“If you want a stable friendship, get a horse.” The unknown author speaks for all people who share their lives with horses. Although generally hardy animals, the horse is a lot of animal to care for. Many common health problems, if not diagnosed and treated early, can quickly result in large medical bills and worse, the loss of a horses life.

Often the first clue to the existence of a potential illness or injury is abnormal behavior. Here are four of the most common health problems in horses, ways to spot them early, and effective prevention or treatment methods.

1) Laminitis

Banning Vet Horse with Laminitis

Laminitis is an inflammation inside the hooves caused by the build up of toxins. The bones inside the hoof sustain structural damage causing severe pain and if left untreated, lameness. Laminitis is usually seen in the front hooves but often in all four. While numerous causes exist, the overeating of grain or grass with insufficient exercise is commonly to blame. Trauma, hormonal disorders, exposure to fertilizers and herbicides, and riding on hard surfaces like asphalt can also be factors.

Look for:

  • Lying down more than normal.
  • Arching back to put more weight on hind legs.
  • Hooves are hot to the touch.

To do:

  • Seek veterinary attention immediately.
  • Cold packs, anti-inflammatory drugs, and/or corrective shoeing.
  • Remove grain feed.
  • Spray horse’s legs with cold water or stand him in a pool of cold water.
  • Keep horse confined to limit movement.

2) Colic

Banning Vet Horse with Colic

The most common cause of horse deaths, colic is a catchall phrase for abdominal pain ranging from minor to severe. Colic can be caused by gas, sand, or a blockage in the intestines, parasites, and spoiled feed. Repeated episodes can damage the intestinal tract and cause it to twist, leading to death without surgical intervention. Seek veterinary attention at the first sign of colic.

Look for:

  • Lethargy, loss of appetite, anxiety, or depression.
  • Constipation or infrequent bowel movements.
  • Biting at the stomach, nipping at the sides.
  • Pacing, pawing the ground, stretching the legs out from the body.
  • Getting up and down often, frequent rolling.
  • Excessive sweating, elevated heart rate.

To Do:

  • Walk the horse to stimulate the intestines to pass gas or move the obstruction.
  • Deworm regularly.
  • Keep feed off the ground to keep sand out; wet feed for easier digestion.

3) Parasites

Banning Vet Horse with External Parasites

Horses will inevitably be exposed to a large number of parasites. Because heavy internal parasitism can be a contributor to colic, it’s important to reduce the exposure as much as possible.

Internal parasites are worms that live in the horse’s intestines.

To Do:

  • Deworm regularly, including for pinworms, and keep stalls free of manure.

External parasites are organisms like ticks, lice, and worms that attach to a horse’s skin and feed on the blood.

Look for:

  • Rubbing skin against objects to scratch.
  • Hair loss.

To do:

  • Comb ticks out of mane and tail.
  • Bathe thoroughly.
  • Call veterinarian if lice are suspected.

4) Strangles

Banning Vet Horse with Strangles

Strangles is a highly contagious respiratory infection caused by bacteria. Young horses are especially vulnerable. The infection is spread between horses through shared materials like stalls, feed troughs, and human hands. Strangles can lead to serious complications, including pneumonia and heart disease.

Look for:

  • Loss of appetite and fever.
  • White or yellow nasal discharge.
  • Swollen, abscessed lymph nodes under the jaws.

To do:

  • Vaccinate yearly.
  • Minimize exposure to strange horses.



Banning Veterinary Hospital understands that horses are part of the family. We have a group of three experienced, on-staff doctors that are experts in treating large animals. They come straight to your home, making the treatment more convenient and comfortable for you and your horse.

Banning Vet Horse Anatomy


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