Common diseases in Horses and How to treat them

Two of our neighbors’ horses got a common skin disease, and a few other horses in the area got colic. Because of how common a certain illness was, I wanted to find out more about the most common horse diseases, so I did some research on the subject.

Strangles, equine herpes virus, colic, heaves, laminitis, and equine influenza are the most common horse diseases, in no particular order. Most horse diseases are caused by viruses, bacteria, or parasites. Keep in mind that it’s hard to say with certainty how often diseases happen.

Most new horse owners think that all you have to do is put on a saddle and ride. But there is a lot you need to know about horses, and it’s important to know about common horse diseases and how to treat them.

Common illnesses in horses

Horse owners need to know about common horse diseases to make sure their animals stay healthy. If you don’t know the basics about equine diseases and what causes them, your horse could die.

This is not only bad for the animal, but it also makes it hard for you to enjoy riding your horses. Horses can get a lot of diseases that can be prevented with shots and good care.

I’ll talk about the most common horse diseases, what causes them, what their symptoms are, and what you can do to protect your horse from them. But even with the best care, some horses still get sick, just like people do.

Equine infectious anemia (EIA)

Even though equine infectious anemia is not one of the most common horse diseases, I thought it was important to include it in this article because it is easy to spread and can cause so much damage.

Equine infectious anemia (EIA) is a blood-borne virus that is mostly spread by horse flies and deer flies. When an animal gets EIA, it won’t show signs of the disease right away.

Lentiviruses are diseases that have an incubation period before they start to make people sick. Lentiviruses are very dangerous because an infected horse can look healthy but still spread the disease to other horses.

When a horse has equine infectious anemia, it might not show any symptoms for up to 45 days or as early as 7 days. Once a horse has EIA, it will always have it for the rest of its life.

The Coggins test is used to find out whether or not a horse has EIA. When transporting horses across state lines, all states require a negative Coggins. Most equine facilities also require a Coggins when horses are brought there.

Signs that a horse has infectious anemia.

Horses with equine infectious anemia often have symptoms like high fever, depression, swelling in the lower legs, and constant weight loss. You may also notice that their eyes are getting yellow.

Acute EIA strikes horses quickly and hard. They usually get a high fever and die within a few weeks. People who make it through the disease often have it for the rest of their lives.

Chronic EIA makes horses sick over and over again, so they are always sick. They get a fever, keep water in their bodies, and lose weight. Most of the time, these horses are put to sleep so they can stop suffering from the disease.

Some horses carry the disease but don’t show any signs of it. They can pass it on to other creatures. This is why every horse needs to pass a Coggins test.

Horse infectious anemia can be stopped.

To lower the chance of getting EIA, you should have your horse tested every year, put infected horses in quarantine, have an effective bug control program, and only go to public events where Coggins testing is required. These steps help lower the chance that a horse will get EIA.

Testing horses have cut EIA in the United States by a lot. Before the Coggins test was made in 1970, a lot of horses had equine infectious anemia.

Even though testing has cut the number of horses with the disease by a large amount, it is still found in some horses every year.

How to help horses with EIA.

Horses with this disease don’t have many options, which is a shame. Either you can keep your horse away from other animals or you can put it to sleep.

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Equine influenza

Equine influenza is one of the most common diseases that horses get every year. This is equine flu, which spreads quickly. It is caused by two main types of viruses, but the most common one is the equine influenza A (H3N8), which attacks the horse’s respiratory system.

When a horse coughs, the virus can spread through the air. Your horse can get it at horse shows, on trail rides, or anywhere else where a lot of horses gather.

Australia showed the rest of the world how quickly this disease can spread. Before 2007, no one knew of anyone getting equine flu. Then, at the beginning of August that year, eight horses with the disease were brought into the country. Six weeks later, one thousand horses had the disease, and it kept spreading.

Signs and symptoms of equine flu.

Equine influenza is characterized by tiredness, loss of appetite, fever, nasal discharge, coughing, and swollen lymph glands.

Prevention of equine influenza.

The best way to avoid getting sick is to avoid strange horses, especially ones that are coughing. Also, you should be clean and not let horses from outside use your water or grooming tools.

If you think one of your horses has equine flu, you should call your vet right away so that he can test the horse. If your horse has the flu and tests show it, keep it away from your other animals.

