11 ways your horse could be hurting | Living the Country Life

11 ways your horse could be hurting

A lot could go wrong if a horse is behaving suspiciously, which could mean they are experiencing early symptoms of a serious condition or disease. We've collected some basic information to help horse owners diagnose animals themselves.
  • West Nile

    What it looks like: It can range from general sickness, a fever, and some hardly noticeable twitching to staggering, not knowing where their legs are, and not being able to stand at all. 

    What it is: The virus carried by mosquitoes that is obtained by one in 10 horses. It can be deadly, but it can also present only mild symptoms. 

    What to do: If symptoms are apparent, discuss treatments that fit the symptoms with your veterinarian. Of horses that survive West Nile, 40% see lasting effects. Keep air flowing through barns and drain any standing  pools of water on the property if at all possible. 

    Date Published: February 12, 2014
    Date Updated: April 10, 2014
  • Strangles

    What it looks like: Initially a horse will not want to eat and won't feel well. Then the animal will run a high fever and have thick nasal discharge. Eventually, the lymph nodes (under the jaw) will swell, fill with pus, then rupture externally and drain. 

    What it is: A miserable disease caused by Streptococcus equi bacteria that normally attacks the lymph nodes and is easily spread by direct contact between horses. When an animal comes in contact with the bacteria, it may be 10 to 14 days until symptoms become apparent.

    What to do: Isolate the horse to prevent bacteria from infecting other animals! Depending on the horse's symptoms, a high fever would be treated with a medication, swollen glands can be heat-packed to rupture more quickly and relieve the animal, and extreme symptoms may require antibiotics.

    *There is a vaccine that can be given to animals, but it is not guaranteed to be 100% effective.

    Date Published: February 12, 2014
    Date Updated: April 10, 2014
  • Rain rot

    What it feels like: When you run your hand over your horse's back instead of feeling smooth it will feel crusty. 

    What it is: A contagious skin condition caused by bacteria that multiplied on skin that was moist for too long. When they find a break in the skin, they create a crusty infection in the form of scabs. Most infections are found on the back, but can be seen on the head, shoulders, and rump occasionally. 

    What to do:  Isolate the infected animal. Bath the horse once daily (depending on the condition and temperament) with a medicated, anti-bacterial shampoo for one to two weeks. The goal is to remove all scabs, so create a warm lather and let the shampoo soak into the coat to loosen crusts for 10 to 15 minutes. Usually the condition is treatable by the owner, alone, but severe cases may require antibiotics. 

    Date Published: February 12, 2014
    Date Updated: April 10, 2014
  • Tetanus

    What it looks like: The horse's muscles are stiff and it cannot relax. Sometimes lockjaw will occur and third eyelids could be closed. Legs will extend out, the tail may stick out from the body in an unnatural way, the horse may sweat profusely, extremely shallow breathing will occur, and the animal will be very excitable. Someone clapping could send the animal into a seizure.

    What it is: A deadly disease that is contracted by a bacteria that lives in soil. It enters horses through open wounds and produces a toxin that affects nerves and muscles.

    What to do: Vaccinate your animal. After the initial vaccination, it is recommended that animals get booster vaccinated annually. A horse with an open wound should get a booster shot if they haven't had one in the six months prior to the injury or surgery. If your horse has the symptoms, call your veterinarian. 80% of horses that contract tetanus do not survive it. 

    Date Published: February 12, 2014
    Date Updated: April 10, 2014
  • Hives

    What it looks like: Flat welts on the horse's body that are usually seen on the neck, trunk, and legs. They can be itchy, but not always.

    What it is: It's just the horse's body reacting to something like allergies, a temperature change, a strange stimulant on the skin, auto-immune diseases, or an antibiotic. 

    What to do: Monitor the animal and if the hives haven't gone away after 24 hours call the veterinarian. Normally, they go away on their own. There is a small chance that the animal's condition could be deadly if swelling of the neck affects breathing. 

