Horse Disease

Although there are a large number of horse diseases, there are only a small number of diseases which are both common and serious. Horse owners who familarise themselves with the prevention and treatement of these key diseases will on average have horses that live longer and healthier lives (as well as lower veterinarian costs).

The two most important important illnesses are colic and laminitis. Between them, they are responsible for appoximately a third of all horse deaths. The following table lists the main causes of horse death, using information from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) and the Morris Animal Foundation (MAF).

Cause Source: USDA (1997-1999)  Source: Morris Animal Foundation
Old Age 22%  2nd
Colic 18%  1st
Accidents (Injury, wounds and trauma) 14%  3rd
Laminitis    4th

The above table shows the most common causes of death overall. For very young and very old horses, the USDA reports different priorities:

  • Under 6 months. The most common causes of death are respiratory and injury/wounds/trauma.
  • Over 20 years. The most common causes of death are weight loss and inability to ambulate (walk).

Various other studies produce somewhat different results. For example, in some parts of Europe horses are considered meat animals (like cows) and consequently planned slaughter is a common cause of death. The importance of certain illnesses also changes over time. For example, increased awareness of how to prevent and treat laminitis has seen a decline in the frequency of associated deaths. However, overall the results over the past 50 years consistently show the same four main causes of horse deaths: old age, colic, accidents and laminitis.

Consequently, you can go a long way to protecting the health of your horse by taking steps to protect your horse from the effects of these. We provide guides to two of these; for details click on Colic and Laminitis. Future guides will provide information on how to help your horse live an active and healthy old age, and a guide to avoiding accidents.

Other Diseases

See our Horse Care section for other common problems, along with tips on prevention, diagnosis and treatment.