Girl caring for a sick horse

17 Signs and Symptoms of a Sick Horse

Reviewed by Dr. David J. V. Drum DVM MS

Horses are our friends and partners, and we want them to remain strong and healthy. Unfortunately, like all living beings, they are susceptible to various illnesses and health challenges that can affect their well-being. As responsible equestrians, recognizing the symptoms of a sick horse is crucial.

In this guide, we explore the telltale signs and symptoms that reveal when your horse requires medical attention or some extra TLC. Whether you’re a seasoned horse owner or a newcomer to the equestrian world, we’ll equip you with the knowledge and insights needed to safeguard your equine companion’s health and well-being.

Common symptoms of illness in horses
Change in behavior Loss of appetite Weight loss Dull eyes Nasal discharge
Coughing Fever Lameness Diarrhea/ colic Drooling
Swelling/ lumps Difficulty breathing Increased heart rate Dehydration Skin/ coat changes
Abnormal urination Neurological 

17 symptoms of a sick horse

Recognizing the symptoms of a sick horse is essential for early intervention and proper veterinary care. Horses can suffer from a variety of illnesses and conditions, and their symptoms can vary. Here are some common symptoms of illness in horses and possible underlying causes.

1. Change in behavior

Any significant change in a horse’s behavior, such as increased restlessness, lethargy, or aggression, can be a sign of illness. Often, changes in behavior indicate that the horse is in pain and uncomfortable. Sometimes behavioral changes are the first sign your horse is sick, especially when your usually chipper equine buddy becomes cranky or lethargic. 

If you notice significant behavioral changes in your horse, it’s crucial to consult a veterinarian to identify the underlying cause and provide appropriate treatment. Early diagnosis and intervention can help manage and resolve these issues.

Possible causes of changes in behavior:

  • Gastric ulcers: Gastric ulcers can cause horses to become irritable and show signs of discomfort, especially when ridden or during feeding.
  • Infectious disease: A wide variety of infectious diseases can cause fever, lethargy, and behavioral changes in horses.
  • Metabolic disorders: Conditions like equine metabolic syndrome (EMS) or pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID, also known as Cushing’s disease) can lead to changes in behavior, including increased lethargy or altered eating patterns.
  • Neurological disorders: Diseases like equine protozoal myeloencephalitis (EPM) or wobbler syndrome can lead to neurological deficits, affecting coordination and behavior.

2. Lack of appetite

A horse that refuses to eat or shows a reduced interest in food may be unwell. Lack of appetite can point to many different illnesses and health conditions. 

Possible causes of loss of appetite:

  • Colic: Abdominal pain associated with colic can cause horses to refuse food and water.
  • Flank watching: Horses may exhibit flank watching by turning their heads to look at their flanks, nipping at their sides, or swishing their tails in response to discomfort. 
  • Gastric ulcers: Ulcers in the stomach can be painful and lead to a decreased appetite, especially during feeding.
  • Dental problems: Dental issues like sharp points or tooth decay can make chewing painful, resulting in reduced food intake. Proper dental hygiene can help prevent dental problems in your horse.
  • Respiratory infections: Equine influenza or equine herpes virus can lead to nasal congestion and discomfort when eating.
  • Metabolic disorders: Conditions like equine metabolic syndrome (EMS) or Cushing’s disease can affect appetite due to hormonal imbalances.
  • Dietary upset: Sudden changes in diet or poor-quality feed can lead to digestive upset and decreased appetite.
  • Toxicity: Ingesting toxic plants, substances, or contaminated feed can result in a lack of appetite, as well as other symptoms.
  • Parasitic infections: Heavy parasitic infestations can lead to general malaise, including a reduced appetite.

3. Weight loss

Various illnesses and health conditions can cause weight loss in horses. It’s crucial to promptly address unexplained weight loss in horses, as it can be a sign of significant underlying health issues.