There are two kinds of equine flu vaccines: inactivated (killed) vaccines that are given through the muscle and modified-live vaccines that are given through the nose.

Vaccines can make it less likely that your horse will get equine influenza, but they can’t guarantee that your horse won’t get sick.

Treatment for equine influenza.

Your vet is likely to tell you that the flu needs to run its course and suggest that you help your pet feel better. This care would probably include keeping your horse in a clean, well-ventilated stall or paddock and giving it clean water and lots of hay.

To lower its temperature, your vet may give you Banamine. The only other thing you can do is wait for the disease to run its course.

After your horse stops coughing, it should be ready to ride in a few weeks.


One of the most common hoof diseases in horses is laminitis. It is a painful condition that affects the tissues that hold the hoof wall to the coffin bone. It often comes back (the coffin bone is also known as the pedal bone).

The blood flow to the laminae, which holds the coffin bone to the hoof wall, is cut off. This is what causes the disease. The disease makes the laminae inflamed and weakens their connection to the hoof wall.

When the bond is broken, the coffin bone can move around inside the horse’s foot, sink, and come out of the bottom of the horse’s foot. Most of the time, laminitis affects the front of the foot. The terms “laminitis” and “founder” are both used to talk about this condition.

Laminitis signs and symptoms.

Laminitis is a disease that gets worse over time and makes the horse lame. It’s important to know the early signs of a disease so you can catch it while the body still has a chance to heal. If you think your horse has laminitis, you should call your vet right away.

Here are some early warning signs of laminitis:

  1. The digital pulse in the feet got faster. To check the digital pulse of a horse with laminitis, slide your fingers below the fetlock, right above the hoof. The heartbeat is strong and pounding. Compare it to a horse that isn’t affected to get a starting point.
  2. The horses’ feet were hot. When an animal’s foot is hurt, it will get hot. If the temperature of the hoof of your horse stays high for more than two hours, it could be an early sign of laminitis.
  3. Strange rings in the wall of the hoof. Laminitis could be present if the hoof rings get wider from the toe to the heel.
    increased heart rate at rest. You should know what your horse’s normal heart rate is. If it goes up over a long period of time, this could be a sign of laminitis.
  4. Changing weight often. When a horse has the first signs of laminitis, it will move its weight from side to side at a much faster rate than usual.
  5. Widening or blood on the white line. The white line is where the hoof wall and sole meet. Laminitis could be the cause if it is wider than usual or there is blood in the area.
  6. Change in stride. Laminitis could be the reason why your horse starts to walk in a different way, usually taking shorter steps.
  7. The toe of the hoof hurts. Using hoof testers, put pressure on the toe of the hoof. If your horse is sensitive in this area, laminitis could be to blame.
  8. Leaning back on its heels: Because laminitis pain is in the toe of the hoof, horses with laminitis often lean back on their heels to relieve pressure on the front of their feet.

Catching chronic laminitis in its early stages is your best chance of stopping it from making your horse lame and causing other bad things to happen.

Laminitis can be avoided.

Laminitis can sometimes be avoided if you eat right and exercise. Most horses should only eat grass and hay. Laminitis is caused by grains and sugars. Horses that are prone to laminitis should stay away from lush pasture grass because it has a lot of sugar in it.

Make sure your horse’s weight stays in a healthy range. Laminitis is more likely to happen in fat horses. Change a horse’s diet slowly, and never give your horse too much food.

Horses have weak digestive systems, so making big changes to their food will throw them off balance and cause laminitis. Laminitis can be stopped by taking good care of your horse’s hooves. When feet aren’t balanced, they put too much pressure on the hooves, which can cause laminitis.

How to treat laminitis.

In severe cases of laminitis, you need to get treatment right away, but even in mild cases, the sooner you start treatment, the better your chances of getting better. The type of treatment depends on how each horse is different, but most of the time it includes:

  1. To control the pain, painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs are given. Phenylbutazone is a drug that is often used to treat pain and inflammation. Many people also use acepromazine to get more blood to their feet.
  2. Ice: If your laminitis is caused by inflammation, icing your feet can help reduce swelling and cool them down.
  3. Dietary restrictions: These have already been talked about in the prevention section.
  4. Mineral oil: If a horse gets into a feed room and eats too much, a dose of mineral oil can help.
  5. Lessen the foot pressure. Stay on a soft surface with your horse. Pain and stress are made worse by hard surfaces like concrete. It’s best if the horse lies down so that its feet don’t have to work as hard. Corrective shoes can also help lessen the amount of pressure on the foot.
  6. Drain abscesses. Abscesses form inside the hoof of the horse and cause pressure to build up. Pain and swelling are caused by the pressure on the hoof.

