• Owner Information Sheets

    Abdominal and Thoracic Ultrasound

    Ultrasound is a non-invasive diagnostic technique that uses high frequency sound waves to image soft tissue structures in the body. The sound waves are translated into a black and white picture. With this technique it is therefore possible from the outside to investigate several disease processes in organs that are in the belly and the chest of the horse. Evaluation usually includes assessment of the location and size of an organ and changes in its tissue structure. In addition, in several organs (e.g. heart and kidney) blood flow can be visualised in a coloured picture using a technique called colour-Doppler ultrasound. Ultrasound can be used as an aid to pinpoint the location and depth of biopsy sites and needles.

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    Equine Abortions

    Most mares that conceive remain healthy throughout pregnancy and foal normally when expected, but, unfortunately, a few mares will lose their foal either early or late in pregnancy. Early embryonic loss occurs relatively commonly in the first couple of months of pregnancy, usually because the embryo is not developing correctly or the uterus (womb) is not as healthy as it should be. Older foetuses may be aborted by the mare for a number of reasons (see causes). If the foetus is less than five months of age, it may be fully resorbed by the uterus so there is no external evidence of this miscarriage. Over five months of age, the foal will be expelled by the mare, along with the placenta and associated fluids. If this occurs outside, it may go unnoticed, as it can be a relatively 'clean' process and the foetus may be removed by wildlife.

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    Acorns are poisonous to horses. This is because they contain toxic substances called Gallic Acid and Tannic Acid. These acids can cause liver, kidney and intestinal damage to horses eating acorns, oak leaves or branches. Acorn poisoning is rare but can be a particular problem in the autumn for horses allowed to graze near oak trees.

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    Acupuncture involves the insertion of very narrow solid needles into the body with the purpose of modifying disease and providing pain relief. Acupuncture needles stimulate nerves in skin and muscle and increase the body’s release of natural painkillers - endorphins and serotonin. These chemicals act in the pain pathways of both the brain and spinal cord which can result in exceptional pain relief.

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    Advanced Dentistry

    All horses should receive routine dental care at least once a year to prevent sharp enamel points forming which can cause trauma to the soft tissues of the mouth.

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    Horses are not usually aggressive; on the whole herds stay together because they form a hierarchy within the group, allowing them to get on well with each other. When a horse shows aggression, it is generally as a result of a perceived threat from either the environment in which it finds itself or in response to a noxious stimulus from within the animal itself, for example an animal in pain.

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    Allergic Skin Disease

    An allergic reaction is the excessive response of an individual’s immune system to something that would be relatively harmless to most animals of the same species. The ‘allergen’ is the substance causing the reaction. The most common example in horses in sweet itch, but allergies can also be caused by a number of other factors. Diagnosis of the cause can be difficult, making prevention tricky.

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    Where possible in an equine patient, investigation and treatment is carried out under sedation or local anaesthesia, but general anaesthesia is necessary in order to carry out certain procedures painlessly, safely and effectively. Some short operations can be undertaken in a stable or field but many types of surgery require hospital or clinic facilities.

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    Angular Limb Deformity

    Angular limb deformities (ALDs), often referred to as bent legs, are a relatively common condition, most frequently affecting new born or relatively young, growing foals during the first few months of life

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    Arthritis is a disorder of the joints, characterised by the degeneration and loss of the cartilage covering the joint surface and the development of new bone on joint surfaces and margins.

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    Arthroscopy (Keyhole surgery)

    Arthroscopy (commonly known as keyhole surgery) has been available since the 1980s for the treatment of joint injuries in humans, horses and occasionally dogs. The procedure allows the examination and treatment of many joint and tendon canal injuries whilst causing minimal trauma during the procedure itself. Patients generally recover relatively quickly following keyhole surgery with little scarring and low risks of wound complications.

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    Atypical Myopathy

    Atypical or sycamore myopathy is an uncommon, sudden onset, severe muscle disease, which is rapidly fatal in about 75% of cases. This disease is seen most commonly in the autumn, in horses and ponies kept at pasture and is associated with the ingestion of sycamore seeds. It should not be confused with exertional rhabdomyolysis (ERM) commonly known as tying up which is a relatively common muscle condition occurring during or shortly after exercise.