Possible causes of weight loss in horses: 

  • Dental problems: Oral issues, like ulcers, tumors, infections, or misalignments, can lead to weight loss because of the pain and discomfort during chewing and ingestion. 
  • Parasitic infections: Heavy infestations of internal parasites, such as worms, can cause poor nutrient absorption and weight loss. A regular deworming schedule can cure and prevent most parasitic infections.
  • Metabolic disorders: Conditions like equine metabolic syndrome (EMS) or Cushing’s disease can lead to metabolic imbalances and weight loss or gain.
  • Chronic diarrhea: Persistent diarrhea can lead to significant fluid and nutrient loss, resulting in weight loss. Monitor your horse’s bowel movements to determine whether they are irregular and a cause for concern.
  • Infectious diseases: Various infectious diseases can cause fever, lethargy, and a decreased appetite, leading to weight loss. It’s crucial to keep your horse up-to-date on their yearly vaccinations to prevent infectious diseases.
  • Organ dysfunction: Dysfunction of organs like the liver or kidneys can impact the horse’s ability to maintain a healthy weight.
  • Cancer or tumors: Tumors, especially in the gastrointestinal tract, can interfere with digestion and nutrient absorption, leading to weight loss and malnutrition.

4. Dull or sunken eyes

Horses’ eyes are big, beautiful, and expressive. When sick, their eyes may appear less bright or alert than usual, or the horse may develop discharge from the eyes.

Possible causes of dull, sunken eyes:

  • Dehydration: Dehydration can cause the eyes to appear sunken and lack their normal brightness. However, dehydration itself can also be a symptom of an underlying issue.
  • Inadequate nutrition: A lack of proper nutrition or malnutrition can affect the horse’s overall health and appearance, including the eyes. Consult a veterinarian to discuss whether your horse’s feed is adequate for their nutrition.
  • Liver or kidney dysfunction: Dysfunction of the liver or kidneys can lead to a buildup of toxins in the body, which can manifest in the eyes. Seek veterinary care immediately if you feel your horse’s liver or kidneys are the source of the issue.
  • Pain and discomfort: Pain from musculoskeletal issues or other sources can lead to an overall lack of vitality and luster in the eyes.

5. Nasal discharge & coughing

Nasal discharge and coughing in horses can be signs of various illnesses and conditions, and the nature of the discharge (clear, white, yellow, green, or bloody) can provide important diagnostic clues. 

Possible illnesses that cause nasal discharge in horses include:

  • Respiratory infections: Infectious agents like viruses or bacteria can cause respiratory infections in horses, leading to nasal discharge. Equine influenza and equine herpesvirus are common culprits. Be sure to keep your horse up-to-date on their vaccinations and seek veterinary care immediately if you suspect a respiratory infection.
  • Allergies: Horses can develop allergies to environmental factors like dust, pollen, or mold, which may result in nasal discharge as part of the allergic response.
  • Sinusitis: Inflammation of the sinus cavities can lead to a discharge that may be thick and colored.
  • Dental problems: Dental issues can lead to pain or discomfort in the mouth and sinuses, which may trigger nasal discharge.
  • Strangles: This highly contagious bacterial infection can result in nasal discharge, often thick and pus-like, along with swelling of lymph nodes under the jaw. Coughing can also occur with this illness.
  • Tumors or polyps: Abnormal growths within the nasal passages or sinuses can cause chronic nasal discharge.
  • Inflammatory Airway Disease (IAD): IAD is a non-infectious condition characterized by inflammation in the airways, which may lead to clear or white nasal discharge.
  • Tooth root abscess: An abscess in a tooth root can lead to sinusitis and, subsequently, nasal discharge.

6. Coughing

Coughing in horses can be a sign of various illnesses and conditions, many of which affect the respiratory system. If your horse is coughing, it’s important to identify the underlying cause to provide appropriate treatment.

The character of the cough, such as whether it is dry or productive (with mucus), along with other clinical signs, can help veterinarians diagnose the underlying cause. If your horse is coughing, especially if it is persistent, consult a veterinarian for a thorough examination and appropriate diagnostic tests to determine the cause and develop a treatment plan.

