A survey which provides an annual snapshot of British horse health has identified a surge in reports of laminitis.
The latest National Equine Health Survey, conducted in May, found that 7.15 percent of horses had suffered a bout of laminitis in the previous year, with 43 percent of them recorded as first episodes.
This contrasts with the 2013 survey data, which showed that 4.4 percent had suffered laminitis, with 25 percent listed as first occurrences.
Further work is needed to confirm if this increase is representative of the total horse population in Britain.
“The increase in laminitis may be linked to the mild winter, extensive rainfall and consistently warm spring,” said Gemma Taylor, education officer with the charity Blue Cross, which runs the survey in partnership with the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA).
“These conditions were ideal for flushes of grass growth, known to be a trigger for the disease.”
However, lameness remains the key health problem for British horses, the results reveal.
This year’s results revealed that nearly one in five horses – 18.5 percent – suffered during the year from lameness due to joint disease or other non-foot related problems. The results are consistent with last year’s non-foot related lameness figure of 18.6 percent.
Lameness was found to have affected 13.8 percent of horses in the 2010-2012 surveys.
Foot lameness, excluding laminitis, accounted for only a quarter of all lameness.
Skin disease was recorded in 18.3 percent of cases (14.6 percent in 2013 and 15.2 percent in 2010-2012).
Sarcoids were again a prevalent tumour, at 5.6 percent in the latest survey, compared to 2.8 percent the year before.
Overweight horses or ponies were recorded by their owners in 16.9 percent of cases, compared with 7.8 percent in 2013 and 7.5 percent in 2010–2012, with most horses – 79 percent – being recorded as ideal/normal weight and 4 percent as underweight.
New data was obtained on weight monitoring, with 59 percent of respondents saying that they assessed weight regularly, with 85 percent using weigh tapes.
Respiratory disease was reported by 7.1 percent of respondents, compared with 5 percent in all previous surveys. The great majority of these, 96 percent, were affected by allergic respiratory disease. Infectious respiratory disease was reported in 0.3 percent of horses – a similar prevalence to previous surveys.
This year’s survey included a question on Atypical Myopathy. Thirteen cases confirmed by veterinarians were reported.
Josh Slater from the Royal Veterinary College, who is member of BEVA’s Health and Medicines Committee and analysed the data, said: “We are keen to continue to collect information on the prevalence of Atypical Myopathy through the survey.”
He said the number of cases of the disease that occurred each year was not known and although the survey provided a snapshot, information was needed on a much larger number of horses to accurately gauge its prevalence.
Participation in the survey increased significantly this year. Information was collected from 11,002 horses, ponies, donkeys and mules across Britain, representing an increase of more than double last year’s figure of 4730.
The majority of horses reported (88 percent) were kept either in livery yards or private yards, with only 0.7 percent kept by equine welfare charities.
Slater commented: “Year on year we are building a unique database on the health and disease status of the UK equine population that will allow health benchmarking across the equine industry.
“The annual surveys have shown consistent trends and already challenged some established dogma on disease prevalence, for example laminitis, and validated much of the accepted veterinary opinion, for example on lameness and colic.”
The survey is sponsored by nutrition firm Spillers and animal health company Zoetis. It is supported by Britain’s leading equestrian organisations and charities.