More than a third of the UK’s horses (38%) were reported as having at least one health issue during this year’s National Equine Health Survey (NEHS).
Of these, almost a third (32.9%) were lame.
Osteoarthritic conditions in the limb were revealed as the most common cause of issues, outweighing problems in the foot.
This is the eighth year the Blue Cross and British Equine Veterinary Associations’ (BEVA) online survey has been run, and lameness has consistently been seen as the most common syndrome affecting horses.
A breakdown of the data showed that 47.4% were suffering from proximal limb lameness, 31.9% from foot lameness other than laminitis and 20.7% from laminitis.
Degenerative joint disease (including foot and proximal limb) was the most prevalent single cause of lameness (41.2%), with the hock being the most frequently affected joint (15.3%).
This year’s feedback revealed a significant spike in foot lameness (excluding laminitis), with reports almost doubling from 4.5% in 2015 to 10.5%.
Pus in the foot was the most commonly recorded problem, which might be attributed to a long spell of wet weather when the survey was conducted in May.
Josh Slater from the Royal Veterinary College, who analysed the survey, said: “This year’s increase in overall lameness may be in part attributed to the higher incidence of pus in the foot but may also be because owners are becoming more aware of lameness issues.
“Ongoing research on lameness has generated significant media coverage over the past year, helping to raise understanding of the importance of accurate diagnosis and treatment both from welfare and performance perspectives.”
He added that the survey had become a reliable benchmark for equine health, revealing consistent data year on year.
This year saw a 14% increase in participation in the survey, which is sponsored by Dodson & Horrell and Zoetis. Information was submitted for 16,752 horses, ponies, donkeys and mules by 5,635 participants.
Most of the equines were kept at livery (46.7%) or private yards (43.3%) and were used for leisure and hacking (36.8% and 37.4%).
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Native ponies formed the biggest single breed type (36%). Followed by 17% thoroughbred types, 14% warmbloods and a further 14% recorded as ‘other horse types’.
Overall, the top five most commonly recorded individual disease syndromes were lameness (not laminitis) (26.1%), laminitis (6.8%), sweet itch (6.8%), mud fever (6.8%) and equine cushings (PPID, 6.6%).
Other common syndromes were recurrent airway obstruction (5.6%), back problems (5.5%), sarcoids (5.1%), wounds (3%) and medical colic (2.9%).