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    Blood testing

    Analysis of blood has long been a standard part of the investigation of a large number of illnesses, diseases and injuries. The number of available tests, along with their accuracy, is continuously expanding, as researchers and laboratories endeavour to make ever greater use of blood testing as a diagnostic tool. The procedure is generally very safe and well-tolerated by most horses and the results can yield important information about the health of a patient. Along with aiding in the diagnosis of disease, blood testing has a number of other uses, as described below.

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    Bog Spavin

    Bog spavin is fluid distension of the high mobility joint in the hock called the tibiotarsal or tarsocrural joint. The swelling can be seen and felt at the two superficial outpouchings of the joint capsule; at the front towards the inside and on the outside just below and infront of the point of hock. If one swelling is compressed this usually causes the other swelling to enlarge temporarily and vice versa. Bog spavin can occur in one or both hind legs.

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    Breeding your own foal from a beloved mare can be immensely rewarding, but remember that it is a long term project requiring a lot of commitment in terms of time, energy and money.

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    This is a condition that affects the frog of the foot. It used to be seen primarily in heavy horses, but we now see it in all breeds.

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    Caring for the Older Horse

    The life span of our horses is increasing: - approximately 29% of the UK horse population are older than 15 years of age; - many older horses continue to have a useful working life and still participate in regular athletic activity; - a recent study showed that older horses received less preventive health care measures, such as vaccination, farriery and routine veterinary care, when in fact they often need an increased level of care in these areas.

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    Care of the Pregnant Mare

    The pregnant mare needs special management considerations in order to optimise the chance of the successful delivery of a healthy foal.

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    Choke is a relatively common condition seen in horses and ponies and is typically caused by obstruction of the oesophagus (food pipe) with food; occasionally a foreign body can be involved e.g. wood or plastic. Fortunately many cases of choke resolve quickly and spontaneously and only cases in which the obstruction lasts for longer than 30 minutes are likely to require veterinary assistance. It is important to note that this is not the same as the life-threatening condition in humans, where the term “choke” refers to blockage of the windpipe rather than the oesophagus. This difference means that unlike humans, horses with choke can still breathe.

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    Colic simply means 'pain in the abdomen' and therefore has many different causes. It may be serious or even life-threatening, but most horses with colic recover fully and uneventfully.

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    A corn is a bruise that forms between the sensitive and insensitive layers of the sole of the foot. The most common site affected is known as the 'seat of corn' which is located between the hoof bar and wall, near the heel.

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    Cushings (PPID)

    Equine Cushing’s is now termed PPID (Pars Pituitary Intermedia Dysfunction). This means that an area of the pituitary gland at the base of the brain overproduces several hormones. This results in raised ACTH1 which circulates in the blood to the adrenal glands and causes excess cortisol (a steroid hormone) to be produced. It is a gradual age-related change so primarily affects ponies and horses over 15 years of age but recent studies have shown it to be evident in some 10-15 year olds. A significant proportion of horses with laminitis have PPID.

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    Dealing with a disease outbreak

    When an infectious disease such as 'Strangles' is suspected; people often hope there is a less serious cause and carry on as normal to avoid any associated panic. If you are unlucky enough to have an infectious disease, ignoring the problem in the early stages will only increase the number of horses affected and prolong the length of time the yard is affected.

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    Disease risks from abroad

    With increasing movement of horses worldwide and climate warming, diseases which are common in tropical and subtropical countries can be found travelling north; demonstrated by the recent outbreaks of Bluetongue and Schmallenberg disease in the British farm population. The threat of a devastating disease like African horse sickness entering the UK and killing a large proportion of the horse population is so real that the government has already put regulations in place for managing a possible outbreak. The risk of the entry of a new equine disease into the UK has the potential to not only cause welfare issues and equine deaths but the possibility of large scale disruption of equine events and activities of the scale seen in the foot and mouth outbreak of 2001. Horse owners and veterinarians should be vigilant and keep exotic diseases in their mind when dealing with a sick animal or sudden unexplained death. It is imperative that these situations are recognised in the earliest possible stage and appropriate biosecurity measures are put into place to minimise spread.