Possible causes of coughing in horses:

  • Cardiovascular conditions: Certain heart conditions, like congestive heart failure, can lead to fluid accumulation in the lungs and coughing.
  • Recurrent Airway Obstruction (RAO): Also known as “heaves,” RAO is a chronic condition often triggered by exposure to dust and allergens, leading to coughing and labored breathing.
  • Respiratory infections: Viral or bacterial infections, such as equine influenza or equine herpesvirus, can lead to coughing and nasal discharge.
  • Neurological disorders: Certain neurological conditions can affect the horse’s ability to coordinate the swallowing and breathing reflex, leading to coughing.
  • Parasitic infections: Heavy internal parasite infestations, such as lungworms, can irritate the respiratory tract and cause coughing.

7. Fever

An elevated body temperature is a clear sign of infection or inflammation. A horse’s normal temperature is around 99-101 degrees Fahrenheit. Fever in horses is a significant clinical sign, and it’s crucial to consult a veterinarian to identify the underlying cause. Diagnostic tests, such as bloodwork, cultures, and imaging, may be necessary to determine the specific illness or condition. Early diagnosis and treatment are important to address the root cause and provide appropriate care for the horse.

Possible causes of fever in horses:

  • Respiratory infections: Bacterial or viral infections of the respiratory tract, such as equine influenza, equine herpesvirus, and strangles, can lead to fever in horses.
  • Gastrointestinal issues: Colic or other gastrointestinal problems can sometimes result in fever.
  • Laminitis: This painful condition, which affects the hooves, can lead to an elevated body temperature.
  • Sepsis: Sepsis is a severe, systemic infection that can lead to a high fever in horses.
  • Infectious diseases: Horses can contract various infectious diseases, including Potomac horse fever, Lyme disease, West Nile virus, and African horse sickness, which may cause fever.
  • Parasitic infections: Severe parasitic infestations, such as severe worm burdens, can lead to a systemic inflammatory response and fever.
  • Wound or abscess infections: Infections in wounds or abscesses can lead to localized or systemic fever.
  • Dental issues: Dental problems, if left untreated, can lead to infections that may cause a fever.
  • Organ dysfunction: Dysfunction of organs like the liver or kidneys can lead to systemic inflammation and fever.
  • Tick-borne diseases: Diseases transmitted by ticks, such as Lyme disease and anaplasmosis, can cause fever in horses.
  • Heat stress: While not an illness, extreme heat or overexertion can cause hyperthermia, which may present with symptoms resembling fever. Learning how to care for your horse on a hot day can prevent heat stress.

8. Lameness or gait abnormalities

Lameness in horses is a common issue caused by various underlying factors. Changes in gait or signs of lameness, such as favoring one leg, can indicate musculoskeletal issues or laminitis. Additionally, conditions like osteoarthritis or muscle strains can lead to changes in gait and overall mobility, causing a horse to become less willing to move or perform.

Diagnosing the specific cause of lameness in a horse often requires a thorough veterinary examination, which may include a physical evaluation, flexion tests, imaging (such as X-rays or ultrasound), and sometimes joint or nerve blocks. Early identification and treatment are crucial to manage lameness and improve a horse’s overall comfort and soundness.

Possible causes of lameness in horses include:

  • Musculoskeletal injuries: These are among the most common causes of lameness in horses and can result from injuries such as strains, sprains, ligament tears, and muscle injuries.
  • Hoof problems: Issues with the hooves, including abscesses, sole bruising, or conditions like laminitis, can lead to lameness. Regular hoof care can prevent these problems and provide more opportunities to catch issues before they worsen.
  • Arthritis: Degenerative joint diseases, like osteoarthritis, can cause joint pain and lameness, especially in older horses.
  • Fractures: Broken bones can result in severe lameness, depending on the location and severity of the fracture.
  • Foot conformation issues: Abnormal hoof growth, such as clubfoot or long-toe, low-heel syndrome, can result in lameness.
  • Overuse or fatigue: Excessive exercise or overuse of a limb can cause temporary lameness or muscle soreness.
  • Abscesses: Hoof abscesses can cause sudden and severe lameness as the infection builds up pressure within the hoof.
  • Stifle problems: Issues with the stifle joint, such as locking stifles or patellar ligament problems, can lead to lameness.
  • External trauma: Injuries like cuts, bruises, or puncture wounds can result in lameness.
  • Ligament and tendon fibrosis: Scar tissue formation in tendons or ligaments can lead to chronic lameness.
  • Osteochondrosis Dissecans (OCD): OCD is a  developmental orthopedic condition that can affect joints in young horses, leading to lameness.

