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The Most Common Health Problems in Horses

No matter how well you care for your beloved equine friend, your horse is bound to have health problems now and again. Today our  Albany vets share a few of the most common horse illnesses.

Common Horse Ailments To Watch For

You love your horse and want to do all you can to ensure that they stay healthy and feeling great throughout their lifetime. So it's important to know the signs of common horse health issues so that you can spot problems right away and provide the care your equine friend needs for a quick recovery. Below are a few of the most common health problems seen in horses:

Arthritis or Degenerative Joint Disease

Arthritis is an inflammation of the horse's joint or joints that leads to pain and stiffness. Typically arthritis develops after there has been damage to the bone or cartilage due to an injury or an infection. In the affected area, the damaged cartilage or bones of the joint become rough and lead to painful inflammation, swelling and restricted movement.

Signs of arthritis in horses may include visibly swollen or bulging joint capsule, joint may be warm to the touch, horse experiences pain when joint is flexed, signs of stiffness or lameness at walk or trot.

Arthritis can occur suddenly whereas degenerative joint disease (DJD) develops slowly over time and tends to happen in all animals. Sadly, once a horse develops arthritis or DJD there is no cure

Gastric Stomach Ulcers

Gastric ulcers are very common in race, show, and endurance horses, with approximately 50-90% of horses suffering from this stomach complaint at some point in their life. 

Signs that your horse is suffering from a gastric ulcer can include, attitude changes, reduced appetite, decreased performance, reluctance to train, weight loss, and poor appearance.

Horses with stomach ulcers are typically treated with omeprazole and most heal within a 4 week period.


Colic is one of the most common gastrointestinal problems occurring in horses. This painful abdominal condition can be caused by not having enough roughage in their diet or untreated dental issues. The severity of colic can vary greatly from a mild stomach ache to an intestinal twist requiring emergency surgery.

Some common signs of colic in horses include scraping at the ground, looking at their abdomen, restlessness, rolling, increased heart rate, and high temperature.

If you think that your horse could be suffering from colic contact your vet right away. If it's safe to do so, you may want to try walking your horse around the arena or paddock to try and help relieve their discomfort. Do not try to prevent your horse from getting down on the ground or rolling, and always remember that your safety comes first!


Laminitis is a very painful foot condition caused by inflammation of the laminae located under your horse's hoof. In severe cases, the horse's pedal bone in the hoof can penetrate the sole of the foot causing severe pain. Sadly, many animals with laminitis will need to be euthanased.

Typical symptoms related to this condition include lameness (worse on hard ground), horse leaning back on heels to relieve pain at front of hoof, restlessly shifting weight between feet, signs of pain when tested at the frog of the affected foot.

Contact your vet immediately if your horse or pony shows signs of laminitis, while waiting for your vet to arrive bring your horse into a stall with plenty of bedding to help relieve pressure on the hoof.

Back Problems

Back problems can develop if your horse pulls a muscle or ligament, or in some cases due to arthritis or a poorly fitted saddle.

If your horse is experiencing back pain you may notice reduced performance or behavioral problems such as stopping or bucking, signs of pain while you are grooming your horse, or resistance to being saddled.

A lameness evaluation is essential if you think that your horse is experiencing back pain so contact your vet right away. That said, an examination of your horse's back should be part of a routine soundness evaluation even if no symptoms of back pain have been apparent.


Like people, your horse can develop a cold leading to nasal discharge, cough, swollen lymph nodes, lethargy and fever. If your horse's fever is particularly high more severe symptoms may occur including a refusal to eat and dehydration.

If your horse is displaying cold-like symptoms contact your vet, and isolate your horse from others to try to prevent transmission.

Monitoring Your Horse's Health

Knowing your horse's normal behavior and monitoring their overall health regularly can help you to spot signs of illness quickly so that treatment can begin in the early stages of illness when it is most effective. That said, prevention is always better than treatment when possible so be sure to supply your equine friend with a nutritious diet, proper exercise, adequate rest, and regular checkups with your vet.

Always contact your vet as soon as possible if your horse or pony shows any behaviors or symptoms that give you cause for concern.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding horses or ponies. For an accurate diagnosis of your animal's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

At Dockery, Mobley & Associates Animal Hospital in Albany our vets care for all sorts of pets and large animals. If your horse is showing signs of illness contact our experienced vets right way to book an examination for your equine friend.

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Our veterinary team is currently welcoming new patients! Our doors are open to provide preventive care, surgery, boarding and more to new patients. Contact us to book your first appointment.

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