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Colic is the most deadly of the many common diseases that horses can get. Ten percent of horses are thought to have had colic at some point in their lives.

Ten percent is a very high number, but keep in mind that the word “colic” is used to describe a wide range of stomach problems in horses.

Colic is often caused by gas, a blockage in the intestines, eating too much grain, swallowing sand, or getting a parasite infection. If you think your horse has colic, you should check its vital signs, make sure it stays on its feet, and call your vet.

Don’t let your horse eat or drink until after you talk to your vet.

Signs that a horse has colic.

When a horse has colic, it acts differently. I’ve seen this happen with two horses: one rolled over on the ground, and the other kicked at its stomach and turned its head back.

Because horses with colic can act in so many different ways, it can be hard to tell for sure if your horse has the disease. Here is a list of some of the most common signs that a horse has colic:

  • Loss of hunger
  • Getting down and dirty
  • Taking a look at its side
  • Taking a nap
  • When someone is upset, moving around too much, like getting up and down a lot or walking in circles.
  • Putting up its top lip
  • It was kicking its stomach.
  • Rolling around on the floor
  • Stretching
  • Sweating
  • speeding up of the heart
  • Full Stomach
  • Few or no piles of dung
  • Diarrhea

Horse colic can be stopped.

Unlike some other common horse diseases, colic is not always preventable, but there are things you can do to make your horse less likely to get it.

  • Have a water source for your horse that is easy to get to.
  • As much as possible, let your horse out.
  • Don’t put hay down on the sand.
  • If your horse doesn’t need the extra energy, don’t feed it grain.
  • Slowly change your horse’s diet.
  • Keep the horse’s teeth in good shape.
  • Have a good plan for getting rid of bugs.

Treatment for equine colic.

Because colic is such a broad term, it’s important to find out what’s causing it so you can give the right treatment. Most types of colic can be treated with medicine, but impactions and intestinal twists, which are more serious types of colic, need surgery.

It’s important to get your horse checked out by a vet as soon as possible so he can figure out the best way to treat it. To treat colic, the vet can often give the animal medicine or use a tube to release gas right there on the spot.


Heaves are a long-term lung disease in horses that is similar to asthma in people, but it is not contagious like many common horse diseases.

The condition is also called recurrent airway obstruction (RAO), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), broken wind, and emphysema.

When horses with heaves breathe in small particles, like molds found in hay and straw, they have an allergic reaction. When the particles are breathed in, they trigger an allergic reaction that makes the airways in the lungs narrow. Most horses older than six years old get heaves.

Once the airways are blocked, the horse has trouble taking in air and letting it out of its lungs. This makes it hard for the horse to do simple things.

The signs of heaves.

Early signs of heaves are coughing, but as the disease gets worse, the horse will get tired more quickly when it works out and breathe faster. The animal will also start wheezing, flaring its nostrils, and getting mucus out of its nose.

If the disease isn’t treated, a horse with heaves will start to look swollen. The bloated look comes from the stomach muscles getting bigger from overworking all the time to take in air.

How to stop heaves.

Horses that tend to heave should stay away from dust. Give your animal as much time as possible in the pasture, and don’t feed it hay. Yes, horses do need hay, but there are other options like hay pellets and cubes that can be used instead.

If you have to feed your horse hay, soak it or steam it first to reduce dust. And if you keep your horse in a stall, make sure it has good airflow and is as dust-free as possible.

How to treat heaves.

If you think your horse is getting heaves, you should call your vet right away. Even though there is no cure, he can treat the symptoms and stop the illness from getting worse.

Depending on why your horse is heaving, the vet may give your horse a course of anti-inflammatory drugs. Most of the time, vets give the drugs orally or by injection.

A horse can also use an aerosol, which is similar to how people use inhalers. These have been shown to work, but they need special equipment and are expensive to treat.

Horses with heaves can often get better and live a full life if their condition is taken care of properly, especially if the air quality is made better.

