Research Shows Owners Under-Recognize Health Problems in Older Horses

This study could provide resources to encourage owners to have veterinarians do wellness checkups on older horses.

In this study, dental abnormalities were detected in 95.4% of horses examined by veterinarians and only reported by 24.5% of owners. iStock/Anna Elizabeth Photography

Editor’s note” Veterinarians, are you looking for ways to help you help your clients’ horses? This 2011 research from the United Kingdom might give you some of the ammunition and provide resources you need to encourage your clients to have you out for well-horse checkups!

Some research studies have found that owners underestimate, incorrectly recognize or fail to report health problems in older horses. A 2011 United Kingdom study selected 200 horses 15 years of age or older whose owners had answered a survey. Those horses received a veterinary exam within two months of the responses received by the study group from owners. 

What the researchers found was that owners under-reported many “clinical signs and disease conditions” detected on veterinary clinical examination. 

“For example, dental abnormalities (detected in 95.4% of horses, reported by 24.5% of owners); cardiac murmurs (detected in 20% of horses, reported by 0.5% of owners); lameness (present in 50% of horses, reported by 23% of owners); and hoof abnormalities (detected in 80% of horses, reported by 27% of owners),” the study stated.

Agreement between owner-reported and veterinary assessed respiratory disease was poor; body condition score was fair; and coat abnormalities was moderate according to the research report. Range of motion of the tarsal and metacarpophalangeal joints was lower in horses with owner-reported osteoarthritis (P = 0.005 and <0.001, respectively).

Conclusions and Potential Relevance

“The low prevalence and relatively poor agreement of owner-reported disease compared to that detected on veterinary examination suggests inaccurate ][recognition], under-recognition or inaccurate reporting of health problems by owners of geriatric horses, which could lead to a delay in presentation for veterinary treatment. Increased veterinary involvement and improved owner education in the care of geriatric horses should facilitate earlier identification of disease, particularly that which is not readily detectable by owners, and aid management of health and welfare problems.”

“Comparison of owner-reported health problems with veterinary assessment of geriatric horses in the United Kingdom” was published in the Equine Veterinary Journal and is available to access or purchase here from Wiley online library.

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