Learn what to do when your horse is lame in our comprehensive guide →

9. Diarrhea or colic

Diarrhea and colic are distinct but related gastrointestinal issues in horses, and various illnesses and conditions can lead to both symptoms. Diarrhea can lead to weight loss, dehydration, and malnutrition if not properly addressed. Colic symptoms, such as rolling, sweating, and pawing, require immediate attention. 

Possible causes of diarrhea and colic in horses:

  • Gastric ulcers: Ulcers in the stomach can lead to discomfort, which may manifest as colic and, sometimes, diarrhea.
  • Colitis: Inflammation of the colon, known as colitis, can cause both colic and diarrhea. Bacterial infections or other factors can trigger colitis.
  • Salmonella infection: Salmonella is a bacterial infection that can cause colic and profuse, watery diarrhea in horses.
  • Potomac Horse Fever: This disease, caused by the bacterium Neorickettsia risticii, can lead to colic and severe diarrhea in horses.
  • Sand colic: Ingestion of sand over time can accumulate in the colon, leading to colic and diarrhea.
  • Dietary changes or imbalance: Sudden changes in a horse’s diet or a diet lacking proper nutrition can result in gastrointestinal upset, causing diarrhea and sometimes colic.
  • Laminitis: While primarily a hoof-related issue, severe laminitis can lead to systemic inflammation.
  • Parasitic infections: Some internal parasites, like large strongyles or tapeworms, can lead to colic and diarrhea, especially in heavy infestations.
  • Toxicity: Ingestion of toxic plants or substances can cause gastrointestinal issues, including colic and diarrhea.
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD): Chronic inflammatory conditions of the intestines can cause diarrhea and may sometimes lead to colic.

10. Excessive drooling or chewing

Abnormal drooling or excessive chewing can indicate dental problems or mouth discomfort. Dental problems make it painful for a horse to chew and result in behavioral changes, like head tilting or dropping feed.

Possible causes for excessive drooling and chewing include:

  • Dental problems: Dental issues, such as sharp points, fractured teeth, or other dental abnormalities, can lead to discomfort and excessive drooling or chewing as the horse tries to alleviate the pain. Infections in the tooth roots or surrounding structures can cause localized pain and discomfort, leading to drooling and changes in eating or chewing behavior. Bacterial or fungal infections in the mouth can also cause discomfort and drooling as the horse attempts to clear the irritation.
  • Dental abscesses: Abscesses in the mouth, especially those involving the gums or teeth, can result in localized pain and excessive drooling or chewing in an attempt to find relief.
  • Foreign body ingestion: Ingestion of foreign objects or substances, such as sticks, wire, or other non-food items, can lead to mouth or throat irritation, causing excessive drooling or chewing. Physical injuries to the mouth, tongue, or lips can lead to localized discomfort and cause the horse to drool or chew excessively.
  • Gastric ulcers: Pain associated with gastric ulcers can lead to excessive chewing and, sometimes, drooling.
  • Neurological disorders: Certain neurological conditions can affect a horse’s ability to control its tongue and swallowing reflex, leading to drooling.
  • Toxicity: Ingestion of toxic plants or substances can result in drooling and excessive chewing as the horse tries to clear the mouth of the irritants.
  • Oral tumors or growth: Abnormal growths or tumors in the mouth can cause discomfort and increase drooling and chewing.
  • Mouth or throat injuries: Trauma to the mouth or throat, such as lacerations or puncture wounds, can cause pain and discomfort, resulting in drooling and changes in eating habits.

11. Swelling or lumps

Swelling or lumps in horses can have various causes, and it’s essential to have any unusual lumps or swelling examined by a veterinarian to determine the underlying issue. Any unusual swellings, lumps, or masses on the horse’s body may indicate abscesses or tumors that must be addressed quickly.

