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Equine Advice

  • Acute Eye Pain
  • Colic
  • Routine Dentistry
  • Euthanasia
  • General Anaesthetic
  • Equine Metabolic Syndrome
  • Mud Fever
  • Nail Bind
  • Care of the New-born Foal
  • Pain management and Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory drugs
  • The Pre-Purchase Examination
  • Strangles EAB
  • Sweet Itch
  • Equine Asthma (EA)

Acute Eye Pain

Acute Eye Pain

Horses have large, prominent eyes positioned so they can almost see 360 degrees around them. Ideal for ‘flight’ animals.

While that’s the perfect design to help keep them safe from predators, it does have its flaws. Injuries are relatively common in horses and ponies because of their inquisitive nature, their tendency to panic and arguments with stables, doors and pasture-mates. Their eyes are fragile and prone to injury and disease which can, if left unattended, destroy their vision. Eye injuries should always be treated as a true emergency.

What To Look Out For?

Every time you visit your horse look out for:

  • Obvious cuts, grazes and abrasions 
  • A watery eye
  • A partially closed or fully closed eye
  • Discharge
  • An inflamed, red eye
  • Eyelashes pointing lower than normal
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Excessive blinking or squinting
  • A change to the colour of the cornea
  • Swelling around the eye
  • Rubbing of the eye on the inside of the knee or on other objects
  • One eye being a different size

Most issues will generally only be present in one eye.

If your horse seems to have any of these signs, it is imperative you speak to your vet straight away.

Minor injuries and infections can soon turn into something much more serious if left to ‘heal by themselves’ and not treated correctly.

Common Causes of Eye Pain

It could be something as simple as some dust in the eye that has caused a bit of irritation – you know how painful it is when you get something in your eye? It could, however, be something a bit more sinister. Your vet will be able to diagnose the issue after examining your horse and advise you what the best course of action is.

The most common problems causing eye pain are: 

  • Trauma (to the eyelids, skin, bony sockets or to the eye itself)
  • Foreign bodies
  • Corneal ulcer
  • Inflammation or infection of the globe (uveitis)
  • Inflammation or infection of the cornea (keratitis)
  • Glaucoma (increased pressure inside the eye)

As soon as you realise there is an eye issue, move your horse to a dark stable or barn to help with sensitivity to light, help keep them calm and give us a call.

Examination of the Eye

Your vet will need to examine your horse somewhere dark, using specialised ophthalmic equipment.

You’ll need to restrain your horse properly so it can’t do any further damage, while you wait for the vet and while your horse is being examined. Sometimes sedation or anaesthetic may be needed for a thorough examination of a painful eye. The vet may use special drops to dilate the pupil or dyes as part of the examination.

What Are The Treatments?

The most common issues like conjunctivitis and corneal ulcers can be treated with prescribed eye drops or creams. Don’t be tempted to use any leftover medication you may have from a previous vet visit for an eye problem – you may end up causing more damage and discomfort for your horse.

Wounds etc. will need stitching by your vet. Aftercare appointments are incredibly important to make sure any wounds or issues heal properly and don’t develop into something worse.

Easy to find foreign bodies may just need flushing out. The vet will do this and then check that no damage has been caused by the foreign object.

More complex cases may need hospitalisation or, in rare cases, surgery.

Some horses are really good at having eye treatments administered but, if the eye is really sore, your horse might find it all a bit too painful and stressful. In these cases, the vet will place a special tube under the eyelid to help administer the medication. The tube will be removed when the course of treatment is finished.

Reducing the Risks

You’ll never be able to guarantee no injuries to your horse’s eyes but you can reduce the risk.

At least once per season, check the areas that your horse frequents. Think about potential hazards in the stable and field. Look out for broken items, hooks, nails etc. Check your trailer for the same hazards.

Check fencing and any trees in the field for anything that could potentially cause injury.

If your horse likes to think the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, give him something special in his field to graze on that is better. Use something safe to fill in the gaps between the fence struts – electrical tape or rope works well.

Keep an eye on weeds in the field, especially spiky ones. Make sure any prickly bushes are kept under control.

Protect your horse from insects with specialised insect repellent and a fly mask. (The fly mask has the added benefit of restricting some UV rays too.) Make sure you clear the field of manure and muck out regularly to help keep the flies down.



What is Colic?

Colic is a term that really just means abdominal pain, which mostly comes from the gastrointestinal
tract. Occasionally, the pain can be caused by problems in the urinary tract or reproductive organs.
Some forms of colic are mild and go away very quickly with very little intervention. Other forms are far more
serious and can be life-threatening so, speaking to your vet as soon as possible is incredibly important. They
will be able to diagnose whether the pain your horse is experiencing is mild and will resolve quickly or if the
situation is more serious.

How Do You Know It’s Colic?

No two cases of colic are the same and there
is a large variety of signs to look out for:

  • Restlessness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Flank watching
  • Rolling
  • Pawing at the ground
  • Lying flat out
  • Curling top lip
  • Sweating
  • Dog sitting
  • Belly kicking
  • Tooth grinding
  • Increased breathing rate
  • Stretching

You know your horse best so, if you notice he/she is displaying any of these signs, call your vet immediately for a consult.

Types of Colic

  • Spasmodic Colic

This is when the bowel contracts in an abnormal way, creating spasms (cramps) that cause pain. This is the most common type of colic.

  • Impaction Colic

This type of colic is an obstruction of the bowel and is also fairly common. It can generally be cleared easily with fluids and electrolytes. On rare occasions, if very severe, surgery may be needed.

  • Displacement/Strangulation and Torsion Colic

The early stages of this type can look like spasmodic or impaction colic but is much more serious. Sections of the bowel can get out of position and, in some cases, become strangulated or twisted.

Some forms of colic are mild and go away very quickly with very little intervention. Other forms are far more serious and can be life-threatening so, speaking to your vet as soon as possible.

How Does the Vet Diagnose?

It is really important to get a diagnosis as quickly as possible. Your vet will take a full history of your horse, including age, previous colic history, last time he/she passed dung etc. Next the vet will physically examine your horse. This may include rectal examination, listening to stomach sounds, manipulation, a stomach tube, fluid samples and ultrasounds.

A thorough examination will help the vet determine which kind of colic it is and what course of treatment.

What is the Treatment?

Depending on which type of colic your horse has, your vet will recommend the best treatment. This may be pain killers, fluids and electrolytes, but could also be surgery. Your vet will help you make the right decision for
your horse. Due to the seriousness of colic, it is really important to call your vet back if there is not a good and rapid response to the treatment.

Can Colic Be Prevented?

You can never completely prevent your horse from getting colic. Even the best managed horses can be
effected. Good health management can help reduce the risk though.

  • Good dental health
  • A good worming programme
  • A fibre-rich diet
  • Avoiding sudden changes in diet
  • Avoiding sudden management changes

We can help you keep on top of these. Give us a call for a chat about good health management.

Routine Dentistry

Routine Dentistry

Just like humans, horses require regular dental checks and treatment throughout their lives. We recommend 6-12 monthly checks of your horse’s mouth depending on their age, dental anatomy and if they have had dental issues in the past.

When should dental checks start

Dental checks should start in a younghorse at about 3 years old. Horses have 36 deciduous ‘baby’ teeth that are lost between the ages of 1.5 years and 4.5 years, so it is a good idea to ask us to check their erupting
teeth to make sure there are no problems developing.

Sometimes the baby teeth can become stuck above the teeth below so, occasionally, these will need taking out. It’s best to start dental checks when your horse is young to get them used to the instruments and what happens, rather than wait until there is an issue and your horse’s mouth is already sore. Give us a call to book in for a dental exam.

Wolf Teeth

Wolf teeth are present in around 40% of horses and it is debatable whether or not these should be removed. It depends on where in the mouth they are situated, if they will be prone to fracture, as well as on
the owner’s personal preference. We are more than happy to discuss this with you and, if needed or desired, will remove these teeth under sedation with pain relief.

It is vital to have your horse’s teeth checked to ensure no sharp enamel points have developed and are not causing any oral pain.

Horse’s teeth erupt continuously throughout their lives and are worn down by the normal action of chewing.

A normal, natural diet for a horse would include rough long fibre. The chewing of this type of material is different to the diet we often feed our horses who are in work or being ridden. Hard feed and soft hay or haylage do not require the same chewing forces and so, wear of the horse’s teeth can be different to how it would occur in the wild.

By placing a bit in the horse’s mouth and asking them to work, we are placing different pressures on their mouth than would happen naturally. This can affect the rate of wear on their teeth and create dental problems that need sorting quickly, so as not to cause further, more serious issues.

These are all good reasons for making sure your horse has regular dental checks with rasping and correction of sharp enamel points and overgrowths.

Give us a call to book in for a dental exam.

What is normal?

A normal adult horse’s mouth is made up of 4 arcades of 6 teeth, 3 of these 6 teeth are premolars and 3 are molars. These teeth act as a single grinding unit. They should be tightly grouped together and come into direct contact with the opposite arcade in the mouth.

If there are extra teeth in any arcade or missing teeth, then the tooth may not have an opposing tooth to grind against. This can lead to dental overgrowths. Teeth can also fracture or come out of alignment which can also lead to dental overgrowths.

Sharp enamel points occur normally within a horse’s mouth. Most significantly, on the outside (buccal) edges of the upper arcade in the mouth and the inside (lingual) aspect of the lower arcades. This is because the horse maxilla (upper jaw) is wider than their mandible (lower jaw).

Horses naturally have a curve in their dental arcade which can prevent normal chewing. This can cause oral pain, dental issues, weight loss and other symptoms.

A horse’s age can be estimated from the incisor (front teeth) once they are over 7 years old. The accuracy of ageing a horse as they get older becomes less accurate. Horses over 15 years old cannot be accurately aged.

Many different types of dental problems can occur within the mouth, some of these such as diastema (gaps between the teeth where food becomes trapped causing gum disease, recession, infection and decay can be very painful for the horse. Because horses are prey animals, they naturally hide symptoms of pain. Sometimes, it is only by examination of the mouth that we are able to identify these conditions and treat them appropriately.

What to expect

Dental examinations should be performed with a dental speculum (a gag), a head torch and a mirror; other tools can be used to be able to see what is going on in the horse’s mouth, such as an oroscope and x-ray. Some horses are very tolerant of dental treatment and investigation, other are not so accommodating and may need sedation. We will be able to help you decide whether your horse needs sedation or not.

Dental rasping can be performed with hand rasps or with electric rasps, both methods are suitable for dental treatment. However, more and more vets are now using electric dental equipment. We would always advise that you use a vet or qualified equine dental technician to perform your horse’s dental work.

If you are worried about your horse’s teeth, or want to get started with regular dental exams, give us a call to make an appointment.



Euthanasia of your horse can be a difficult and emotional decision to make. You’re likely to need to take some time with the decision.

In horses that are unwell for a prolonged period, or horses of advanced age, euthanasia can be the kindest option for our beloved pets. It enables them to die without prolonged pain or suffering and gives them dignity in death, as well as offering you peace of mind that you have done the right thing for your pet.

Your vet will always be happy to discuss this decision with you. When it’s not an emergency situation, it is a
decision that has to be made by you and your vet will only advise and support your decision, rather than making
the decision for you. However, in emergency situations, euthanasia may be a necessary course of action.

There are other support services available. The BHS, for example, offer a ‘friend at the end’ service in which a
trained individual can discuss your options with you and help support your decision.

Methods of Euthanasia

Euthanasia by Injection

Euthanasia can by performed by injection. The product that is used is called somulose and horses will often be sedated first to ensure they stay calm throughout the procedure. Sometimes, the vet will then place a catheter in the jugular (neck vein) of the horse. Some vets will inject the solution directly from a needle. Either method is acceptable and it is up to the individual vet.

Somulose is injected slowly, usually while the horse is held by you or someone you nominate. Once the injection has been completed, the vet will take charge of your horse, holding them until they fall to the floor. The injection is an anaesthetic and the horse will initially become unconscious as the anaesthetic works on their brain.

Once asleep the second part of the injection acts on the horse’s heart causing it to stop. Sometimes this can take a few minutes, but the horse remains asleep and peaceful and is completely unaware of what is happening. This method of euthanasia allows the owner to be present if they want  to be, it is not stressful for the animal at all and allows a peaceful death with dignity and calm.

Euthanasia by shooting

Euthanasia can be done by a vet who has a gun or by another licensed person, such as a fallen stock collection service. It is imperative that this is done by a professional to ensure it is humane and problem free. This method is used for horses who are excessively needle phobic or if the owner wishes the carcass to be used by a hunt kennels for meat. Death is instantaneous and some owners like the immediacy of this option.

In horses that are unwell for a prolonged period, or horses of advanced age, euthanasia can be the kindest option for our beloved pets.

Disposal Options

Cremation – This can be arranged with a local fallen stock collection service. Most of these services offer an individual cremation, enabling owners to keep their ashes in a casket or box or to have the ability to scatter them as they wish. Normal cremation will dispose of the body without the option to have the ashes returned.

Hunt Kennels or Local Zoo - If the animal is shot and not injected with lethal injection then they can be used to feed hounds or zoo animals. If the owner wishes for this option, it is best to organise this prior to the euthanasia.

Burial - Horses who are considered to be pets can be buried on privately owned land, this is not the case for animals in a business situation such as a riding school. Horses should also not be buried near to water courses. Because of legal restrictions on burial options, cremation is probably now the more usual option.

Making this decision takes a lot of thought and soul searching. Give us a call to talk it through and find out what the options are. We would be happy to help you reach the decision that is right for you and your horse.

General Anaesthetic

General Anaesthetic

Knowing your horse needs a general anaesthetic for an emergency or elective surgery can be a real worry.

General anaesthetic is not used without good reason. If sedation or local anaesthetic can be used instead, your
vet will always go down that route. But if general anaesthetic is the only option, what can you expect?

Before Surgery

Your vet will explain the procedure thatyour horse needs. The pros, cons and risks will be explained to you so you have as much information as possible to put your mind at rest. If there is anything you don’t understand, please do ask.

To help reduce the risk of complications during surgery, your horse will be starved from the evening before – much like in humans before an operation. A clinical examination on the day will also be done to make sure your horse is well enough to undergo the procedure and the anaesthetic.

To make administering the anaesthetic, fluids and any other drugs as easy as possible during the surgery, an intravenous catheter will be placed into one of your horse’s veins.

Your horse’s shoes will be removed to make sure it doesn’t hurt itself in recovery. Tail and feet bandages will be put on for cleanliness.

Risks of Anaesthetic

As there is with humans, there are risks if your horse needs general anaesthetic. Risk statistics from CEPEF say death because of general anaesthetic is less than 1%. Your vet will discuss any risks and answer any questions before the surgery so you are fully informed.

Where Will The Surgery Take Place?

It’s always best for surgery that requires general anaesthetic to take place in a surgical facility. There will be a clean room (theatre), padded operating tables and monitoring equipment to keep a close eye on your horse during the procedure. All of this helps reduce the risk of complications and infections.

For some very minor procedures, the surgery is performed in outdoor or indoor arenas or fields. These areas are not ideal as they are not ‘clean’ areas. However, circumstances and procedures sometimes mean this is the best option at the time.

The pros, cons and risks will be explained to you so you have as much information as possible to put your mind at rest.

During Surgery

The anaesthetic will be given to your horse so it falls asleep. Once asleep, your horse will be moved from the anaesthetic induction box to the theatre where anaesthetic gasses will help keep your horse asleep and comfortable.

Your horse will be monitored using machines that continually record blood pressure, heart rate and oxygen and carbon dioxide levels. Your horse will be as safe as possible, with everything being monitored by a member of the team during surgery.

In Recovery

Your horse will be taken to a recovery room after the surgery to come round from the anaesthetic properly. This is normally a specially designed, padded room so your horse is safe while waking up.

Once your horse is steady on its feet, it will be taken back to the stable and given food and water around an hour later. You will be contacted as soon as your horse is up and about.

If your horse is staying at the vets after surgery, the team will contact you each morning with a progress report and to let you know how things are going.

General anaesthetic is never used without good reason if there are other options available. If you have any questions about general anaesthetic and what to expect, give us a call.

Equine Metabolic Syndrome

Equine Metabolic Syndrome

Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) describes a common syndrome of obesity. It can also mean that a horse suffering with EMS has more chance of suffering with laminitis. The condition has some similarities with human metabolic syndrome and Type II diabetes.

Insulin Dysregulation

The key and central feature of EMS is Insulin Dysregulation (ID). This is a reduction in the normal response to Insulin (often previously known as Insulin Resistance). ID is used to show imbalance on insulin, glucose and lipids (fats) in the blood.

Persistently high levels of Insulin (hyperinsulinaemia) induce laminitis, although the reasons for this are not yet fully understood.


Obesity is no longer seen as the sole cause of EMS but it is a contributing factor that can exacerbate ID. This may be in the form of an overweight horse or one which has excessive fat in abnormal areas.


Some horses may have a genetic predisposition and certain breeds have been recognised as being at a greater risk for EMS such as Welsh, Dartmoor and Shetland ponies and Morgan, Arabian and Warmblood horses.


A presumptive diagnosis can be made from the appearance of an overweight horse and laminitis. However to confirm EMS, ID must be identified. There are several ways that this can be tested and may include taking blood as a one off test, or carrying out further dynamic tests.

Your vet may take a blood test to look at basal resting levels of insulin, glucose and adiponectin. However, resting levels of insulin can be normal in some horses with EMS and so it may be necessary to carry out a dynamic test. This often involves feeding a sugary syrup to your horse (KaroLight) and then the vet taking a blood sample 60 to 90 minutes later.

Tests may also be taken to rule out equine Cushing’s disease – correctly known as Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction (PPID).

Restrict diet and increase exercise. Not only does progressive weight loss improve insulin regulation but exercise also improves insulin sensitivity.

EMS, Equine Cushing’s (PPID) or Both?

EMS is often confused with equine Cushing’s (PPID). The two diseases have different causes but both may result in Insulin Dysregulation and Laminitis. To complicate matters, these two diseases can co-exist with some horses having both EMS and PPID.

Generally, EMS affects younger or middle aged horses. Although PPID generally affects older horses, any over 10 years of age with suspected EMS should also be tested for PPID.

Prevention and Treatment

Treatment is quite simple – Restrict diet and increase exercise. Not only does progressive weight loss improve
insulin regulation but exercise also improves insulin sensitivity. Unfortunately, if your horse is suffering from acute laminitis then this will limit the amount of exercise, if any, they can do.

A safe reduction in body mass is required:

  • An ideal target for weight loss in obese horses is between 0.5% and 1.0% Body Mass (BM) losses weekly.
  • This may be achieved with a forage-based ration totalling 1.4%-1.7% BM as fed, or in exceptional cases that appear weight loss resistant, as little as 1.15% BM as fed.
  • Forage with NSC <10% is recommended.
  • Soaking hay reduces the glycaemic and insulinaemic responses when fed to both normal and ID ponies. Soak for a minimum of 1 to 2 hours.
  • Ensuring your horse is getting enough protein, vitamins, and minerals is important via a ration balancer supplement.

Medical management

Metformin may be prescribed to help with weight loss. It would usually only be prescribed for a maximum of 3 to 4 months- whilst the horse is undergoing a weight loss programme.

Ultimately EMS is a disease induced by dietary and management factors and can be prevented by appropriate diet and exercise. Give us a call for a chat if you are worried that your horse may be overweight.

If you are worried about your horse’s weight or want to talk about weight management, give us a call for advice.

Mud Fever

Mud Fever

Mud fever covers a wide range of skin reactions and is caused by dermatophilus congolensis. This is an infectious agent that loves wet, muddy ground, hence the name Mud Fever.

It causes inflamed scabby areas on the heels and pastern. The condition is more common on the hind legs and,
although it affects all horses and ponies, it is more prevalent in the feathered breeds.

What does it look like?

  • Skin becomes red and sore
  • Progression to wet weeping areas with scabs forming and matting of the hair
  • Superficial infection with pus forming under scabs will often develop
  • Thickening of the skin over time which, when chronic, may split and produce painful cracks
  • May develop general leg swelling following deeper infection, or even lymphangitis

How does it happen?

Skin irritation, and breakdown of the skin’s natural integrity due to:

  • Constantly wet/ damp conditions
  • Unsanitary deep bedding
  • Excessive washing of affected areas with inadequate drying
  • Use of irritant chemicals or antiseptics
  • Allowing feathers to be constantly damp
  • Irritant school surfaces
  • White skin tends to be more frequently affected
  • Some more complicated cases may be due to an auto-immune condition

Once the natural immunity of the skin is broken down superficial bacteria, fungi and yeasts colonise the damaged areas of skin. A superficial infection can cause a progression to erosions and ulcers with serum oozing from the skin surface, which then causes further damage to the skin.

Mud fever affects all horses and ponies, but is more prevalent in the feathered breeds.

What is the treatment?

If you catch it early enough, removing the cause and using simple skin soothing ointments might help to resolve the problem. However, if the area is oozing serum, if swelling or lameness is present, if your horse will not allow the areas to be touched or if the problem becomes persistent give your vet a call for advice.

The area should be kept dry. This could mean stabling your horse. It may be necessary to clip and remove feathers or overlying hair mats to get access to the damaged skin. If a superficial infection is present it may require:

  • Sparing use of antiseptic washes (with thorough drying afterwards)
  • Ointments containing antiseptic or corticosteroid
  • Delicate removal of loose scabs may be recommended
  • Occasionally, antibiotics or anti-inflammatories may be prescribed by your vet

Early diagnosis and treatment is really important. If it is allowed to become chronic, mud fever can be really difficult to resolve, especially once skin thickening and scarring has occurred.

How can Mud Rash be prevented?

  • Do not allow the lower legs to be constantly wet
  • Brush off light mud as soon as it is dry
  • Wash off heavier mud, but make sure you dry the area thoroughly afterwards and watch out for clay based soils
  • Check your horse’s legs regularly, especially the pasterns and heels
  • Remove feathers if contributing to the skin irritation, but they may also protect the skin
  • When using ointments, make sure you treat the skin surface, don’t allow them to stick bedding and mud into hair matted with scabs
  • Sparing use of lanolin or oils rubbed into the skin can improve natural waterproofing

A superficial infection can cause a progression to erosions and ulcers with serum oozing from the skin surface, which then causes further damage to the skin.

Catching mud fever early is important to stop further complications. Give us a call if you are worried about your horse and mud fever.

Nail Bind

Nail Bind

If your horse appears to be lame after being shod, it could be due to nail bind, where a nail holding the shoe on has been driven in too close to the sensitive parts of your horse’s foot.

How does it happen?

Horse shoes generally have to be nailed onto the foot. The nails used are designed to bend so that, although they enter the foot close to the white line (between the hoof wall and sole), the bend takes the nail away from the sensitive parts of the foot and allows it to exit further up the hoof wall. Despite the skill of the farrier there will be occasions when a nail is inserted which creates pressure on the deeper layers of the hoof wall.

Why does this happen?

In most instances this will be an unfortunate coincidence. In others it may be because the farrier is working under difficult circumstances. Perhaps your horse is unhappy being shod and pulling the foot away during nailing of the shoe. This could be down to behavioural issues or your horse may be lame on another leg and too sore to lift the foot for long. The hoof wall might be excessively broken due to poor horn quality or perhaps the last shoe was ripped off. These circumstances may make it hard for the farrier to find a place to put the new nail that he or she is truly happy with and has to nail higher than normal.

What are the signs?

In some instances your horse will be lame immediately and the farrier will refit the shoe. More usually, lameness is noticed in the days following your horse being shod, perhaps up to 8 or 9 days later. The foot may seem hot and an increased digital pulse may be detectable. When the vet or farrier examines the foot there will usually be pain using hoof testers or when tapping one nail or one area of the hoof wall.

An early diagnosis will minimise the damage, so give your vet a call if you suspect nail bind.

What is the treatment?

An early diagnosis will minimise the damage, so give your vet a call if you suspect nail bind. The lameness will only resolve if the nail or shoe is removed and the inflammation is reduced. Your vet may also prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce the inflammation and discomfort more quickly. Tubbing or poulticing the foot might be recommended.

Lameness will normally resolve quickly and it may disappear once the offending nail is removed. Sometimes it might take a few days for everything to settle down and for your horse to be more comfortable.

Occasionally, if the nail has allowed penetration a little deeper into the sensitive tissues of the foot, infection may have been introduced and this will require an area of horn to be exposed so that pus can be released. Your vet will be able to advise you if this is the case.

In some instances your horse will be lame immediately and the farrier will refit the shoe. More usually, lameness is noticed in the days following your horse being shod, perhaps up to 8 or 9 days later.

How can it be prevented?

In many instances, nail bind is an unlucky accident and can’t be prevented. However, if your horse is difficult or frightened when being shod, it would be reasonable to use sedation to make the farrier’s job easier. Pain relief at the time of shoeing is a good idea if your horse struggles with pain. Feed additives or supplements may be helpful if the hoof horn is brittle and breaks easily. Have a chat with your vet about all of these options and they will be happy to advise.

Care of the New-born Foal

Care of the New-born Foal

Foaling a mare at home can be a joyous experience if you are well prepared and are aware of what is normal. But what is normal?

Horses are a prey species and, so have adapted, from birth, to show very few outward signs of disease, helping them to cope with life surrounded by predators. This makes close monitoring of foals essential for the first 24 hours of their life, and early veterinary intervention very important, if there are any concerns.

Immediately after delivery

So as not to interfere with the mare-foal bond, intervention should be kept to an absolute minimum in the initial period after birth.

Immediately after delivery, if the mare is lying down, the foal’s hind legs will often still be inside the mare for a few minutes.

When the mare or foal moves, the umbilical cord will naturally break at its weakest point. It should never be cut or clamped.

The piece of umbilical cord attached to the foal should be bathed in a 0.5% chlorhexidine/iodine and alcohol solution. This should be repeated for a few days until it is dry.

When should they first stand up?

If the mare is still lying down, the foal should be moved to her head for her to lick and bond with – at this stage the foal should be able to maintain itself on its chest.

The mare’s licking will stimulate the foal to extend its front legs and, after many failed attempts, the foal will be able to stand. This is normally within two hours of being born.

When should they first suck?

Once they have got to their feet, foals are very quick to search for milk and normally feed within four hours of birth. Most foals have a strong suck response immediately after delivery, but it can take several attempts to find the udder and latch on to a teat properly.

Sometimes, they need some gentle guidance in the right direction, or the mare may need to be to be encouraged to stand still.

The foal’s initial feeds contain the very important colostrum (if the mare hasn’t been running milk prior to delivery) containing essential components for immunity.

It is vital that, if the foal has not fed in the first four hours of life, veterinary assistance is given – this may be by milking the mare and feeding the foal by stomach tube or giving artificial colostrum if the mare ran
milk before the delivery.

The small intestine’s ability to absorb the antibodies from the colostrum reduces with time so, it is important that the foal feeds within this short window.

If the new-born foal doesn’t get enough antibodies from the mare through the colostrum, this could cause serious problems later.

If you are concerned about the foal’s immunity levels, or think they didn’t get enough colostrum, speak to you vet. It is possible to check via a blood test when they are over 12 hours old. The foal will be given a tetanus anti-toxin injection which will give the foal cover for the first months of its life, this should then be followed by vaccination to ensure continued protection from this potentially fatal disease.

How often will the foal feed and pass faeces and urine?

Most foals will feed up to seven times and hour when they are awake and gain up to 2kg of weight daily in the foal’s first week of life.

When foals first pass faeces it is called meconium and it is dark/black and very firm.

The faeces will become gradually softer as the foal continues to feed.

The most common cause of colic in new-born foals is when this material becomes impacted and it can’t be passed easily. If the meconium has not been passed within eight hours of delivery, or if any colic signs are shown such as straining with no faeces being produced, you should call your vet straight away as the foal may need an enema.

Urination should also be seen within the first eight hours of life.

Normal Foal Behaviour

Most foals are inquisitive creatures and will be curious about the humans around. They will also interact with their mum freely.

An underdeveloped (also known as dummy or maladjusted) foal is a cause for concern – they often have a domed forehead, low body weight, are weak, have limb deformities, a silky coat and floppy ears.

If you are concerned about your foal and its interaction with people etc., you should contact your vet immediately to discuss the foal and its delivery.

The foal’s first vet check

It’s a good idea to have your new-born foal and its mother checked by your vet within 12-24 hours of birth.

This is to:

  • Check that the mare has enough milk and that she has not been injured during delivery.
  • Check the entire placenta has been passed (keep this in abucket for us!)
  • Do a full health check on the foal, including checking their eyes, heart, lungs, palate, umbilicus, ribs and to make sure they have passed their meconium.

Give us a call to help you make sure you know what to expect and, remember, we are always on the end of the phone if you have any concerns.

Pain management and Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory drugs

Pain management and Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory drugs

Freedom from pain is an essential part of horse welfare and managing a horse’s pain levels plays a huge role in recovery from disease and injury.

Detection and recognising pain in horses can be very challenging. Horses are very good at hiding signs of pain and evaluation requires careful observation and interpretation of abnormal behaviour.

Signs of pain in your horse

Signs can sometimes be easy to detect, for example;

  • Rolling, pawing, flank watching in colic
  • Reluctance to put a foot down or an exaggerated head nod in lameness.
  • Holding an eye closed in ocular pain
  • Dropping food and slow chewing in dental pain.

But equally signs may be very subtle and include; change in facial expression, behaviour changes, restlessness, low head carriage, loss of interest in food etc.

What are the main painkillers available and how do they work?

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (Nsaids), such as ‘Bute’ are probably the most widely used group of drugs used to manage pain in horses. Nsaids are a class of drug that reduces pain, decreases fever, prevents blood clots and reduces inflammation. They work by inhibiting the activity of cyclooxygenase enzymes (COX1 and/or COX2) which are involved in the synthesis of key inflammatory mediators.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs available for use in horses include, Phenylbutazone (Bute), Suxibuzone, Flunixin, Meloxicam, Carprofen, Ketoprofen, Firocoxib and Vedaprofen. These can be given orally as well as by injection in many cases but often are available as topical creams, lotions or gels. They all have slightly differing properties and some have slightly more side effects than others.

Your vet will help you decide which one is right for your horse, depending on the pain and reasons for the pain.

Why is managing your horse’s pain important?

Your horse deserves freedom from pain and it is an essential part of horse welfare.

Pain management plays an important role in recovery - from both injury and illness.

If your horse is in pain it can change their behaviour and have an impact on their performance.

Side effects of Nsaids

As with many medications, Nsaids have side effects and it is very important to balance the risk of any side effects with the benefits of treating your horse. Side effects can include:

  • Stomach ulcers and colonic ulcers. This can result in loose droppings, diarrhoea and colic. Protein will be lost through the gut and bleeding into the gut may occur leading to anaemia
  • Kidney damage. Cell death occurs in the kidney, especially if the horse is dehydrated, resulting in kidney disease and potential failure. Clinical signs would include increased drinking and urination, poor hair coat and weight loss
  • Occasionally skin rashes can be seen, liver problems (if Nsaids are used with other drugs or the horse already has liver disease), blood problems (dyscrasias)

Managing the use of Nsaids

  • You cannot use these drugs in horses, unless Section IX of your horse passport is signed, removing them from the human food chain
  • Never use in foals without very careful monitoring of the GI tract and the kidneys
  • If using long term in the management of osteoarthritis, blood samples should be taken regularly to check on gut and kidney function. Health assessments should be performed every 6 months to ensure there are no problems and to discuss the appropriate dose and possible options to these drugs
  • Stop any Nsaid drugs immediately if you see signs of diarrhoea
  • Always ensure horses on these drugs are fully hydrated and have access to water at all times

Even though a dose of ‘Bute’ doesn’t sound like a big deal, Nsaids should always be used with extreme caution. Always speak to your vet to decide if these drugs are appropriate or if other pain management medication or techniques should be used.

If you are worried about pain management for your horse and would like to speak to someone about what the options are, give us a call.

The Pre-Purchase Examination

The Pre-Purchase Examination

Owning a horse is a huge responsibility that requires time, money and dedication. Before you start looking for your perfect horse or pony, it’s a good idea to ask yourself these questions:

  • Why do I want a horse?
  • Do I have the time to look after a horse?
  • Where will I keep my new horse?
  • Do I have the funds to care for, feed and look after my horse? He or she will need regular farrier and vet visits as well as vaccinations and medication (routine healthcare and illness or injury).

If you’re happy with your answers to these questions, the next step is finding a horse that suits what you want to be able to do with it. Once you have found him or her, we would always recommend a pre-purchase examination by your vet before handing any money over, no matter what the value of the horse is that you are planning to buy.

It is imperative that the horse or pony is evenly shod or unshod, and that he or she has a legal passport.

The 5 stage pre-purchases examination

Stage 1. Preliminary examination

This involves a thorough external examination of the horse or pony at rest. Your vet will be looking at and feeling your horse to detect any clinical signs of injury, disease or physical issues. All body systems will be assessed including eyes and incisor teeth, and a stethoscope will be used to listen to the heart and lungs. This examination does not include examination of the inside of the prepuce, a detailed examination of the teeth with a mouth gag, height measurements or examination for pregnancy. These examinations would have to be requested separately.

Stage 2. Examination at walk and trot

The horse or pony is walked and trotted in hand on a hard, flat level surface to assess gait and action. Any lameness or asymmetry in movement is noted. The horse or pony is backed and turned to assess coordination. Flexion tests and trotting in a circle may be performed if your vet considers it safe and appropriate to perform. Flexion tests involve holding the leg up, bent at the knee for 30-60 seconds, then releasing back to the floor, followed by trotting away and assessing the response.

Stage 3. Exercise phase

The horse or pony is given enough exercise to increase its heart rate and breathing. Your vet will also watch for gait and action during exercise. This is to make sure the horse or pony is fit for purpose. If there isn’t a rider available or it is unsuitable to perform ridden exercise, then lunging is used for these exercises.

Stage 4. Period of rest and re-examination

After exercise, the horse is allowed to stand quietly and its breathing and heart rate are monitored as they return to normal.

Stage 5. Second walk and trot up

The horse is walked and trotted again to see if the exercise undertaken has induced any lameness that wasn’t obvious during stage

2. A blood sample is also likely to be taken at this stage unless it has been specifically requested not to do so by you. When all of the tests have been done, your vet will discuss the results with you, highlighting any issues and indicating if the horse or pony is fit for the purpose you want it for.

It is really important to understand that the examination is done at only one point in time. It is important to identify all potential problems if possible, but the examination cannot give assurances as to what may happen
in the future.

If you would like to talk to us about a pre-purchase examination for a horse or pony, give us a call on 01637 880307.

Strangles EAB

Strangles EAB

Strangles is a highly infectious disease that is caused by a bacterial infection. The bacterium involved in streptococcus equi.

The infection is passed between horses very easily and can survive well in the environment well. It is also easily
transmitted by non-direct contact between horses, for example when a person travels from one infected horse to an uninfected horse, it can be transmitted on the person’s clothing.

Usual signs of the disease are abscesses in the lymph nodes in the throat. This can be painful and makes the
horse very unwell, they usually have high temperatures and may refuse to eat. The abscesses can also cause
obstruction of the airways, causing coughing or difficulty breathing.

These abscesses will mature and often burst, internally or externally, leaking pus. The pus is full of bacteria and is extremely infectious should it get onto people’s clothing, stable walls and implements.

There are three other potential dangers with a strangles infection.

Bastard strangles

When the abscesses occur throughout the horse’s body in the lungs, liver, kidneys and spleen, when these abscesses rupture it can be fatal.

Purpura Haemorrhagica

A consequence of severe internal infection. It causes bleeding from smaller blood vessels can cause red lesions/spots to form on the skin and mucous membranes. It may also cause swelling of the limbs and head. This condition is generally fatal.

Strangles chronic carrier state

Some horses carry the strangles-causing bacteria in the guttural pouch (a pouch at the back of the throat) for months or even years after they have recovered from clinical disease. Carrier horses appear healthy but shed bacteria in nasal discharges and are a source of infection for other horses.

It is really important to make sure there are no carriers in a new yard if you are moving your horse. Or that a new horse being brought into the yard isn’t a carrier.

Usual signs of the disease are abscesses in the lymph nodes in the throat. This can be painful and makes the horse very unwell, they usually have high temperatures and may refuse to eat.

Tests are available to make sure horses are not carriers. Bloods can be taken and tested for antibodies to strangles bacteria. If present then there are two possibilities. Either the horse is currently carrying infection or it has had the infection before and has immunity. It is sometimes necessary to perform endoscopy of the horse’s guttural pouches to confirm which state a horse is in. This can be done under standing sedation.

If a yard contracts strangles infection it is vital that they isolate the horses on the premises from other horses. The animals that are infected should be nursed through the illness. Sometimes they will require antibiotics, mostly they just require NSAID’s (bute, danilon) to keep their body temperatures down, and provision of fluids and palatable food.

Once all the horses have recovered from the infection, any horses showing symptoms should have their guttural pouches scoped and flushed to make sure they are clear of infection. All horses not obviously infected should be tested to ensure they haven’t contracted the infection. Any horse that receives a positive result on the blood test should also have their guttural pouches scoped.

This is the best way to ensure the strangles infection doesn’t spread any further. This process can be lengthy (often several months of isolation) and costly, with multiple laboratory fees and tests necessary. This is another reason why strangles infection should be prevented at all costs.

We would recommend blood testing all new horses for strangles before introducing them to a new yard. It is also sensible to make sure they are isolated for 3 weeks, once on the yard, to rule out any other infections like equine influenza.


There is a vaccination available for the prevention and management of a strangles outbreak. It has a short duration of immunity and is administered by injection into the inside of the horses lip. For this reason it is used mostly in the prevention and management of outbreaks of the disease rather than routinely in all horses.

The best prevention of a strangles infection is good biosecurity policies, such as blood testing, isolation and biosecurity measures taken on yards and when horses are at shows.

Give us a call if you are worried about strangles or want to arrange for testing.

Sweet Itch

Sweet Itch

Sweet itch is a problem that affects thousands of horses, ponies and donkeys. In fact, it is reported that 5% (1 in 20) suffer from the condition every year.

Although all breeds can be affected, native breeds suffer most while thoroughbreds are less likely to have an issue.

What Causes Sweet Itch?

It is a skin condition caused by a hypersensitive reaction to the saliva of midges when they bite. The immune  system overreacts and causes a reaction.

The main culprit is the Culicoide species of midges but bites from stable flies and black flies have the same effect.

What To Look Out For

These include:

  • Severe itching (pruritis)
  • Hair loss
  • Thickening and flakiness of the skin, predominantly over the top of the tail and the mane.

In severe cases, weeping sores (exudative dermatitis) can be seen, with yellowing crusts of dried serum noted over more extensive areas of the body such as the head, neck, withers and belly.

The horse or pony will be incredibly uncomfortable and will pace, roll and attempt to scratch themselves on anything they can reach such as stable doors, fence posts, gates etc. Once sores develop, treatment is essential to stop them developing a secondary infection.


Diagnosis is not usually difficult. The clinical symptoms and the seasonal nature (spring, summer and autumn) of sweet itch are strong indicators for a diagnosis. Symptoms can persist all year round with bad cases only just recovering before the flies start again in spring.

Sweet itch is rarely seen in horses less than a year old, but most horses that develop this condition have experienced mild clinical signs before hitting 5 years old.

A blood test (ELISA) or intradermal skin testing can be performed to determine what is causing the allergic response, but this is rarely required in sweet itch cases.

Treatment and prevention

Sweet Itch is an allergic reaction and therefore an immune system problem. Unfortunately, these are notoriously complicated and difficult to deal with.

A) Prevent midges making contact

  • Culicoides midges are around from as early as late March until the end of October, depending on geographical location, and attempts should be made to avoid them
  • Avoid keeping your horse in damp boggy areas where midges breed
  • Stable your horse when midges feed the most i.e. dawn and dusk
  • Close stable doors at these times or install fine mesh over openings
  • Use stable fans – the midges find it difficult to fly when the fan is on
  • Use close fitting cover-all rugs covering your horse’s body and face
  • Coating the horse or pony in a fine oil such as liquid paraffin to prevent midges making contact.
  • Insecticide products such as permethrin or DEET based insecticides are commonly used but have varying results.

B) Reduce the allergic reaction

  • Topical lotions
  • Oral supplementation with Cavalesse®. This contains nicotinamide to assist the natural immune system response
  • Oral or injectable steroids. Use with care as, although very effective, they carry a small risk of laminitis and should never be used in active laminitic cases.
  • Desensitisation injections can be used. This involves multiple injections of very low doses of the midge saliva itself

Equine Asthma (EA)

Equine Asthma (EA)

In its early stages, Equine Asthma (previously known as Heaves/COPD/RAO) is a reversible constriction of the small airways (bronchioles and alveoli), caused by an allergic reaction to, most commonly, dust or pollen.

This allergic reaction causes fluid production and thickening of the walls in these small airways, leading to their
obstruction. This results in your horse having to breathe harder and faster. They also often develop a cough to
try and clear mucus.

Unfortunately, there is no cure, but there are treatments and management changes that can help. It is a
progressive condition and, if left untreated, it can lead to scarring within the lungs and irreversible damage.

What are the symptoms?

  • Coughing
  • Nasal discharge
  • Increased respiratory rate and effort
  • Difficulty exercising
  • Development of a ‘heave line’ (A line of visible abdominal muscles, caused by coughing)
  • Respiratory distress (acute attack if repeated exposure to allergen)

How do we diagnose EA?

Initially, your vet will take a full history from you and then perform a thorough, physical examination of your horse.

The next step is to perform an endoscopy, where a camera on the end of a flexible cable is inserted up the horse’s nose and down into their airways. Samples are then taken from the trachea (wind pipe) and bronchioles (deep within the lungs) to distinguish between EA and other respiratory disorders.

The results of these tests will help your vet decide on the correct treatment. For example, the treatment of EA could be very dangerous to a horse that is suffering from a chronic infection and not EA. However, your horse could have an infection as well as EA and the test results will tell your vet which is the best antibiotic is to treat your horse with.


Some cases, if caught early enough, will respond to management changes alone. This includes, for example, keeping the horse on a ‘dust-free’ management system such as avoiding the allergen that causes the reaction – changing bedding to shavings or paper, soaking or steaming hay or haylage, dampening hard feed and, if stabled, having excellent ventilation.

In more severe or chronic cases, medical treatment may also be necessary.

In an acute flare up the horse may suffer a severe bout of respiratory distress and steroids will be given by intravenous injection to try to reduce the inflammation as quickly as possible. They may also be given a drug called atropine, which relaxes smooth muscle.

In chronic cases, treatment with steroid powders or inhalers is often needed, alongside an airway dilator. The dilator can help, in the short term, to open the airway slightly and improve breathing, but it does not treat the underlying inflammatory cause of the disease which the steroids do.

It is important to remember that drugs on their own, without making sure you implement good management, will not control equine asthma.

On going environmental management is key in all cases of Equine Asthma. Drug treatment alone will not control this disease. Only a combined treatment and managment plan will be effective.

Give your vet a call to discuss treatments and help you decide on the best management plan for your horse.

If you are worried about Equine Asthma and would like to speak to someone about what the options are, give us a call on 01637 880307.

Practice information

Penmellyn Equine Vets

  • Mon
    8:30am - 5:00pm
  • Tue
    8:30am - 5:00pm
  • Wed
    8:30am - 5:00pm
  • Thu
    8:30am - 5:00pm
  • Fri
    8:30am - 5:00pm
  • Sat
    Emergencies only
  • Sun
    Emergencies only

Find us here:

Station Road St Columb Major Cornwall TR9 6BX
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