Lapsed vaccinations in horses and ponies have become worryingly commonplace in Britain, the Blue Cross says.
The charity says it is concerned that lapsed vaccinations are leaving animals vulnerable to debilitating and, in some cases, fatal diseases.
The charity is calling on British horse owners to take part in the online National Equine Health Survey, from May 5-11, to help build an accurate picture of the trend.
Last year, 65 per cent of horses and ponies taken in by the Blue Cross were either unvaccinated for influenza and tetanus or had lapsed vaccinations, which is an 11 per cent increase from 2011.
While the problem is common (82 per cent) in welfare cases, over half (54 per cent) of horses and ponies being signed over by their owners were also at risk.
The situation prompted the charity to add a question about vaccinations to the survey, which opens on Sunday.
The quick, easy and anonymous online snapshot survey records common health issues in horses, directly from horse owners themselves.
Results help build a picture of British horse health, and will assist in defining priorities for future research, training and education.
The charity’s education officer, Gemma Taylor, said: “Feedback suggests that some people genuinely don’t understand that vaccinations need to be done every year and if their vet doesn’t send them a reminder they completely forget.
“If the survey indicates that, in line with Blue Cross figures, lapsed vaccinations are widespread, we hope that we will be able to raise awareness of the potential health risks and work with vets and other experts on a strategy to help turn around this worrying trend.”
Blue Cross runs the survey in partnership with the British Equine Veterinary Association and survey data is interpreted by the Royal Veterinary College.
Emily Pearson, an equine practice vet at the college, explains: “Tetanus is a horrendous, often fatal, disease that can be contracted through even the smallest nick in the skin. It is preventable with a simple vaccination programme, which I therefore feel is a must for all horses, ponies and donkeys.
“Our aim with NEHS is to reach a level of endemic disease surveillance not currently achieved in any European country, but we still have some way to go and need horse owners help us.
“We are appealing to every horse owner to spare just five minutes to complete the survey so we can continue to build valuable knowledge to help improve the future health of our nation’s horses.”
Supporters of the survey include the British Horse Society, British Riding Clubs, the Pony Club and the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment.