Informed owners are better owners


In this section we have published information that we hope will make an indirect contribution to achieving better health care and welfare for equines.

Many of our clients should be aware that there is a high potential for harm, especially from Internet-based information and social media groups, because of the presence of inaccurate, incomplete, unbalanced and misleading information. We therefore believe that a collection of articles selected and written by us and other veterinarian colleagues are always the most reliable source. Our criteria of choice of the below topics is based on our daily professional experience, on our clients’ most frequently asked questions, and on what the most prevalent cases in equine medicine are.


Back pain is a common complaint from owners and riders in a variety of horses but particular in performance horses, such as show jumpers, dressage and eventing horses.
The conditions involved may be primary or arise secondarily as the result of lameness, faulty tack or inadequate schooling.
The owner/rider/trainer usually becomes aware of a problem due to a lack of or poor performance of the animal rather than actual thoracolumbar pain. 

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How does my horse´s back function?

It is important to remember that the horse keeps its back almost rigid to act as a bridge between the fore- and hindquarters. It then transmits the power or impulsion from the hindquarters to enable increased stride length and performance. The equine spine has been likened to a “string and bow” arrangement where the “bow” is the rigid vertebral column and the “string” keeps it under constant tension. The conformation, type and use to which horses are put can have an important bearing on the injury.

For example, specific spinal malformations (lordosis and scoliosis) tend to predispose to injury through the inherent weakness of the back or “bow” arrangement of the thoracolumbar spine. These conditions place extra strain on the “string” or epaxial muscles of the back, which can lead to recurrent soft tissues injuries. The majority of horses do not have this type of gross deformity, but mild conformation defects are common.

  • Short-backed horses with restricted flexibility of the spine tend to exhibit more vertebral lesions
  • Long-backed horses have relatively more suppleness and seem to be more prone to muscular or ligamentous strains.


Why does back pain arise?

There are a considerable number of clinically significant osseous and soft tissue related primary back problems, but in many cases back pain arises secondary to other problems.

Common OSSEOUS causes of PRIMARY back problems

  • Kissing spines (overriding of the dorsal spinous processes)
  • Sacroiliac dysfunction
  • Supraspinous ligament desmitis

Other osseous clinical entities  seen more infrequently include:

  • Anatomical abnormalities (lordosis, kyphosis, scoliosis)
  • Degenerative conditions (osteoarthritis of the articular  facets, ventral spondylosis, and discospondylosis)
  • Infectious conditions (spondylitis/discospondylitis)
  • Stress fractures
  • Neoplasia

Common SOFT TISSUE causes of PRIMARY back problems

  • Supraspinous ligament desmitis
  • Dorsal sacroiliac ligament desmitis
  • Muscle strains, bruises and tears
  • Exertional myopathies
  • Recurrent exertional rhabdomyolysis
  • Polyssaccharide storage myopathy

Common causes of SECONDARY back problems

  • Faulty or poorly fitting saddles
  • Poor riding (poor ability of the rider)
  • Inadequate or poorly schooled horses may also start to  present back pain
  • Primary orthopedic conditions: ◦ problems with the hind limbs (often bilateral pathology) ◦ in some occasions it can also be associated to fore limb lameness

Other circumstances that could lead to the horse becoming painful include, among many things:

  • Over-training of the horse
  • Condition of the training surface
  • Change in training surface
  • Change in hoof care
  • Increase of the intensity of the training

These lamenesses have been proposed to lead to major changes in the gait of the horse that result in secondary pain in the pelvic and back regions as a consequence of using these structures

Pain control is a primary concern in human sports medicine but, pain in horses often goes unacknowledged. It is difficult to determine the degree of pain that a horse is experiencing and people can fail to observe the horse´s body language that would provide early information about its discomfort.


How can I see if my horse suffers from back pain?

The clinical signs of back pain are varied and multiple, and easily confused with a number of other clinical problems. Some signs of back pain include:

Summary of behavioral problems related to back pain

  • Objects to being saddled
  • Hypersensitive to brushing
  • Resentment to placement of rugs over the loins or quarters or during grooming
  • Exhibits a “bad attitude”
  • Difficult to shoe
  • Difficulty in straddling to urinate or defecate
  • Rearranges the stall bedding constantly
  • Displays repetitive behaviors
  • Piles up bedding in the box to stand on or leans on the wall
  • Bucks or rolls excessively

 Summary of performance problems that may indicate back pain

  • “Cold backed” during mounting
  • Slow to warm up or relax
  • Resists work, change in general attitude of the horse during exercise
  • Reluctant to stride out, poor and restricted gait
  • Hind limb stiffness and/or lameness
  • Front leg lameness, stumbling and tripping
  • Resistance  to moving backwards
  • Excessive shying, lack of concentration on rider and aids
  • Unwillingness or inability to round the neck or back
  • Demonstrates inability to travel straight
  • Displays difficulty maintaining good stride
  • Falters or resists when making an transition along with  an inability to lead on a correct leg in canter (disunited)
  • Bucks or rears regularly
  • In dressage horses, decreased impulsion, or lack of  bend or suppleness in the back
  • Resistance to collection
  • Loss of jumping fluidity, timing and confidence

Cold backed is an unusual response to weight on his back, this can be learned behavior, possibly following back pain. The horse may collapse or roach (arch the back upwards) when backed or ridden, occasionally bucking/rearing on mounting or when ridden, and there maybe problems during saddling up or girth tightening. It is suggested that impaired performance is sometimes due to a horse trying to “save its back” even though the clinical signs of pain have apparently abated. Horses that keep their back stiff for any reason are not going to perform satisfactorily as they will lose hindlimb impulsion. A good horseman will recognize early evidence of discomfort, when problems are most easily remedied.


How is back pain diagnosed?

One of the most difficult aspects of examining horses with potential back problems is being able to assess objectively the site and degree of pain involved. This is further complicated by the marked variation of individuals in their response to pain even on a day-to-day basis (pain threshold). There is a difficulty encountered in the diagnosis of back pain using standard veterinarian techniques and using diagnostic imaging. Various studies revealed that the presence of ultrasonographic and radiologic changes cannot be interpreted as clinically significant. That is why a full history, clinical examination, observation, manipulation and palpation are so important. A lot of back pathologies are diagnosed by ruling out the other differential diagnosis. It is more important to locate the regions of discomfort and dysfunction through the observation and palpation, than to diagnose the problem causing the back pain.


What treatment options are there for back pain?

Treatment is usually multi factorial and no one treatment can be expected to cure these problems. Treatment needs to be based on:

  • Careful examination of intangibles these would include the horse’s teeth, bitting, and saddle fit.
  • Exercise therapy is a must. Exercise is designed to achieve 2 goals: 1. to stretch the top line 2. to improve strength and flexibility.
  • Pain control. The horse needs to have medication or injections to ease the discomfort.
  • Acupuncture and chiropractic manipulations can be helpful.
  • Therapies such as physiotherapy by qualified technicians, therapeutic ultrasound, electrical stimulation, magnetic therapy appear to have the best effect when used to relax the horse before exercise. Exercise must achieve the goal of the horse moving freely forward in a relaxed frame (“long and low”). If this goal was not achieved or attempted, therapy simply failed. Shockwave and mesotherapy are modalities that help achieve this goal. Mesotherapy is a technique of intradermal injection that is hypothesized to work through type I and II nerve fibers that can block pain transmission within the spinal cord.
  • Homeopathic and herbal therapies can also be very useful, especially in chronic cases of back pain.


If you have a horse with the described symptoms, please contact us, so that we can help you to treat and prevent it!!

Choke is a relatively common condition that occurs when food or a foreign body blocks the horse’s oesophagus (gullet), which is the tube that takes food from the back of the mouth (pharynx) to the stomach. Choke may be partial or complete.

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What causes choke?

The most common cause of choke is swallowing food or other material, that is either too dry or coarse (most commonly hay), or that swells rapidly once chewed (typically sugar beet) so that its passage down the oesophagus is slowed or stopped. Choke can occur if a greedy horse attempts to swallow food without chewing thoroughly or in foals who are given access to dry, coarse hay or straw. Any condition which interferes with the horse’s ability to chew properly (e.g. dental abnormalities, tongue injury) or swallow (e.g. sedation, trauma (injury) to the neck or oesophagus, grass sickness, botulism, etc.) can predispose to choke. Choke may therefore be either a primary or secondary problem.


What are the signs of choke in horses?

The most obvious signs are discharge of saliva and feed material from the nostrils and/or mouth, depression and apparent difficulty in swallowing. When first ‘choked’ some horses will become distressed and panic, make repeated unsuccessful efforts to swallow, cough and ‘gag’ as though trying to clear something from the back of the throat. If the condition has gone unnoticed, the horse may become dehydrated and severely depressed. If the oesophagus ruptures, death may follow due to shock and infection. Fortunately, this is not common. Although many cases clear on their own, if you think your horse has choke, call your vet immediately, as the sooner treatment is applied, the sooner the condition will resolve and second complications are less likely.


How is the diagnosis of choke confirmed?

Your vet will pass a stomach tube via a nostrildown into the oesophagus to confirm that something is obstructing its passage into the stomach. This examination will also determine at what level the blockage has occurred, how solid it feels and if it can be gently encouraged to pass on into the stomach.


How is choke treated?

In most cases, saliva continually produced in the mouth lubricates the offending obstruction, eventually allowing its passage to the stomach. The obstruction can be gently encouraged to move on down into the stomach with the help of the stomach tube. This must be done with great care to avoid injury to the oesophagus. If this cannot be achieved easily, the horse is sedated and the obstruction is flushed with water and lubricant via the stomach tube. Fluid is gently pumped in via the stomach tube and allowed to run out gradually flushing some of the obstructing material away. This can be a long process and patience is needed to avoid damaging the oesophagus. In some panic-stricken, uncooperative or solidly obstructed cases it is necessary to anaesthetise the horse to allow flushing to be performed safely and thoroughly. Once the choke is cleared the horse should be fed sloppy feeds or grass for several days to allow any local swelling to subside.


What are the possible complications?

The most frequent complication is inhalation pneumonia. Occasionally while choked or during attempts to clear the obstruction, the horse may aspirate (breath in) fluid and/or food material into the trachea (windpipe) and lungs causing infection, which may be fatal. Another possible complication is oesophageal rupture either as a direct result of the obstruction or following attempts to dislodge it.


Can I prevent choke?

The most important management considerations are:

  • Soak dried foodstuffs thoroughly to allow them to swell before they are eaten and swallowed.
  • Ask your vet to provide regular routine dental care to allow the horse to chew food thoroughly and effectively before it is swallowed. Injuries to the insides of the cheeks, caused by sharp teeth, will cause discomfort and may discourage a horse from chewing food properly.
  • Provide permanent access to clean water to encourage the horse to drink normally.
  • Some horses choke on a particular feed and once this is recognised, access should obviously be avoided.
  • If you have a particularly greedy horse, you might consider putting some large bricks or balls in his manger to slow down his eating.


If you have any questions or concerns please feel free to contact us.

The term ‘colic’ simply means abdominal pain. There are many causes of colic and symptoms range from very mild to violent. Colic is the number one killer of horses. Fortunately, most cases of colic are mild and resolve with simple medical treatment or no specific treatment at all. In fact, less than 10% of all colic cases are severe enough to require surgery or to lead to the death of the horse. Nevertheless, every case of colic should be taken seriously, since it can be difficult to differentiate a mild case from a potentially serious one in the early stages.

“Colic” is not a disease in itself, it is merely a symptom of disease, indicating pain in the abdomen (belly). There are many different conditions that can cause a horse to show signs of abdominal pain. Most of these involve the digestive system, i.e. the stomach or intestines, although colic can also be related to other body systems such as the reproductive tract.

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What are the symptoms?

A horse with colic will show varying symptoms depending on the cause of the colic, how long it has been present and the stoicism of the patient. Mild colic symptoms include dullness, loss of appetite, curling up of the top lip, adopting a ‘straining to urinate’ stance and lying quietly. Severe colic pain can cause a horse to roll and throw itself about in an uncontrolled and dangerous manner. The severity of the clinical signs does not always correlate with the severity of the underlying disease process, particularly in the early stages.

Common signs of colic include:

  • Turning the head towards the flank (also known as ‘flank watching’)
  • Pawing the ground
  • Kicking or biting at the belly
  • Stretching out as if to urinate, without passing any urine (sometimes referred to as a ‘trestle table stance’)
  • Lying down and getting up repeatedly
  • Repeated rolling, often accompanied by grunting sounds
  • Holding the head in an unusual posture, e.g. with the neck stretched out and the head rotated to one side
  • Lack of interest in food; either not finishing a meal or complete disinterest
  • Less frequent or absent bowel movements
  • Less obvious or absent digestive sounds
  • Sweating in the absence of physical activity or hot environmental temperatures
  • Rapid breathing and/or flared nostrils
  • Increased pulse rate
  • Depression
  • Lip curling in the absence of sexual interest
  • Grinding the teeth


What causes colic?

Colic can be due to something as simple as a gut ‘spasm’, resulting from a change in diet or routine, or as serious as twisting of a part of the intestine with consequent strangulation of its blood supply. The more common causes include impaction (where the intestine becomes clogged with semi-digested food material), displacement of a segment of bowel from its normal position, torsion or twisting, strangulation through hernias or holes, strangulation by fatty tumours wrapping around the intestine and other causes of obstruction.


What action should I take if my horse has colic?

Some cases of colic resolve without veterinary attention, however, a significant percentage of horses ultimately require medical treatment. The most critical factor in the successful treatment of colic is time, particularly if the horse requires emergency surgery. Remember that the key to success with colic is early diagnosis and treatment. It is better that the horse has recovered when the vet arrives rather than at ‘death’s door’ after waiting too long before seeking help. If you suspect your horse is suffering from colic, we recommend you take the following action: Call your Vet immediately!

They may decide it is not necessary to see your horse immediately, but leave the decision to them. Be prepared to provide them with as much information as possible:

  • Specific signs that indicate colic
  • Pulse or heart rate (beats per minute) measured over heart just behind left elbow or over an artery (on underside of jaw or back of fetlock)
  • Breaths per minute
  • Rectal temperature
  • Gum colour (white, pale pink, dark pink red, blue-purple, grey)
  • Digestive sounds (if any)
  • Bowel movements – colour, consistency, frequency
  • Any changes in recent management
  • Medical history, especially history of deworming
  • Breeding history and/or pregnancy status

NB: Do not worry, or delay calling your Vet if you cannot provide all of the above information.

  • Remove food, but leave some water.
  • If possible, move the horse to an enclosure (stall or small paddock) so that they may be observed more closely. Try to ensure adequate lighting so that the horse may be examined properly.
  • Walk the horse for short periods and then let the horse rest if it wants to stand or lie down quietly. If it is continually rolling or in danger of hurting itself, try to walk him continuously.
  • Follow the advice of your Vet. They will advise as to the appropriate course of action.
  • DO NOT administer any drugs to the horse, unless advised to do so by your Vet, since these may mask serious problems. They may make the task of making an accurate diagnosis more difficult and time-consuming.


How is colic treated?

Different types of colic require different treatments, so an accurate diagnosis is the first step and your vet will help with this or will recommend referral to an equine hospital or clinic that has specialist expertise with equine colic diagnosis and treatment. Simple large colon impactions usually respond to medical treatment. Some cases respond quickly to analgesic medication (pain killers). Other cases, however, require urgent aggressive treatment – either medical or surgical, if the horse’s life is to be saved. There are some colics that can only be treated by operating to correct the underlying problem. Even after surgery, complications may develop but these are also reduced if a rapid diagnosis has been made and appropriate treatment instigated at an early stage.


