The National Equine Health Survey (NEHS), held annually every May, has confirmed for the second year that lameness is the most common syndrome affecting the UK’s horses and ponies. This year’s results have also revealed an apparent increase in laminitis compared with previous years.
Run annually by Blue Cross, in partnership with the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA), NEHS is sponsored by SPILLERS and Zoetis and supported by the UK’s leading equestrian organisations and charities.
This year’s results revealed that almost one in five (18.5%) horses were suffering with 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%.
NEHS 2014 has also highlighted that laminitis had a much higher prevalence than in previous years (7.1%) with 43% of these recorded as first episodes. Past NEHS results showed a lower number of horses affected by laminitis (4.4% overall prevalence of laminitis, with 25% first episodes, 2013) but further work is needed to confirm if this increase is representative of the total horse population in the UK.
Gemma Taylor, Education Officer at Blue Cross explains: “The increase in laminitis may be linked to the mild winter, extensive rainfall and consistently warm spring. These conditions were ideal for flushes of grass growth, known to be a trigger for the disease.”
The top five findings from the 2014 survey are:
- Lameness affected almost 1 in 5 horses (18.5% of returns 2014, 18.6% 2013; 13.8% 2010-2012). Most lameness was due to joint disease and other non-foot causes of lameness with foot lameness (not including laminitis) accounting for only a quarter of all lameness.
- Laminitis had a higher prevalence than in previous years (7.1%) with 43% of these recorded as first episodes and 67% as recurrent episodes. This contrasts with the 2013 NEHS data of 4.4% (25% first occurrences and 75% recurrent episodes).
- Skin disease was recorded in 18.3% of cases (14.6% 2013,15.2% 2010-2012). Sarcoids were again a prevalent tumour (5.6% 2014; 2.8% 2013; 3.25% in NEHS 2010-12), reinforcing previous NEHS surveys and the published data.
- Overweight horses or ponies were recorded in 16.9% of cases (7.8% 2013, 7.5% 2010 – 2012) with most horses (79%) being recorded as ideal/normal weight and 4% recorded as being underweight. New data was obtained on weight monitoring. 59% or respondents said that they assess weight regularly, with 85% using weigh tapes.
- Respiratory disease was reported by 7.1% of respondents (5% 2013; 5% 2010-2012). The majority of horses (96%) were affected by allergic respiratory disease (6.9%; 4.2% 2103; 3.6% 2010-12), which was more frequently recorded than infectious respiratory disease at 0.3 (0.3% 2013, 0.5% 2010-12).
In response to an increase in reports of Atypical Myopathy in the UK, a question on this frequently fatal disease was included in this year’s survey. 13 veterinary-confirmed cases were reported. Josh Slater from the Royal Veterinary College, who is member of BEVA’s Health & Medicines Committee and analysed the data, explained: “We are keen to continue to collect information on the prevalence of Atypical Myopathy through the survey. The number of cases of this disease that occur each year are not known and although NEHS has provided a snapshot we need to capture data from a much larger number of horses to know how common this disease truly is across the UK as whole.”
Participation in NEHS has increased significantly this year. Data was collected from 11,002 horses, ponies, donkeys and mules across the UK, representing an increase of more than double last year’s figure of 4,730. The majority of horses reported (88%) were kept either in livery yards or private yards, with only 0.7% kept by equine welfare charities.
Josh 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.”