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    Donkeys are not small horses, and their natural environment is not the temperate conditions of the UK but a more semi-desert like environment where food is scarce and of a poorer quality. In the UK donkeys live a pasture lifestyle, and many of the clinical problems which arise are the result of too much food and not enough exercise. These are problems which are exacerbated as a donkey reaches old age. Donkeys frequently live into their thirties, so are a long term undertaking and need regular veterinary and dental care throughout their lives.

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    Endoscopes are instruments which can be used to look inside a horse’s body. They are long, tubular, and generally flexible. They have a light and a camera at their far end. The tip is manipulated by dials on a hand piece. Your vet will be able to view the image either through an eyepiece, or on a computer screen. Endoscopes have many uses in equine practice, but the most common endoscopes are between one and 1.5 metres in length and are used to view the horse’s respiratory tract.

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    Epistaxis is a clinical term which simply means nose bleeds. This may be from one or both nostrils and can originate anywhere in the respiratory system – from the nose and sinuses to the lungs.

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    Equine Herpesvirus

    There are three main types of herpes virus in horses:
    Equine herpesvirus 1 (EHV-1); which causes respiratory disease and also occasionally abortions and neurological disease.
    Equine herpesvirus 4 (EHV-4); causes respiratory disease (generally mild).
    Equine herpesvirus 3 (EHV-3); which is less commonly seen but may cause venereal disease in breeding mares and stallions.

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    Equine Infectious Anaemia (EIA)

    Equine Infectious Anaemia (EIA) also called 'swamp fever' is a viral disease transmitted from infected to non-infected horses by biting flies e.g. horse flies and via infected blood and blood products including contaminated needles and syringes. The disease is not currently in the UK but is circulating in Europe in particular Italy and Romania. There was a significant outbreak of EIA in Ireland in 2006 following the introduction of the virus in imported blood products. More recently in England in 2010 and 2012 cases were identified in horses that had been imported previously.

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    Equine Viral Arteritis (EVA)

    Equine Viral Arteritis (EVA) is caused by equine arteritis virus. The virus occurs worldwide. Infection can be transmitted between horses during mating or teasing, via infected semen used in artificial insemination, by contact with aborted foetuses or placentas or via the respiratory route.

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    The decision to euthanase a horse may be the most difficult faced by an owner. In addition to the emotional stress, the situation is further complicated by the practical arrangements necessary. While the decision can never be made easy, considering the options available in advance can help to prevent further distress both during, and after the procedure. It can be useful to leave a plan of your arrangements with your yard owner or temporary carer, so that if you are unavailable in an emergency situation, your wishes can still be respected.

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    Eye Injury

    Horses' eyes are easily damaged as their position on the head means they are at risk when the horse grazes near hedges or brushes past trees.

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    Foot Abscess

    Also known as pus in the foot, this condition is very commonly seen in horses, ponies and donkeys. Foot abscesses are generally very painful with a sudden onset. They result from a localised bacterial infection developing inside the hoof wall or under the sole, which typically develops after a penetrating injury through the sole, or by tracking up the white line (the seam between the sole and the hoof wall). Recurrent abscesses at the same location can reflect either the presence of a deep seated unresolved infection, a foot tumour called a keratoma, infection of the pedal bone within the foot or chronic laminitis.

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    Foot Wounds

    Penetrating foot wounds in horses are relatively common, most usually caused by stepping on a nail, but any sharp object could cause significant damage.

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    Fractures can occur as a result of stress due to repeated forces exerted over time, or from an immediate impact which can occur with a kick or a fall.

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    First Aid Management of Wounds

    Wounds are very common injuries in equines and it is vital for the horse owner to be able to evaluate the severity of a cut. Some wounds can be managed without veterinary assistance but many will require professional attention. It may be possible to provide important first aid before the vet arrives. Innocuous-looking wounds can be the most dangerous, so if you are in any doubt as to the significance of a wound it is best to contact your vet for advice.

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    Gastric Ulcers

    Equine gastric ulcer syndrome (EGUS) describes the erosion of the horse's stomach lining due to prolonged or excessive exposure to acid produced by the stomach. Any horse can suffer from gastric ulceration, from elite performance horses to pleasure horses and ponies.