Strangles (Streptococcus equi)

Strangles is the most common infectious disease that is found in horses and is a big problem around the world. Strangles is an infection of the lymph nodes in the throat of a horse that is caused by bacteria.

The lymph nodes that are infected swell up and burst. When the infected lymph nodes burst, pus drains out of the nose and under the horse’s jaws. Because the infected horse’s lymph glands swell and burst, they choke it and give it the name “strangles.”

Streptococcus Equi is the bacteria that causes the disease, and it is easy for it to spread from one horse to another. The bacteria can live outside of the animal’s body for days in a barn and on the tack.

It usually spreads at horse farms through water sources and tack that are shared. Streptococcus Equi is a hardy bacteria that has been around for hundreds of years.

Strangles signs and symptoms.

Strangles are a bacterial infection that causes swollen, pus-filled abscesses to form in a horse’s lymph nodes. When the abscesses burst, thick yellowish-green mucus comes out.

Horses that are sick have a fever, mucus discharge, depression, lethargy, coughing, less appetite, and trouble swallowing.

Strangles isn’t usually fatal, but in rare cases, horses that got an infection in their nervous system from strangles have died.

Stopping people from choking.

One of the most common horse diseases in the world is strangling, which is hard to treat. The condition has been around at least since the 1300s.

There are vaccines for the disease, but most of them have bad side effects that make it hard to know if they should be used. But science is always making new and better vaccines, so talk to your vet to find out what’s new.

The best way to stop the disease is to test horses and equipment carefully and keep them away from other animals. If a horse tests positive, you should clean everything and put the horse in a separate area.

To be effective, you have to be thorough. Keep in mind that this bacteria is tough and can live outside and in temperatures that are too hot or too cold. Wash everything the horse touched, including your clothes and shoes. If you take care of your animals’ health, the disease won’t spread to other animals on your farm.

How to treat a strangles

A scope may be used to get the pus out of the lymph glands, and then a topical antibiotic may be used to treat the area. But before this is needed, vets often give horses anti-inflammatory drugs to bring down their fever and make them feel good enough to eat again.

Hot compresses on the lymph glands and putting moist food on the floor can also help the abscesses drain and break open. Vets sometimes give a course of antibiotics to animals.

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Equine herpesviruses

Equine herpesvirus-4 is the most common virus that affects horses and is one of the most common diseases that affect horses around the world. It usually causes problems with the lungs, but it can also cause abortions or problems with the nervous system.

Herpesvirus-1 is another common type of herpesvirus. It can cause respiratory illness, abortion, and diseases of the nervous system. Most of the time, weanlings and yearlings are the ones who have both strains.

People also think that older horses often carry the virus but don’t show any signs of being sick. After a horse is exposed to the virus, it can take as little as 24 hours to show symptoms, but most of the time it takes four to six days or longer.

It usually spreads when horses breathe in the disease that other horses cough into the air.

Signs of an infection with the equine herpesvirus.

Equine herpesvirus-4 is more common and causes fever, coughing, nasal discharge, swollen lymph nodes, tiredness, weight loss, and eye infections like conjunctivitis and keratitis.

Stopping an infection with the equine herpesvirus.

To stop the spread of equine herpesvirus, do the following:

  • Separate horses that are sick.
  • Don’t share tack, and clean up everywhere.
  • If you’ve been around an infected horse, you should use hand sanitizers.

For some types of herpesvirus, there are vaccines, but they seem to stop the disease from spreading more than they stop a horse from getting sick. I don’t know of any vaccines that can protect a horse from all types of equine herpesvirus.

Treatment for a horse with the herpes virus.

To find out if your horse has equine herpesvirus infection, a nasal swap test can be done. But what kinds of treatments are there once the disease is there?

Most of the time, treatment includes medicine to lower fever and coughing, and sometimes a cycle of antibiotics to prevent a second infection. If not, the disease in the lungs has to run its course.

If the disease gets worse and the animal starts to lose nerve function, a sling may be needed to keep the horse standing. In the most serious cases, food and water are given through a vein.


These are common horse diseases that every horse owner should know about, but this is not a complete list. You should also know about other illnesses and diseases, such as thrush, rain rot, joint problems, and equine sleeping disease.

If you are worried about the health of your horse, you must call a vet right away. Remember that every horse owner is always learning new things about their horses.