takes short, shuffling, stiff steps.

Rain Rot - Crusty yellow scabs on the horse's body caused by bacteria

Ring Worm - A fungus that makes the horses hair fall out in a circular pattern.

Distemper of Strangles (strangles) - A bacterial infection that causes the glands near the throat to swell and eventually rupture

Tetanus (lockjaw) - is a bacteria that enters the body at the sight of a wound or the umbilical cord stump in a foal. Its symptoms are early signs of colic and stiffness. Horses will develop spasms in the jaw, neck, hind legs and muscles around the wound.

Thrush - A disease that destroys the frog tissue.  Symptoms - Horses feet have an awful smell and there will be a black good in the clefts of the frog.

West Nile Virus (WNV) - A mosquito-borne virus that causes encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and/or meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord). Horses can be vaccinated to prevent West Nile.

Worms - Worms live in a horse's stomach and intestines, eating the horse's hay, grain, and blood.


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