Despite a healthy lifestyle and clean habitat, horses will sometimes fall ill. It’s therefore wise for horse owners to learn about the common diseases of domesticated horses, and how to prevent them. This list includes some of the most common and severe diseases found in domesticated horses.
Tetanus, or lockjaw, is a disease caused by the bacterium Clostridium tetani. This bacterium is found in the soil, and produces a neurotoxin that can infect horses by entering through breaks in the skin, such as foot wounds. Symptoms include muscle stiffness in the neck progressing to the whole body. Since the small cuts that can become infected are very easy to miss, horses should receive a yearly tetanus vaccine to avoid this fatal disease.
Equine influenza is a viral disease spread by inhaling infected airborne particles. Symptoms of the flu include a hacking cough, sudden fever, nasal discharge, weakness, and loss of appetite. This disease also leaves the horses vulnerable to other infections such as pneumonia. Treatment can be very expensive and can leave the horse very weak, but a vaccine is available to prevent this disease. Horses should receive the vaccine once a year.
Equine encephalomyelitis or sleeping sickness is a potentially fatal disease spread by mosquitoes. It affects the horses central nervous system and can cause erratic, impulsive behavior. Affected horses may show a period of depression combined with a high fever. This is followed by a phase of apparent blindness, nervous behavior, and muscle tremors. Complete paralysis may ensue. To prevent sleeping sickness, owners must ensure that their horses are properly vaccinated and that their stables and paddocks are kept free of mosquitoes.
Rabies is a potentially deadly, incurable disease of the central nervous system. It can be transmitted by other mammals through the saliva from a bite of an infected animal. Rabies can progress quickly, so all horses must be vaccinated and the horses habitats must be kept free of large vermin such as skunks, mice, and feral dogs and cats.
Strangles is a disease caused by the bacterium Streptococcus equi. It’s a highly contagious respiratory disease. Symptoms include high fever, thick nasal discharge, cough, loss of appetite, and swollen lymph nodes in the head and under the jaw. Strangles is transmitted through nasal secretions and pus, flies, and contaminated tools or food and drink.
It can therefore be prevented by keeping hands and tools clean when handling horses, keeping the horses clean and using clean grooming tools, and cleaning the horses’ feed buckets and water sources. Vaccination is also very important in preventing or decreasing the severity of the disease.
Other diseases include colic, equine arthritis, and West Nile Virus. Most of these diseases can be prevented by keeping the horses’ stables and living spaces clean and maintaining good hygiene. Vaccines are also vital to keeping horses safe and healthy.