• demographics;
  • geriatric health care;
  • horses;
  • welfare

Objective  To describe the prevalence and risk factors for clinical signs of disease and owner-reported health or welfare issues of aged horses in Queensland, Australia.

Methods  Owners of horses were contacted via an equestrian organisation in Queensland and asked to complete a questionnaire about their horses aged 15 years and older, to gain information about clinical signs observed in the horse and disease history. Owners were asked to identify health or welfare issues they felt were important in aged horses.

Results  Owners were able to identify many clinical signs of disease, with 83% of horses having at least one reported clinical sign of disease. Muscle stiffness (33%), lameness (28%), ocular discharge (22%), change in hair coat (22%) and skin problems (21%) were the most commonly reported signs. Increasing age was a risk factor for the presence of clinical signs of disease. Ponies had an increased risk of both laminitis and hirsutism, whereas Thoroughbreds had an increased risk of stereotypies, wounds, weight loss and musculoskeletal signs. Owners reported a known disease or disorder in their horses less frequently than the clinical signs of disease. Owners reported weight loss (28%), arthritis/lameness (24%) and teeth/dental care (18%) as the most important health issues, followed by welfare issues (8%).

Conclusion  Owners demonstrated concern for the health and welfare of their aged horses, but the lack of appropriate recognition of the significance of clinical signs and limited veterinary care suggest a need for increased client communication and veterinarian–client interaction.