Possible causes of swelling and lumps in horses:

  • Abscesses: These are localized collections of pus that can develop in various parts of the horse’s body, often caused by bacterial infections. They typically appear as swollen, painful lumps that may rupture and drain.
  • Hematomas: Hematomas are collections of blood under the skin or within muscle tissue and can occur due to trauma or injury.
  • Insect bites and stings: Horses can develop localized swelling and lumps at the site of insect bites or stings, particularly from bees or wasps. Fly sprays can help ward off insect bites.
  • Allergic reactions: Allergies to various substances, such as pollen, certain foods, or medications, can cause hives, welts, or generalized swelling in horses.
  • Puncture wounds: Foreign objects, such as splinters or thorns, can become embedded in the horse’s skin or tissue, causing localized swelling.
  • Infections: Bacterial or fungal infections can result in swelling or lumps, particularly if they involve the lymph nodes or adjacent tissue.
  • Lipomas: These benign fatty tumors can develop under the skin, often appearing as soft, movable lumps. These are most common in older horses, though younger horses can also develop lipomas.
  • Sarcoids: Sarcoids are skin tumors commonly found on horses. They can present as lumps of varying sizes and shapes.
  • Melanomas: Melanomas are tumors that develop from pigment-producing cells. They often occur in older gray horses and can appear as lumps under the skin or in various areas.
  • Lymphangitis: Inflammation of the lymphatic vessels and nodes can lead to swollen, painful lumps in the affected area.
  • Equine lymphoma: Lymphoma is a type of cancer that can lead to the development of lumps or swollen lymph nodes.

12. Breathing difficulties

Labored breathing, rapid breathing, or flaring nostrils can suggest respiratory issues. If you notice breathing difficulties in your horse, especially if persistent or severe, consult a veterinarian for a thorough examination and appropriate diagnostic tests to determine the cause. Early intervention is necessary to address the underlying problem and provide proper care for your horse’s respiratory health.

Possible causes of breathing problems in horses:

  • Recurrent Airway Obstruction (RAO): RAO, also known as “heaves,” is a chronic respiratory condition often associated with dust and allergen exposure, leading to coughing and labored breathing.
  • Inflammatory Airway Disease (IAD): IAD is a non-infectious respiratory condition characterized by inflammation in the airways, resulting in coughing and breathing difficulties.
  • Respiratory infections: Viral or bacterial respiratory tract infections, such as equine influenza or equine herpesvirus, can lead to coughing and difficulty breathing.
  • Pneumonia: Bacterial or viral pneumonia can cause fever, coughing, nasal discharge, and labored breathing.
  • Equine asthma: Equine asthma encompasses both RAO and IAD and can result in chronic respiratory symptoms and breathing difficulties.
  • Allergies: Horses can develop allergies to environmental factors like dust, pollen, or mold, which may lead to coughing and labored breathing.
  • Lungworms: Infestations of lungworms can cause respiratory symptoms, including coughing and difficulty breathing.
  • Congestive heart failure: Heart conditions can cause fluid accumulation in the lungs, causing labored breathing.
  • Strangles: This highly contagious bacterial infection can lead to nasal discharge, swollen lymph nodes, and difficulty breathing due to upper airway obstruction.
  • Tumors or growths: Tumors or growths in the respiratory tract can obstruct airflow and cause breathing difficulties.

13. Increased heart rate

A horse’s heart rate can increase during exercise and play, but an elevated heart rate when the horse is at rest may be a sign of pain or stress. Increased heart rate can indicate various underlying issues, which is why taking stock of your horse’s overall well-being is important.

Possible causes of increased heart rate in horses:

  • Pain: Pain caused by injuries, lameness, dental problems, colic, or other sources can lead to increased heart rate in response to discomfort.
  • Fever: Infections and illnesses resulting from fever can cause the heart rate to rise as the body tries to combat the infection.
  • Respiratory conditions: Respiratory infections, allergies, or other conditions affecting the airways can lead to increased respiratory effort and, subsequently, an elevated heart rate.
  • Dehydration: Dehydration can result in reduced blood volume, which can lead to a higher heart rate as the heart works harder to circulate blood.
  • Shock: Conditions that cause shock, such as internal bleeding or severe infections, can result in a rapid heart rate as the body attempts to maintain blood flow to vital organs.
  • Pulmonary conditions: Disorders like pneumonia or pleuritis can increase heart rate due to pain, fever, and respiratory distress.
  • Metabolic conditions: Certain metabolic disorders, such as equine metabolic syndrome (EMS) or pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (Cushing’s disease), can affect heart rate and rhythm.
  • Cardiac conditions: Heart diseases and conditions, such as arrhythmias or valve disorders, can result in an elevated heart rate.
  • Electrolyte imbalance: Disturbances in electrolyte levels, particularly low potassium or magnesium, can lead to irregular heart rhythms and increased heart rate.
  • Heat stress: Overheating and heat stress can result in an elevated heart rate as the horse tries to cool itself.

14. Dehydration

Sunken skin, dry mucous membranes, and a prolonged capillary refill time can indicate dehydration. Recognizing the signs of dehydration in horses, such as increased heart rate, dry mucous membranes, sunken eyes, or skin tenting, is important. Dehydration can be a serious concern, and it’s crucial to provide affected horses with access to water and electrolytes, as well as consult a veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment. Addressing the underlying cause of dehydration is equally important to prevent further complications.

Possible causes of dehydration include:

  • Colic: Horses with colic may exhibit signs of pain, reduced water intake, and decreased gastrointestinal motility, which can contribute to dehydration.
  • Diarrhea: Diarrhea, whether due to infections, parasites, dietary changes, or other causes, can lead to a significant loss of fluids and electrolytes, resulting in dehydration.
  • Fever: Illnesses that cause fever, such as infections or inflammatory conditions, can lead to increased fluid loss through sweating and elevated body temperature, potentially causing dehydration.
  • Respiratory infections: Respiratory infections, including equine influenza or equine herpesvirus, can lead to nasal discharge, fever, and increased respiratory effort, contributing to fluid loss and dehydration.
  • Recurrent Airway Obstruction (RAO): Horses with RAO may exhibit increased respiratory effort and mucus production, which can lead to dehydration.
  • Heat stress: Excessive heat and inadequate access to water can result in dehydration, as horses lose fluids through sweating.
  • Renal disorders: Dysfunction of the kidneys can lead to impaired water regulation and electrolyte balance, potentially causing dehydration.

15. Skin and coat changes

Dull, rough, or flaky hair coat, as well as skin sores, can be a sign of underlying problems. These changes can also manifest as abnormalities in coat color, texture, and overall appearance. You should consult a veterinarian if you notice significant changes in your horse’s skin and coat, especially if accompanied by other clinical signs or behavioral changes.

Possible causes of skin and coat changes in horses include:

  • Cushing’s Disease: Horses with Cushing’s disease may exhibit a long, curly coat that does not shed normally. They can also develop a thicker, shaggy coat, which is often slow to shed during seasonal changes.
  • Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS): Horses with EMS may develop abnormal fat deposits, such as cresty necks and regional adiposity, which can lead to skin and coat changes.
  • Parasitic infestations: Severe internal and external parasite infestations can lead to a dull, rough coat and sometimes hair loss.
  • Dermatological conditions: Conditions like rain rot (dermatophytosis), ringworm, and sweet itch (culicoides hypersensitivity) can cause skin lesions and coat abnormalities.
  • Fungal infections: Fungal infections, such as dermatophytosis (ringworm), can lead to hair loss and changes in coat appearance.
  • Hormonal imbalances: Hormonal imbalances, apart from Cushing’s disease and EMS, can also affect the horse’s coat. For example, thyroid abnormalities may result in a poor coat condition.
  • Nutritional deficiencies: Poor diet or imbalances in essential nutrients can lead to a dull, dry, or thin coat.
  • Allergies: Allergic reactions to food, pollen, or other environmental factors can cause hives, itching, and hair loss, leading to coat changes.
  • Infectious Diseases: Systemic infections, such as equine infectious anemia (EIA), can lead to coat abnormalities.
  • Autoimmune disorders: Certain autoimmune diseases can affect the skin and coat, leading to hair loss, scaly skin, or hives.