    Date Published: February 12, 2014
    Date Updated: April 10, 2014
  • Tapeworm

    What it looks like: Horses will not look healthy and may experience GI upset and even colic. 

    What it is: Tapeworms are long, flat parasites that attach to horses intestines and cause trouble in large numbers. Any horse that eats hay or feeds in the pasture probably has tapeworms within them, but the owner's responsibility is to maintain the low numbers and not let tapeworms become a problem. 

    What to do: Treat horses with dewormer at the end of grazing season. Have your horse treated for tapeworm at least once a year and if you're living in a high risk area, consider treating them twice a year. 

    Date Published: February 12, 2014
    Date Updated: April 10, 2014
  • Fungal infections

    What it looks like: Topical infections will show up on the skin in the form of recognizable rashes, like ringworm, and in ulcerated lesions on the skin that will drain. Systematic infections are usually seen as pneumonia and is difficult to diagnose without diagnostic work.

    What it is: An infection that presents in the form of a skin fungus or is internal and appears as pneumonia.

    What to do: Many can be taken care of by giving horses baths with a topical wash or soap and water. To avoid spreading, make sure to wash off tack before switching from horse to horse. Clean sets with a bleach and water solution, regularly. 

    Date Published: February 12, 2014
    Date Updated: April 10, 2014
  • Respiratory influenza

    What it looks like: The horse will look like it aches all over and will have symptoms like a high fever, nasal discharge, a cough, and a loss of appetite (similar to what humans experience).

    What it is: It's the flu, but for horses! It's contagious and is spread through the little vapor droplets coughed up by horses. Fever and coughing lasts five to seven days. 

    What to do: Make sure the animal stays hydrated, keep the horse away from other horses to prevent it spreading, and give the horse a week of rest for each day it has a fever. If you work the horse too soon after sickness the animal can develop a repiratory issue similar to asthma. Medication can be used for excessively high fevers.

    *Vaccinate your horses each year starting when they are between six and 10 months old. 

    Date Published: February 12, 2014
    Date Updated: April 10, 2014
  • Hock lameness

    What it looks like: Horses that typically jump may refuse to or begin jumping toward one side or the other. Animals may not want to walk down hills or might try going down them sideways. Horses that are generally ready to go can be stiff and take a while to warm up. 

    What it is: A condition that begins as inflammation in the hock joints and progresses into a form of arthritis. Joints can become fused together if the condition is severe enough. 

    What to do: Joint medications are a common way of getting right to the area being affected. Giving the animal pain medication and extra rest is an option, as well as therapy with systematic joint medications. 


    Date Published: February 12, 2014
    Date Updated: April 10, 2014
  • Allergies

    What it looks like: A runny nose and cough are standard symptoms. In other cases, horses may not run as fast and have trouble recovering. Breathing is often an issue that can be recognized by heaving and significantly more abdominal movement as animals try to get air in and out of their bodies.

    What it is: Allergies are the body's reaction to something in their environment, just like the allergies people get. For horses, the cause of irritation is tricky to pinpoint, but hay, dust, bedding, pollen, and mold are all examples of common causes. 

    What to do: Remove the horse from the area that seems to be causing the symptoms. If being in the barn is causing coughing, put the horse outside. If a horse has a runny nose outside, bring them in the barn. 


    Date Published: February 12, 2014
    Date Updated: April 10, 2014
  • Worm infections

    What it looks like: If bad enough, horses will experience colic, diarrhea, and edema in the legs. Snotty nose, coughing, and a small fever could be seen in foals when roundworms are the cause. With pinworms, horses may be seen rubbing their behinds on poles. 

    What it is: When parasites get into the intestinal tract through grazing, they can cause major issues by laying eggs that mature within the body and affect major organs. Roundworm is dangerous to foals until they are about 18 months old and develop a form of immunity to them. Pinworms cause trouble in the rectum and small colon of a horse. 

    What to do: Take fecal samples to the veterinarian and get egg counts on the samples. With your veterinarian, determine the next best steps to healthy horses. 

    Date Published: February 12, 2014
    Date Updated: April 10, 2014

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