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    Grass Sickness

    Equine grass sickness (EGS) has been recognised in this country since the early 1900’s. It is found in countries around the world but is most common in the UK. It does not affect humans and is not contagious i.e. it is not passed from horse to horse. Disease occurrence around the UK varies, being more common in the drier eastern counties and in Scotland. The incidence peaks in the spring and early summer. There are three forms of EGS: Acute, Sub-acute and Chronic. All are very serious and usually fatal. Occasionally, with good nursing and specialist care, chronic cases can recover.

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    Horse Passports

    All horses, ponies, donkeys, zebras and their crosses must have an equine passport. The only exceptions are listed wild and semi wild ponies in designated areas of Dartmoor, Exmoor and the New Forest.

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    Recurrent airway obstruction (RAO) is a common cause of coughing, nasal discharge and poor performance in many stabled horses. Whilst several therapies exist, the use of inhaled drugs plays an important role in the long term treatment of affected horses.

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    Insurance is a vital part of responsible horse ownership. Not only can it provide cover for vet’s fees in case your horse becomes ill or injured, but it can also cover against third party liability, loss of use, mortality and personal accident. As with car insurance, there are numerous insurance companies providing cover for you and your horse. There are also different levels of cover, from the companion animal to international eventers and show-jumpers, covering all different types and levels of athletic ability.

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    irap® (interleukin receptor antagonist protein) is a natural anti-inflammatory product that can be used to treat a variety of joint injuries. irap® is produced from your horse's own blood and injected into the affected joint to treat inflammation and lameness and to encourage joint healing.

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    Joint supplements

    Over the past two decades, joint supplements have been increasingly used in an attempt to both treat and prevent joint injury and degeneration. There is now an extensive range of products available for use as a daily in feed supplement. There is a lack of good evidence regarding their efficacy; that may be due in part to the large variations between the concentration, and quality, of the ingredients between products. It appears that joint supplements may benefit some patients but not others.

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    A keratoma is a type of benign tumour that grows inside the foot. It originates from the horn producing cells, usually underneath the coronet, and grows down the foot with the normal hoof.

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    Laminitis, in its simplest form, is inflammation of the sensitive layers (laminae) of the hoof resulting in pain, inflammation and, in some cases, permanent damage to the laminae.

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    Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

    MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) is an imaging technique that involves placing the horse within a strong magnetic field. Radio waves are applied to the area to be examined and the signal produced is analysed by a computer to produce an image. The high tissue contrast achieved allows assessment of cartilage, ligament, tendons, joint capsule and bone; all on one image. MRI can image deep inside structures and in three dimensions so changes can be found that may not be seen using other imaging e.g. x-ray. MRI is most commonly used for lameness investigations.

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    Nail Bind

    Nail Bind is a term used to describe the condition where a nail has been driven too close to the sensitive laminae in the horse's foot.

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    Navicular Syndrome

    Navicular syndrome describes a condition where pain arises from the navicular bone in the foot and the surrounding soft tissue structures. It is a common cause of forelimb lameness in horses. Poor foot conformation (especially long toes and low heels) predisposes the horse to developing navicular syndrome as extra biomechanical strain is placed on the heel area.

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    Newborn Foal

    After eleven months of waiting, when your bundle of joy finally arrives; it is worth knowing some facts about the newborn foal, especially about the first few hours of life.

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    Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs

    Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are probably some of the most widely used drugs used in both human and equine medicine. They act to reduce pain by inhibiting the inflammatory pathways after injury. Common NSAIDs used in human medicine include aspirin, paracetamol and ibuprofen. NSAIDs used in equine medicine include phenylbutazone (bute), meloxicam, suxibuzone and flunixin.

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    There has been a lot of media attention regarding human obesity and it is no surprise that being overweight is not good for horses or ponies either. Overweight horses are seen far too often and despite efforts being made in the showing world by judges and exhibitors, it continues to be a big problem throughout the horse population in this country. Obesity in horses and ponies can be a serious welfare problem; there is a greatly increased risk of equine metabolic syndrome (EMS) which commonly leads to laminitis.

