Reasons for performing study: Previous studies suggest that owners underestimate or incorrectly recognise or report health problems in geriatric horses. However, few studies have directly compared owner-reported and veterinary assessed disease.
Objectives: To compare the findings of veterinary clinical examination of geriatric horses with owner-reported clinical signs and disease.
Methods: A total of 200 horses aged ≥15 years were randomly selected to receive a veterinary examination, from responses to a cross-sectional postal questionnaire survey. Veterinary examinations were performed within 2 months of questionnaire return, and agreement between owner-reported data and veterinary clinical findings was assessed.
Results: 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). Agreement between owner-reported and veterinary assessed respiratory disease (Kappa 0.02–0.2), body condition score (Kappa 0.24) and coat abnormalities (Kappa 0.42) was poor, fair and moderate, respectively. Range of motion (ROM) 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 or 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.