Common Diseases In Horses

Horses are magnificent creatures, beloved by many for their beauty, strength, and companionship. Like all animals, they are susceptible to a range of diseases that can impact their health and well-being. In this article, we will explore the ten most common diseases in horses, including:

  1. colic
  2. laminitis
  3. equine influenza
  4. equine herpesvirus
  5. strangles
  6. equine gastric ulcers
  7. equine infectious anemia
  8. West Nile virus
  9. Potomac horse fever
  10. equine protozoal myeloencephalitis

We will delve into how these diseases are spread, the symptoms to look out for, methods of diagnosis and treatment, as well as crucial preventative measures that horse owners can take to protect their equine companions. Understanding these diseases is essential for any horse owner, and by the end of this article, you will have a comprehensive knowledge of how to safeguard the health of your horses.

Key Takeaways:

  • Colic, laminitis, and equine influenza are among the most common diseases in horses.
  • These diseases can be spread through various means, such as contact with infected horses and contaminated feed or water.
  • Signs of these diseases may include fever, loss of appetite, weight loss, and difficulty breathing.

What are the Most Common Diseases in Horses?

What are the Most Common Diseases in Horses? - Common Diseases In Horses

Credits: Horselife.Org – Edward Wilson

Horses are susceptible to various diseases and conditions that can significantly impact their health and well-being.


Colic is a prevalent and potentially life-threatening condition in horses, characterized by abdominal discomfort and pain.

Colic can have various causes, including gastrointestinal issues, impactions, and gas accumulation in the intestines. Horses experiencing colic may exhibit symptoms such as restlessness, pawing at the ground, rolling, and reduced or absent bowel movements. The severity of colic can range from mild discomfort to a critical condition requiring immediate veterinary intervention.

Diagnostic measures such as physical examination, abdominal palpation, and diagnostic imaging, including ultrasound and radiography, are utilized to identify the underlying cause and determine the appropriate treatment.


Laminitis, also known as founder, is an inflammatory condition affecting the sensitive laminae within a horse’s hooves, leading to severe pain and lameness.

This condition can occur due to various factors such as overeating, obesity, excessive grain consumption, trauma, or systemic illness. Clinical signs of laminitis include increased digital pulses, shifting weight between the front and hind limbs, reluctance to move, and a characteristic stance to alleviate the pressure on the affected hooves.

Veterinary treatment often involves pain management, anti-inflammatory medication, and corrective shoeing to alleviate pressure on the affected hooves. Supportive care, including soft bedding and regular hoof trimming, is crucial for managing the condition. Additionally, prevention measures, such as controlled grazing, balanced diet, and regular exercise, play a significant role in mitigating the risk of laminitis in horses.

Equine Influenza

Equine influenza is a highly contagious respiratory disease in horses, characterized by fever, nasal discharge, and coughing.

The disease is caused by the equine influenza virus, primarily transmitted through the respiratory route via aerosolized droplets from infected horses. Once a horse inhales the virus, it quickly replicates in the respiratory tract, leading to the clinical symptoms mentioned.

Vaccination is the primary method for preventing equine influenza in horses. Equine influenza vaccines, administered by skilled veterinarians, are beneficial in reducing the severity and duration of the disease, ultimately preventing outbreaks within equestrian communities.

Upon diagnosis, appropriate quarantine measures and supportive veterinary care are imperative to manage and control the spread of the disease effectively.

Equine Herpesvirus

Equine Herpesvirus (EHV) infection can manifest as respiratory disease, abortion, or neurological disorders in horses, posing significant health risks.

Respiratory symptoms of EHV commonly include fever, nasal discharge, and coughing, indicating an upper respiratory tract infection. Reproductive implications are often observed in mares, leading to abortion or the birth of weak foals. Neurological complications, known as Equine Herpesvirus Myeloencephalopathy (EHM), can result in ataxia, paralysis, and even death, presenting a severe threat to affected horses.

Veterinary interventions typically involve supportive care, antiviral medications, and quarantine measures to control the spread of the virus. Management strategies include vaccination protocols, biosecurity measures, and minimizing stress to reduce the risk of EHV infection.


Strangles is a contagious and invasive bacterial infection in horses, characterized by abscess formation in the lymph nodes of the head and neck.

Caused by the bacterium Streptococcus equi, Strangles is highly contagious and primarily spreads through direct contact between infected and healthy horses. The infection’s pathogenesis involves the bacteria colonizing the upper respiratory tract, leading to the formation of abscesses in the lymph nodes, resulting in symptoms such as fever, nasal discharge, and difficulty swallowing. Clinical signs may vary from mild to severe, and the disease can have significant impacts on equine welfare and performance.

Equine Gastric Ulcers

Equine Gastric Ulcers Syndrome (EGUS) is a prevalent condition in horses, affecting the stomach lining and causing discomfort and performance issues.

