Top five veterinary conditions – what are they and how can we avoid them? *Promotion*

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Petplan Equine’s top five most claimed for conditions in 2018 saw gastric ulcers move into the number one spot for the first time. Here we look at the signs of these conditions and get some useful advice from veterinary surgeons Gil Riley MRCVS and Juliette Edmonds MRCVS on how to avoid them.

1. Gastric ulcers

“There are many signs of gastric ulcers,” says Gil. “Inconsistent appetite, dull coat, resisting ridden exercise, aversion to certain feeds, low grade recurrent colic and back pain can all indicate a potential issue. So if your horse is displaying one or more of these symptoms there is a high possibility, he has gastric ulcers.”

“Removing any stress from your horse’s environment will help to avoid gastric ulcers,” Juliette advises. “Consistency of diet, plenty of forage and grass with a good regular routine is crucial to all horses, but particularly those prone to gastric ulcers.”

Jane’s rescue pony Duchess was rehomed two years ago from World Horse Welfare.

“When Duchess first arrived, it was clear that she was quite anxious which we believed was down to her past life. She seemed to settle at first, however sadly, Duchess came down with mild colic,” explains Jane.

“After an initial consultation with the vet, once we ensured Duchess was more comfortable and the colic was managed, my vet suggested having her scoped for gastric ulcers as it was also noted that she dropped weight easily and it was difficult to increase her weight. The vet and I were astonished to find such a large ulcer in her lower stomach. Duchess was put on medication and after a week we saw a great improvement in her overall condition and behaviour.

“Duchess was re-scoped four weeks later and we could clearly see a significant decrease in the ulcer’s size; it was also much less red and sore looking. I think knowing your horse and what behaviour is normal for them is so important. My case was a little different as Duchess was rescued and we don’t know what had happened to her in the past, but knowing your horse’s characteristics can be beneficial to help with a diagnosis and the sooner gastric ulcers are found the better.

“Petplan Equine were extremely helpful and once I had informed them about the claim everything was dealt with directly with my vet – it was all so straightforward,” concludes Jane.


Duchess was successfully treated for gastric ulcers, allowing for improvement in her overall condition and behaviour

2. Arthritis

“Arthritis causes swelling and inflammation in the joints causing discomfort, particularly when concussion is increased by working on hard surfaces. So, if your horse’s performance level drops, he resists going forward on a hard surface, starts to refuse fences when jumping or finds the correct canter lead more difficult, arthritis could be the issue,” explains Juliette. “The single most important thing horse owners can do to delay the onset of arthritis is weight management and fitness. Exercise on varied surfaces and different types of work on a regular basis is key.

“Going forward, more readily available diagnostics like MRI and CT scans, which give a more specific picture of the joint damage, and new treatments such as hydrogels, which can be injected directly into the joints to reduce friction and increase lubrication with good effect, will help with arthritis cases,” adds Juliette.

Laura, one of Petplan Equine’s ambassadors, experienced an arthritis claim with her horse Ransom.

“When Ransom was 13 years old, he started to buck and display a shorter stride when being ridden. This behaviour was completely out of character so I knew something was wrong,” explains Laura. “We called the vet and Ransom was unhappy having full flexion and extension tests performed on his left hind and was referred to Liphook Equine Hospital.”

The results after the x-rays, scans, and blocks revealed that Ransom had arthropathy of the left hip, as well as other arthritic changes to his joints. Laura opted to medicate the hip and support this treatment with physiotherapy and joint supplements.

Over the next five months, Ransom had regular veterinary and chiropractic treatment which also included H-wave therapy.

“Ransom’s recovery was an emotional rollercoaster; we didn’t know if he would ever compete again. The time finally came where we were able to enter our first dressage competition. From that moment, we have not looked back. Seven years on he is competing successfully at prix st george – a level I never thought we would achieve.”


Laura and Ransom have successfully competed to prix st georges level despite Ransom’s arthritis diagnosis

3. Colic

Colic is every horse owner’s greatest nightmare and one for which we all know the signs – pawing the ground, kicking the belly, frequent urination and getting down to roll being among the most obvious.

Gil advises on management to help avoid this worrying condition. “Keeping teeth in good order is crucial as well as that all-important management routine with consistency of diet. Worming appropriately is also a fundamental with regular worm counts and targeting encysted redworm with an essential annual dose in autumn for all grazing horses.”

4. Desmitis

“Desmitis is a good example of a condition for which increasingly accurate diagnosis and more options for treatment have become available in recent years, increasing the possibility of recovery in some horses,” explains Juliette.

“MRI scans of the foot have contributed greatly to diagnosis as the hoof capsule is a complex area and specific injuries to soft tissue, which may have been diagnosed as navicular in the past, can now be much more accurately detected. Vets are now looking at a wide range of specific diagnoses and the treatment techniques are developing, with tailor-made medication applied directly into the affected area. Horse insurance is crucial for these diagnostics to make sure the findings are as specific as possible.

“Regenerative medication and stem cell treatments will become much more common. Biological growth factors and PRP (Platelet Rich Plasma) is already being used successfully to accelerate healing in acute ligament injuries and may also contribute to the treatment of more chronic desmitis cases,” adds Gil.

5. Laminitis

The signs are well known and awareness of the risk of laminitis, particularly for horses with Cushing’s disease and equine metabolic syndrome, has increased. Advances in shoeing methods and developments in hormone testing to detect those at risk of laminitis has made good inroads into treatment. Vets can then advise on management accordingly.

“Keeping your horse ‘fit not fat’ is the best way to avoid laminitis,” says Gil. “Even those with a propensity for laminitis can be helped considerably with a correct management regime.”

Jess, a customer of Petplan Equine and her horse Tiggy recently made a claim for laminitis. Jess tells us more.

“I found out Tiggy was ill while I was on holiday, and the vets advised taking her to the equine hospital as soon as possible. It was extremely difficult to get her into the lorry; and on arrival, Tiggy was diagnosed with laminitis and had to undergo two blood transfusions. I was so worried; the vets gave her 48 hours to improve or she would have to be put to sleep.

“My experience with Petplan Equine was amazing. At such an awful time in my life they were wonderful to deal with and so caring towards Tiggy. She is doing wonderfully well and is now back in the show ring bringing home lots of rosettes!”


Jess and Tiggy are back out competing in the showing ring and bringing home rosettes.

Last word from the vets

Both Gil Riley MRCVS and Juliette Edmonds MRCVS agree that risk of these common conditions can be reduced by good management and awareness of the signs.

“A large proportion of cases can be reduced through weight management and fitness. Along with consistent feeding regimes, other appropriate practices such as teeth care and foot balance go a long way to preventing what could be a distressing situation with your horse,” explains Juliette.

“Regular varied exercise, turnout and good levels of forage are the key to keeping your horse healthy,” concludes Gil.

For more information please contact www.petplanequine.co.uk

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