Lameness is three times more likely to be caused by conditions such as osteoarthritis in the limb, rather than problems in the foot, according to the latest National Equine Health Survey (NEHS).

The results are consistent with previous NEHS findings, showing evidence, rather than opinion, is now being generated by report, helping owners and experts to understand and improve the health of the country’s 944,000 horses. 

Blue Cross runs NEHS in May each year, in partnership with the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA). It is sponsored by Spillers and Zoetis, and supported by the UK’s leading equestrian organisations and charities. This year saw a 35% increase in participation compared to 2014, with survey records returned for almost 15,000 horses, ponies, donkeys and mules.

The horse’s foot is fundamental to soundness and performance, but NEHS results have shown consistently that limb lameness, as opposed to foot lameness, is the biggest syndrome affecting horses.

In the latest survey, conducted in May, 18% were recorded as lame, with 13.5% of these recorded as suffering with lameness such as osteoarthritis – also known as degenerative joint disease (13.9% in 2014 and 14.8% in 2013).  Meanwhile, foot lameness was recorded in 4.5% of returns – a similar figure to previous years.

Josh Slater from the Royal Veterinary College, who is member of BEVA’s health and medicines committee and analysed the NEHS data, said: “NEHS is now producing important evidence that is replacing subjective opinion. While the lameness figures were initially surprising, given the foot has been generally regarded as the main problem area, the fact these figures have remained consistent over the past three years gives constructive credibility to the data.

“Our findings will help owner vigilance with day-to-day health care, as well as help prioritise on areas for future veterinary education and research.”

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