Reasons for performing study: Geriatric horses (aged ≥15 years) represent a substantial proportion of the equine population, yet few studies have investigated the prevalence of diseases within this population in the UK.
Objectives: To describe the findings of veterinary clinical examination of 200 geriatric horses and ponies in north west England and north Wales, and to assess the effect of animal age and type (horse or pony) on the presence or absence of clinical signs and veterinary diagnosed health problems.
Methods: From responses to a cross-sectional postal questionnaire survey of owners of geriatric horses (n = 918/1144), 200 horses were randomly selected to receive a veterinary clinical examination covering the major body systems.
Results: Twenty-six percent of animals were overweight (body condition score, BCS, >3/5) and 4.5% were underweight (BCS <2/5). Seventy-one percent had a dermatological abnormality and 22% displayed hirsutism or abnormal moulting. Ophthalmic lesions frequently identified included vitreous degeneration (66.0%), cataracts (58.5%) and senile retinopathy (33.7%). The prevalence of cardiac murmurs was 20%. Whilst only 7.5% of animals had a spontaneous cough during the examination, 18.5% had some form of nasal discharge and 22% had abnormalities on thoracic auscultation at rest. Following rebreathing, 13.6% developed marked abnormalities consistent with lower airway disease. When assessed at walk, 18.6% were lame on at least one limb, while 50.5% were lame in trot. The majority of animals (83.5%) had a reduction in range of motion in at least one joint. Eighty percent of animals had hoof abnormalities. Dental abnormalities were identified in 95.4% of animals, with cheek teeth diastemata, excessive wear/cupped out teeth and focal overgrowths the most frequently identified conditions.
Conclusions and potential relevance: This study has identified many prevalent clinical signs of disease in geriatric horses. Description of the most prevalent health problems and further identification of risk factors for these conditions will aid in targeted improvements in veterinary care, owner education and welfare.