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How do you know if your veteran horse is healthy?

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As part of a nationwide study into the health of older horses and ponies in the UK, a team of scientists based at Liverpool Vet School quizzed owners about the health of animals over the age of 15 in their care.

Two hundred equine OAPs were selected randomly from almost 1,000 individuals, whose owners had completed a lengthy questionnaire about their health.

Scientists then examined each animal to see the extent to which their owners were aware of the problems revealed by the exam.

When comparisons were made, the results were quite worrying: more than 95% of the horses and ponies had significant dental problems – but only about 25% of owners thought that their teeth needed attention.

More than half the horses were significantly lame in one or more limbs – but this was recognised by only 23% of the owners.

Some more obvious problems were better identified.

An excessively curly coat – a sign of Cushing’s disease – was almost always spotted, but things like hoof problems were much less well detected.

The scientists point out that some of their findings, such as 20% of the older horses and ponies having a heart murmur, could not reasonably have been detected by owners.

But they emphasise that, because the animals were often retired or worked very little, veterinary visits were less frequent than in previous years.

The research highlights the real welfare risk to older animals, not due to intentional neglect, but because of a combination of factors.

So the message to owners is that, as your horse gets older and the likelihood of health problems increases, veterinary attention may be required more often, not less.

This veterinary article was first published in the current issue of H&H (19 January 2012)

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