Colic, wounds and starvation: the health of thousands of horses in Ukraine is worsening, vets warn

  • More than 20,000 horses are in the “critical welfare zone” in Ukraine — and their health is worsening, vets in the country have warned.

    Restricted medication, stress caused by the war and the need to relocate frequently are all affecting equine welfare in the country, which has been at war with Russia for nearly four months.

    An equine veterinary survey in Ukraine showed that the most needed items, after feed and medical supplies, are portable diagnostic equipment and mobile clinica.

    The Ukrainian Equestrian Federation Charity Foundation (UEF-CF) contacted almost all practising Ukrainian equine vets to get their views on horses’ welfare in different regions and the needs for vet supplies and equipment.

    “Restricted food intake, risk of starvation and colic due to poor feed quality and inappropriate nutrition, wounds, injuries, stress due to war environment, and relocation remain among the most commonly mentioned challenges,” a UEF-CF spokesman said.

    “The survey identified four major problems faced by vets, not only related to the lack of medicines and medical equipment, but also to the loss of income for horse owners.”

    The spokesman said there is a lack of drugs including painkillers, sedative and antibiotics, and that although sometimes these are available, horse owners cannot afford them.

    Vets say they also need portable X-ray, ultrasound, and scoping equipment, and there are no mobile equine hospitals to provide emergency aid to horses in recently liberated areas.

    “The most frequently mentioned problem remains the shortage of medicines,” the spokesman said. “With the help of international veterinary organisations, horses in Ukraine receive a lot of help with basic veterinary medicine. Still, this medicine is quickly used due to the poor condition of the horses and the need for help stays sharp. It is also connected with the fact that horse owners are losing their jobs and income. This directly affects horses’ welfare.

    “The war continues and every day the situation is getting worse.”

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    Only 30 equine vets are available in Ukraine, which is about the same size as France.

    “In these critical moments, the lack of medicines and medical equipment for veterinarians is the main challenge for saving the horse’s life,” said Mykhaylo Parkhomchuk, founder of UEF-CF and secretary-general of the Ukrainian equestrian federation.

    Many vets are not taking payment from owners who cannot afford to pay them, and Taisia Stadnichenko suggested whether a separate fund to pay vets is “worth thinking about”.

    “Thanks to the generous support of international organisations and private persons, the urgently needed basic veterinary supplies are shipped regularly,” the spokesman said.

    “But due to the weakening health of horses, these basic supplies are not enough for more serious cases. There are also plans for online workshops and training sessions as well as short-term veterinary missions to Ukraine.

    “The war in Ukraine is not over yet. It has been going on for 146 days and the humanitarian crisis deteriorates at alarming speed. The problem is getting worse by the fact that horse owners are losing their jobs and can’t pay for medicine and veterinary services.

    “Ukrainian veterinary professionals are very concerned about the horses’ welfare and accessibility of professional veterinary help.”

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