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    Other Vaccinations

    Horses are most commonly vaccinated against influenza and tetanus (see 'Vaccinations against influenza and tetanus' factsheet.) This fact sheet concentrates on other vaccinations of the horse, namely; equine herpesvirus (EHV), equine rotavirus, equine viral arteritis (EVA) and strangles.

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    Pastern Dermatitis

    Pastern dermatitis means inflammation of the skin of the pastern between the fetlock and the hoof. It is a description of a clinical appearance rather than a specific diagnosis. There are a large number of causes of pastern dermatitis. Effective treatment will depend on accurate diagnosis of the inciting factors, although this can be difficult as the skin inflammation may look fairly similar irrespective of the cause.

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    Principles of Biosecurity

    Biosecurity is a set of management practices that reduces the potential for the introduction or spread of disease-causing agents. Setting up a yard plan and maintaining good biosecurity practices will: - help prevent the introduction and spread of contagious diseases such as equine influenza and Strangles; - assist in keeping the horses healthy and performing well; - help prevent unnecessary disruption to equine activities and the operation of an equine business and the considerable associated costs.

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    Psyllium Fibre

    Psyllium fibre is a digestive supplement for horses. Made from psyllium seed husks, it absorbs water in the intestine, forming a gel like substance which picks up sand and dirt. For this reason it is often given to horses after an episode of sand colic.

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    Radiographs - x-rays are taken by the veterinary surgeon to assist in diagnosing conditions relating to both the skeleton and soft tissues of the horse.

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    Ragwort Poisoning

    Ragwort is a very common plant with yellow flowers. It is often seen growing on rough land and on the roadside verges. It can also be found on pasture, particularly on overgrazed and 'starvation' paddocks.

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    Rain Scald

    Rain scald is a condition generally found during autumn and winter months and affects the skin of the horse, usually on the back and flanks.

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    Recurrent Airway Obstruction

    Recurrent airway obstruction (RAO) is an environmentally induced, non-infectious, non-contagious inflammatory airway disease of horses. The disease was previously termed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or broken wind and is also known as 'heaves' or 'equine asthma'. It occurs when a horse develops an allergy to inhaled fungal spores.

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    Reproductive Ultrasound

    Ultrasound imaging has been commonly used to assist with equine reproduction for over thirty years. Advances in technology and image quality have meant that high quality, portable imaging is affordable to most veterinary practices. Ultrasound is relatively non-invasive and can be performed in many horses without sedation especially where stocks are available to provide restraint. It is most commonly used for assessing the reproductive tract prior to breeding or in mares with behavioural problems and for the detection and monitoring of the progress of pregnancy.

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    The Rig

    A rig is an entire male horse with no signs of external testicles so appears to be a gelding; but one or two testicles are still present, producing testosterone. A rig behaves like a stallion and, potentially, may be fertile. Their behaviour is unpredictable and they can be dangerous to handle so they should be castrated. Some geldings still show stallion-like behaviour despite being fully castrated; they are called “false rigs”. The only form of treatment in these cases is behavioural therapy.

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    Ringworm is a highly contagious fungal infection of the skin. It is spread either directly from horse to horse by contact, or indirectly via tack, grooming aids, infected rugs or clothing. Other species in particular cattle can also be a source of infection. Good hygiene is essential to control the spread of infection. The spores can survive in the environment so once one case is seen on a yard other cases often appear. The incubation period is 4-30 days so by the time a horse shows symptoms the disease may have spread to other horses on the yard.

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    Routine Dentistry

    Dentistry is an essential and important part of the health care of your horse. Your horse's teeth should be examined at least once a year. In some individuals, particularly for those with dental abnormalities, dental work may be required more frequently.

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    Routine standing castration

    Castration involves the surgical removal of both testicles. This is carried out to prevent unwanted breeding and behaviour associated with some stallions.

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    Sheath Care for Geldings

    The sheath of a gelding or stallion protects the penis when it is not extruded for urination or breeding. A wax-like substance called smegma is produced by the inside of the sheath to help to maintain healthy skin in this area and to make it easier for the penis to be extruded or withdrawn.