Clinical signs typically include changes in appetite, weight loss, recurrent colic, and poor coat condition. Diagnosis often involves gastroscopy to visualize the ulcers directly. Treatment may involve proton pump inhibitors, which reduce stomach acid production, or sucralfate to coat and protect the ulcerated mucosa. Veterinary management may also include management of stress and dietary considerations, such as providing frequent access to forage and minimizing high-starch concentrate feeds to promote gastric health.

Equine Infectious Anemia

Equine Infectious Anemia (EIA), also known as swamp fever, is a viral disease that poses significant biosecurity risks and requires stringent testing and monitoring.

EIA is primarily transmitted through blood-feeding insects such as horseflies, mosquitoes, and ticks. Clinical manifestations can vary from mild anemia and lethargy to severe weight loss, fever, and even death. It’s crucial for equine owners to conduct Coggins testing as it’s the most reliable method for detecting EIA antibodies. Veterinary certification for healthy horses is essential to prevent the spread of this contagious disease, ensuring the safety and well-being of the equine population.

West Nile Virus

West Nile Virus (WNV) can cause neurological disease and encephalomyelitis in horses, posing significant health threats and requiring preventive measures.

The impact of West Nile Virus on equine health is profound. Affected horses may exhibit clinical symptoms such as fever, weakness, ataxia, and muscle fasciculation, often progressing to more severe signs of neurological impairment. Equine vaccination against WNV has become an essential preventive practice, with vaccines playing a crucial role in minimizing the risk of infection and subsequent disease development.

Vector control strategies, including environmental management and mosquito control measures, are imperative for reducing the incidence of West Nile Virus in equine populations, safeguarding the well-being of these animals.

Potomac Horse Fever

Potomac Horse Fever is an acute and potentially fatal disease in horses, characterized by fever, diarrhea, and colic, warranting immediate veterinary attention.

The clinical manifestations of this disease include depression, anorexia, and laminitis, posing significant challenges for horse owners and caretakers. The causative agent, Neorickettsia risticii, is transmitted through ingestion of infected aquatic insects or contaminated water sources, leading to intestinal inflammation and endotoxemia. Complications may arise, such as severe dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, and septicemia, requiring aggressive fluid therapy and supportive care. Treatment involves antimicrobials, anti-inflammatory medications, and close monitoring of vital signs to manage systemic inflammation and prevent further complications.

Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis

Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis (EPM) is a neurological disease in horses, caused by protozoal infection, leading to ataxia and neurological deficits.

The most common causative agent of EPM is Sarcocystis neurona, although Neospora hughesi has also been implicated.

Clinical signs of EPM can vary widely and may include muscle atrophy, weakness, gait abnormalities, and asymmetrical muscle loss.

Diagnosis often involves a combination of neurological examination, serum and cerebrospinal fluid analysis, and advanced imaging techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT).

Treatment options typically include oral anti-protozoal medications such as pyrimethamine and sulfadiazine, which are often combined with supportive care, physical therapy, and management strategies to address specific deficits.

How Are These Diseases Spread?

How Are These Diseases Spread? - Common Diseases In Horses

Credits: Horselife.Org – Ryan Johnson

The spread of equine diseases occurs through various modes of transmission, including direct contact, vectors such as insects, and environmental contamination.

What Are the Symptoms of These Diseases?

Equine diseases manifest through a range of clinical symptoms and signs, reflecting the diverse nature of health issues that horses may encounter.

How Are These Diseases Diagnosed and Treated?

The diagnosis and treatment of equine diseases require comprehensive veterinary assessments, diagnostic tests, and tailored therapeutic interventions to address specific health conditions in horses.

How Can Horse Owners Prevent These Diseases?

Preventing equine diseases involves diligent biosecurity measures, vaccination protocols, and effective management practices to safeguard the health and well-being of horses.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some common diseases in horses?

Some common diseases in horses include colic, laminitis, respiratory infections, equine influenza, and West Nile virus.

What is colic in horses?

Colic is a general term used to describe abdominal pain in horses. It can be caused by various factors such as dietary changes, parasites, and intestinal blockages.

What are the symptoms of laminitis in horses?

The symptoms of laminitis in horses include lameness, reluctance to move, increased digital pulse, heat in the hooves, and a stretched stance.

Can respiratory infections in horses be prevented?

Yes, respiratory infections in horses can be prevented by practicing good biosecurity measures, providing proper ventilation and hygiene in the barn, and keeping up with routine vaccinations.

What is equine influenza and how is it treated?

Equine influenza is a highly contagious viral respiratory disease in horses. It is usually treated with rest, supportive care, and antibiotics to prevent secondary bacterial infections.

How can I protect my horse from West Nile virus?

The best way to protect your horse from West Nile virus is to have them vaccinated annually. You can also reduce the risk of exposure by removing standing water and keeping your horse indoors during peak mosquito activity.

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