Sharp increase in prevalence of laminitis and obesity revealed by national survey - Veterinary Practice
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Sharp increase in prevalence of laminitis and obesity revealed by national survey

Veterinary Practice summarises the main findings of the 2014 National Equine Health Survey

THE 2014 National Equine Health Survey (NEHS) has shown for the second year that lameness is the most common syndrome affecting the UK’s horses and ponies.

This year’s results have also revealed an apparent increase in laminitis compared with previous years.

Run annually by the Blue Cross, in partnership with the BEVA, the NEHS is sponsored by Spillers and Zoetis and supported by the leading equestrian organisations and charities.

This year’s results revealed that almost one in five (18.5%) horses suffers with lameness due to joint disease or other non-foot related problems. The results are consistent with last year’s non-foot related lameness figure of 18.6%.

The survey also revealed that laminitis had a much higher prevalence than in previous years (7.1%) with 43% of these recorded as first episodes. Past NEHS results showed a lower number of horses affected by laminitis (4.4% overall prevalence of laminitis, with 25% first episodes in 2013) but further work is needed to confirm if this increase is representative of the total horse population in the UK.

Gemma Taylor, education officer at the Blue Cross, said the increase in laminitis may be linked to the mild winter, extensive rainfall and consistently warm spring as these conditions were ideal for flushes of grass growth, known to be a trigger for the disease.

The top findings – excluding laminitis – from the 2014 survey are:

  • Lameness affected almost 1 in 5 horses (18.5% of returns in 2014; 18.6% in 2013; 13.8% in 2010-12). Most lameness was due to joint disease and other non-foot causes of lameness with foot lameness (not including laminitis) accounting for only a quarter of all lameness.
  • Skin disease was recorded in 18.3% of cases (14.6% in 2013; 15.2% in 2010-12). Sarcoids were again a prevalent tumour (5.6% in 2014; 2.8% in 2013; 3.25% in 2010-12), reinforcing previous NEHS surveys and the published data.
  • Overweight horses or ponies were recorded in 16.9% of cases (7.8% in 2013; 7.5% 2010-12) with most horses (79%) being recorded as ideal/normal weight and 4% recorded as being underweight. New data were obtained on weight monitoring: 59% of respondents said they assess weight regularly, with 85% using weigh tapes.
  • Respiratory disease was reported by 7.1% of respondents (5% in 2013; 5% in 2010-12). The majority were affected by allergic respiratory disease which was more frequently recorded than infectious respiratory disease.

In response to an increase in reports of atypical myopathy in the UK, a question was included in this year’s survey: 13 veterinary confirmed cases were reported.

Professor Josh Slater from the RVC, a member of BEVA’s health and medicines committee who analysed the data, says the number of cases of this disease that occur each year are not known and although NEHS has provided a snapshot we need to capture data from a much larger number of horses to know how common this disease truly is across the UK as whole.

Participation in the survey has increased significantly this year.

Data were collected from 11,002 horses, ponies, donkeys and mules across the UK, representing an increase of more than double last year’s figure of 4,730.

The majority of horses reported (88%) were kept either in livery yards or private yards, with only 0.7% kept by equine welfare charities. Prof. Slater says the surveys have shown consistent trends and already challenged some established dogma on disease prevalence, for example laminitis, and validated much of the accepted veterinary opinion, for example on lameness and colic.

The results can be downloaded from

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