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    The equine veterinary surgeon investigating causes of poor performance, lameness and back problems has a number of tools available, including thorough clinical examination, local anaesthetic nerve blocks, radiography (x-ray), ultrasound, MRI, CT and bone scanning. A bone scan makes use of low level radiation, injected into the patient, which then concentrates in areas of inflammation within the body. The patient is scanned a couple of hours after injection with a large camera, which detects the radiation being emitted from the body. Where there is inflammation, there is more radiation, so the camera detects a “hot spot”. Bone scanning is most useful for injuries or disease of bones, joints, teeth and some ligament injuries.

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    Shockwave Therapy

    Extra-corporeal shockwave therapy (ESWT) provides a non-invasive approach to the treatment of musculoskeletal disorders in the horse. Shockwaves are energy-laden sound waves which are directed at the affected area and trigger the body's own repair and healing mechanisms.

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    The lateral cartilages of the hoof are found on either side of the foot protruding above the level of the coronary band. They act to support the hoof wall and provide an important role in cushioning the heel during weight bearing. The term 'sidebone' describes a condition where calcium deposits are laid down within the lateral cartilages, in a process called mineralisation.

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    Strangles is a very common but unpleasant bacterial disease that can affect horses, ponies and even donkeys. Signs vary between individuals and can range from very mild to dramatic in appearance. The disease is caused by bacteria called Streptococcus equi subspecies equi (Strep. equi) and is highly contagious being spread by direct contact with infected discharges or with contaminated clothing or equipment. Horses can be silent carriers of the bacteria displaying no outward signs but being capable of infecting others.

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    Surgical Colic

    Colic is a term used to describe a range of conditions associated with the gastrointestinal tract which present as abdominal pain. Colic can be classified into three general categories, including: Medical colic, false colic and surgical colic. Medical colic can be treated conservatively using drug therapies and other non-surgical means, without resorting to surgery. False colic refers to conditions which can appear similar to abdominal discomfort, but are conditions outside of the abdomen (e.g. tying up and laminitis). Surgical colic refers to those cases of colic which require surgical correction under general anaesthesia. This fact sheet will focus on surgical colic.

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    Sweet Itch

    Sweet Itch is a hypersensitivity reaction to the bite of the midge which produces skin irritation that leads to rubbing, scratching and biting of affected areas, resulting in hair loss and skin damage.

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    Tetanus or 'lockjaw' is an acute, usually fatal disease caused by a bacterium Clostridium tetani found in soil. Infection occurs via a wound or after surgery, when the bacteria invade and produce a toxin called tetanospasmin which damages the nervous system.

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    Tie-back and Hobday Surgery

    A Tie-back and a Hobday are surgical procedures commonly performed together as treatment for recurrent laryngeal neuropathy (RLN), a condition causing paralysis of the nerve supplying the muscles of the larynx. This is the most common cause of abnormal respiratory noise in exercising horses and is often referred to as ‘whistling’ or ‘roaring’. It almost exclusively occurs in large horses, primarily Thoroughbreds and Warmbloods.

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    Ultrasound imaging has been used in equine veterinary practice since the mid 1980s. The original equipment was primarily used to examine the tendons and ligaments along the back of the cannon bone, a common site of injury.

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    Urticaria is one of the most commonly encountered skin diseases in horses. It is an allergic reaction manifested in the appearance of soft raised skin nodules or plaques.

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    Vaccinations against Influenza and Tetanus

    Vaccinations protect your horse against life-threatening diseases such as tetanus, and diseases that can severely affect their health and performance, such as equine influenza (flu).

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    White Line

    The white line is seen on the underside of the foot. It is where the unpigmented horn of the inner hoof wall joins the horn of the sole.

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    Wolf Teeth

    Wolf teeth are small peglike teeth that sit just in front of the first cheek teeth of horses. They have no function and if present are normally found in the maxilla (upper jaw), although mandibular (lower jaw) wolf teeth are found very occasionally.

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    Worming and Pasture Management

    Why do we need to worm? Worms in excessive numbers cause many gastrointestinal problems in horses, ponies and donkeys. A combination of pasture management, worm egg counts (WECs) and targeted worming will ensure that these worm burdens are kept to a healthy level and minimise the risk of disease.

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