Common Diseases in Horses

Horses are powerful creatures who can perform various tasks with extraordinary efficiency. This quality has made them the favorite of millions of equestrians around the world. Along with efficiency, grace, and fire, horses are very sensitive being to manage. Encountering common horse diseases is an inevitable part of keeping a horse.

It's important to be aware of signs and prevention methods for common equine diseases. It is our responsibility to keep our racing buddies healthy and free from diseases.

6 Common Horse Diseases and Their Signs

Every equestrian needs to be a home for their horse. They should be determined by taking complete care of the animal. Hence, it is pivotal to know the common diseases in horses to identify and treat them.

Some of the common diseases in equines are:-

1. Equine Colic

It is probably one of the most commonly occurring diseases of equines and proves to be fatal if not taken care of. Equine colic is a wider term comprising various conditions that lead to severe abdominal pain.

The major cause of colic is a low intake of roughage and water or a high intake of concentrate (than what the body requires).

Gas, intestinal impaction, parasitic infestation, and ingestion of sand are also predisposing factors for developing the condition of colic in horses.

Horse owners should always check for any early signs of equine colic. These signs and symptoms follow a pattern and are not so difficult to identify.

Signs of colic in horses include diarrhea, loss of appetite, bloating, restlessness, and kicking at the belly.

2. Strangles in Horses

It is caused by Streptococcus equi and is a major threat to equine health. Streptococcus bacteria lodge into the neck region and cause swelling of lymph nodes of the throat or lymphadenopathy. Strangles is a disease in horses where swollen lymph nodes can burst and cause pus to drain from their nose and jaw, which can be fatal.

The disease is fatal and is easily transmissible from one to another.

Strangles is characterized by swollen lymph nodes and a thick yellow-green pus discharge from the abscess. Other signs may include coughing, fever, loss of appetite, and abscess formation.

3. Equine herpesvirus

Equine herpesvirus 4 (EHV-4) is a common virus in horses that causes respiratory problems. The virus is also often found guilty of causing abortions and neurological disorders sometimes.

Young ones (foals) and weaned foals are the most susceptible to EHV.

This infection can spread by aerosol route and has different symptoms, such as a runny nose, eye inflammation (conjunctivitis and keratitis), and swelling of lymph nodes.

4. Heaves in Horses

Heaves or ‘broken wind’ is the asthma of horses. It refers to chronic pulmonary disease.

Recurrent airway obstruction (RAO), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and emphysema are other names for heaves.

Molds in hay or other inhaled substances can cause an allergic reaction that narrows the lungs' airway and causes heaves. The condition is serious but to some relief heaves is a noncommunicable disease.

It is so named ‘Broken wind’ because in this the animal will wheeze, and flare its nostrils because of the blocking of airways.

5. Laminitis

Laminitis is another common disease chiefly linked with unhygienic hoof practices. Laminitis gets its name from the fact that it impacts the blood flow to the laminae of the hoof wall, causing inflammation.

Laminitis is recurrent and commonly encountered disease in horses.

Lameness is the most prominent symptom of laminitis. Widening of the white line and unusual rings in the hoof wall are additional signs of laminitis.

6. Equine tetanus

A clostridial infection (C. tetani) characterized by muscular spasms and a ‘lock jaw’ condition. In this condition, we see the generalized stiffness of muscles all over the horse’s body because of tetanic muscular spasms. Illness is very rapid and the mortality rates leave everyone concerned.

Prominent symptoms include lockjaw, muscle stiffness, excessive salivation, and sweating.

Important Signs of a Diseased Horse

A concerned horse owner should always look out for any abnormality in their horse. These abnormalities can be any condition that deficits from the defined parameters of a healthy animal. For example:-

●     Change in temperature

●     Coughing

●     Nasal discharge

●     Lymphadenopathy

●     Inappetence

●     Weight loss

●     Diarrhea

●     Vomition

●     Vices like kicking, roaring

●     Lameness

●     Bloat

●     Nausea

●     Vomiting, etc.

Some diseases have unique symptoms that distinguish them from other horse diseases.

Preventive Measures to Fight Disease Occurrence in Horses

Now, if your companion is suffering from any anomalies, it should be a ringing bell for you, not to frighten your wits, but to treat accordingly.

General preventive measures prove to be a helping hand here; these measures prevent the occurrence of a disease in the first place or in any recurring conditions. Various preventive measures to gift your horse a healthy life are:-


It is the most crucial preventive measure in almost all animals for almost every disease. In Vaccination, we inject a dead or live attenuated antigen into the body, which results in the production of antibodies. These antibodies show a vigorously efficient response if the infection reappears.

Experts claim that horses need to receive 5 core vaccines, which include tetanus, rabies, Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE), Western Equine Encephalitis (WEE), and West Nile fever.

Dietary measures

The “Healthy gut, happy you” saying is true to its core. As Hippocrates stated, all diseases begin in the gut and hence maintenance of gut health is crucial. Horse owners can promise a healthy gut by providing their horses with a proper diet and additional dietary supplements.

A horse’s diet should be roughly 60%-70% hay centric. The Hay diet reduces the risk of colic and other abdominal pains, and it also keeps the gut healthy, which lowers the chance of bacterial infections.

An adequate water supply is also a necessity for horses.

Hygienic and managemental measures

Over recent periods, we have all understood the importance of hygiene. To prevent illnesses, keep your horse clean and groomed, trim hooves, and clean the stables.

Managemental practices may also include isolation and quarantine measures for diseased animals along with culling of the disease-transmitting animal.


Q1. What is the most common disease among horses?

Ans. Study reports show that Equine influenza caused by Equine influenza virus is the most common disease among the equine family. Other common diseases include equine colic, strangles, herpesvirus infection, heaves, and laminitis.

Q2. What is the earliest sign of colic in horses?

Ans. Colic refers to any kind of abdominal pain seen in an animal. The early signs of colic include- pawing on the ground, inappetence, passing of hard or no feces, and restless behavior.

Q3. How do equine diseases spread?

Ans. Direct physical contact, aerosol transmission, or ingestion are common ways for diseases to spread through pathogens. Other transmission routes may include infection through fomites.

Q4. What is the best way to prevent equine diseases?

Ans. Vaccination undoubtedly proves to be the best preventive measure among horses. We should revise hygiene and management practices from time to time to prevent infectious diseases.


Horses, like any other creature, are susceptible to various diseases. As equestrians and horse owners, we must remain vigilant about this matter.

We covered common horse diseases, including colic, respiratory infections, and lameness. The awareness about disease helps horse owners to identify primary illness signs and reach for quick veterinary care.

Simple adjustments to a horse’s diet, and maintaining a hygienic environment can do wonders in preventing diseases in a stable. We highly encourage incorporating probiotics and other required supplements in horse feed. Taking care of our animals and administering vaccines on time is important as well.

Remember, owning a horse is much more than merely riding it for leisure; it demands a deep commitment to their well-being, treating them as if they were a part of our own family. Let us remember the health and happiness of our horses depend on our actions and dedication to their care.


Dr Akanksha Agnihotri is another animal lover like you cum veterinarian by profession. She has earned her B.V.Sc & AH from COVS & AH, Jabalpur, India. She has a knack for befriending animals/pets and treating them compassionately. She believes...