16. Abnormal urination

Abnormal urination in horses can be a sign of various illnesses and conditions affecting the urinary tract and other body systems. Difficulty urinating, frequent urination, discoloration, or blood in the urine can signal urinary tract or kidney issues. Consult your veterinarian if you notice your horse is experiencing abnormal urination.

Possible causes of abnormal urination in horses:

  • Urinary tract infections (UTIs): Bacterial infections of the urinary tract can lead to increased frequency of urination, discomfort, and sometimes blood in the urine.
  • Urinary stones: Urinary calculi (stones) can cause pain and discomfort during urination and may result in straining or changes in urine color.
  • Cystitis: Inflammation of the bladder can result in frequent urination and discomfort.
  • Urethral obstruction: Blockages in the urethra can lead to difficulty or inability to urinate, often accompanied by signs of distress and restlessness.
  • Renal disease: Kidney problems, such as glomerulonephritis, can affect urine production and lead to changes in urination.
  • Hyperkalemia: Elevated potassium levels in the blood can lead to muscle weakness, including the muscles responsible for urination.
  • Endotoxemia: Systemic inflammatory conditions, like colic or severe infections, can affect kidney function and lead to changes in urination.
  • Neurological disorders: Certain neurological conditions can affect the control of urination and may result in incontinence or difficulty urinating.
  • Exertional Myoglobinuria (Tying-Up Syndrome): Severe muscle damage, as seen in tying-up syndrome, can lead to the presence of myoglobin in the urine and changes in urine color.

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17. Neurological symptoms

Signs like head-pressing, stumbling, behavioral changes, lack of coordination, or seizures can all indicate neurological problems. Neurological symptoms in horses can vary widely, and an accurate diagnosis often requires thorough veterinary examination, including neurological assessments, blood tests, and diagnostic imaging, such as MRI or spinal tap (cerebrospinal fluid analysis).

Possible causes of neurological symptoms in horses:

  • Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis (EPM): EPM is caused by the protozoan parasite Sarcocystis neurona and can lead to neurological signs such as incoordination, muscle weakness, and gait abnormalities.
  • West Nile Virus: This viral infection can result in neurological symptoms, including ataxia (loss of coordination), muscle weakness, and paralysis.
  • Equine Herpesvirus (EHV) Myeloencephalopathy: Certain strains of EHV can lead to neurological disease, with symptoms such as fever, incoordination, and paralysis. This condition is highly contagious and generally not treatable.
  • Tetanus: Tetanus, caused by the bacterium Clostridium tetani, can lead to muscle stiffness, spasms, and difficulty swallowing, which may be confused with neurological symptoms.
  • Lead poisoning: Ingestion of lead, such as from contaminated feed or water sources, can cause neurological symptoms in horses.
  • Equine Degenerative Myeloencephalopathy (EDM): EDM is a neurological condition characterized by incoordination, especially in the hindquarters.
  • Spinal cord injuries: Trauma or injuries to the spine can result in neurological deficits, including paralysis or loss of coordination.
  • Tumors: Brain tumors or spinal cord tumors can lead to various neurological symptoms depending on their location.
  • Cervical Stenotic Myelopathy (Wobbler Syndrome): Wobbler syndrome is a condition that causes compression of the spinal cord in the neck, resulting in gait abnormalities and incoordination.
  • Meningitis or encephalitis: Infections or inflammation of the brain or meninges can cause neurological signs in horses.
  • Neurological parasitic infections: Parasitic infections, such as spinal cord migration of larvae from certain nematodes, can lead to neurological symptoms.

What to do if your horse is sick

Some symptoms can indicate multiple conditions, so it’s crucial to consult a veterinarian for a proper diagnosis and treatment. Additionally, horses can be masters at hiding signs of illness, so regular observation and knowing your horse’s baseline behavior are important for early detection. If you suspect your horse is sick, seek professional veterinary care promptly. Quarantining your horse may also be necessary when a virus or disease is suspected or when rest is crucial for their recovery.

Remember to stay on top of routine veterinary visits, vaccinations, deworming schedules, and grooming to prevent illness, and stay vigilant for any signs of sickness or injury in your horse. With so much joy our horses bring us, we should do our best to help them stay happy and healthy!

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