Limb lameness, as opposed to foot lameness, is the biggest syndrome affecting horses says NEHS survey

Everybody is familiar with the old adage “no foot, no horse,” but the results of the latest British National Equine Health Survey (NEHS) suggest that lameness is three times more likely to be caused by conditions in the limb rather than problems in the foot.

The results are consistent with previous NEHS survey findings, showing evidence rather than opinion is now being generated by report, helping owners and experts to understand and improve the health of the country’s 944,000 horses.

The Blue Cross runs NEHS in May each year, in partnership with the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA). It is sponsored by SPILLERS and Zoetis and supported by the U.K.’s leading equestrian organizations and charities. This year saw a 35% increase in participation compared to 2014, with survey records returned for almost 15,000 horses, ponies, donkeys, and mules.

The horse’s foot is fundamental to soundness and performance, but NEHS results have shown consistently that limb lameness, as opposed to foot lameness, is in fact the biggest syndrome affecting horses. In the latest survey, conducted in May, 18% of equids were recorded as lame. Of those, 13.5% were recorded as suffering from lameness associated with osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease (13.9% in 2014 and 14.8% in 2013). Meanwhile foot lameness was recorded in 4.5% of returns, a similar figure to previous years.

“NEHS is now producing important evidence that is replacing subjective opinion,” said Josh Slater, BVSc, BVM&S, PhD, Dipl. ECEIM, MRCVS, of the Royal Veterinary College and a member of BEVA’s Health and Medicines Committee. “While the lameness figures were initially surprising, given that the foot has been generally regarded as the main problem area, the fact that these figures have remained consistent over the past three years gives constructive credibility to the data. Our findings will help owner vigilance with day-to-day healthcare as well as help prioritize on areas for future veterinary education and research.”

The six most notable disease syndromes identified in the 2015 National Equine Health Survey are consistent with findings over previous years and include:

1. Lameness 18%, with 13.5% having limb lameness such as osteoarthritis, not relating to the foot, compared to 14.8% in 2014, 14.8% in 2013, and 9.3% in 2010-12; 4.5% of these horses had foot lameness compared to 4.6% in 2014, 3.8% in 2013, and 4.5% in 2010-12.

2. Skin diseases 17.2% (sweet itch, mud fever, and external parasites), compared to 18.3% in 2014, 14.6% in 2013, and 15.2% in 2010-12.

3. Back problems 7%, compared to 7.7% in 2014, 5% in 2013, and 3% in 2010-12.

4. Recurrent airway obstruction 6.7% (the most frequently recorded respiratory problem), compared to 6.9% in 2014, 4.2% in 2013, and 3.6% in 2010-12.

5. Laminitis 6.4%, compared to 7.1% in 2014, 4.4% in 2013, and 3.6% in 2010-12.

6. PPID (pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction, or equine Cushing’s disease) 6.4% confirmed or suspected, compared to 5.6% in 2014, possibly reflecting increased surveillance through sponsored testing programs as opposed to true increases in prevalence from the pre-2014 surveys.

Additionally, 23.2% of horses were reported as being overweight with a body condition score of 3.5 to 5 (on a 5-point scale), continuing the upward trend seen in previous years (16.9% in 2014 and 7.8% in 2013). Next year’s survey will explore links between obesity and the possible associated rise of obesity-related diseases such as equine metabolic syndrome (which was reported in 2.4% of 2015 returns) and laminitis.

The survey also enables participants to report on any health problems not covered in the survey questions, giving them a chance to shape future survey subjects.

“This year 11% of our free text answers mentioned gastric ulcers giving a valuable insight into the prevalence gastric ulcer syndrome in the principally leisure horse NEHS population,” said Gemma Taylor, education officer at Blue Cross, said. “As a result we will be adding new questions to the 2016 survey to help us find out more.”


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