How can a vet tell what is causing the colic?

In addition to straightforward clinical examinations of the horse’s behaviour, attitude, temperature, pulse and respiratory rates, auscultation of the intestine motility, capillary refill time and mucous membrane colour, veterinary investigations such as rectal examination and passing a stomach tube can all give indications of the type and severity of the problem. It is not always easy to establish the exact problem and in some cases, surgery is needed to allow examination of the abdominal cavity (exploratory laparotomy) to pinpoint the abnormality as well as to allow correction or treatment. In many cases your vet will quickly determine whether your horse is ‘surgical’ or not, and recommend the appropriate action, which may be referral to a specifically experienced veterinary hospital or clinic. In all cases, the earlier the decision can be made as to whether medical or surgical treatment is needed and that treatment is begun, the better the horse’s chance of survival.


Can I prevent my horse from getting colic?

To a certain extent – yes. Regular worming to prevent damage to the stomach and intestine and its blood supply helps enormously. Keeping to routine and avoiding sudden changes in management and feed type also helps. Even changes in weather can result in some horses showing signs of colic. Horses and particularly their intestines are creatures of habit. Changes should be made gradually and carefully. Horses that are injured or having a break from exercise should be fed less than usual and not be bedded on straw. Many will eat their bedding and their large intestines will become impacted with this. This can be prevented by bedding them on shavings, paper or other non-edible materials. They should have unlimited access to drinking water and, if possible, some exercise. Nevertheless, some cases of colic are neither preventable nor predictable. You must be alert to any changes in your horse or pony’s health.

If you have any questions or concerns please feel free to contact us.

With each passing year, horses are living longer lives and their owners are becoming more interested in preserving health, athletic function and quality of life throughout middle age and the geriatric years. This article reviews one endocrine disorder of mature and geriatric horses: equine Cushing’s disease.

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What is Equine Cushing’s disease?

Equine Cushing’s disease, also known as Pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID) is a complex condition associated with abnormal function of a small, hormone-producing organ, the pituitary gland, which lies at the base of the brain. This disorder of the pituitary gland that results in hormonal imbalances, causing a variety of clinical signs:

  • A long and curly coat (hirsutism) that fails to shed according to normal seasonal patterns
  • Excessive sweating
  • Lethargy
  • Poor athletic performance
  • Chronic recurrent laminitis
  • Hoof abscesses
  • Infertility
  • Weight loss
  • Muscle wasting, especially along the topline
  • Abnormal distribution of fat, with accumulations in the crest of the neck, tail head, sheath and above the eyes
  • Consumption of large volumes of water and passage of large amounts of urine
  • Delayed wound healing
  • Increased susceptibility to infections

The disease tends to occur in middle-aged and geriatric horses, with an average age of approximately 20 years at the time of diagnosis. Without treatment, symptoms tend to worsen over time and many horses are euthanized as a consequence of laminitis, recurrent foot abscesses or complications related to bacterial infections.


What Causes Equine Cushing’s Disease?

In horses the disease involves the intermediate part (pars intermedia) of the pituitary, leading to a excessive production of pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) and several hormonally-active derivatives, including adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). Function of the pars intermedia is normally kept in check by the hypothalamus, a nearby part of the brain that regulates a variety of body functions such as thirst, hunger, body temperature, water balance and blood pressure. In most cases of equine Cushing’s disease, the pituitary gland is not truly neoplastic, but rather enlarged and overactive as a result of faulty regulation by the hypothalamus. In fact, the most effective available medication for the disease works by mimicking the inhibitory effect of hypothalamic nerve cells on the pituitary.


Diagnosis of Equine Cushing’s Disease

In advanced cases characterized by a long, curly coat and other classical signs of Cushing’s disease, diagnosis is relatively straightforward. Diagnosis of early cases or those characterized by few obvious clinical signs, however, is considerably more difficult. A variety of endocrinologic tests have been promoted for this purpose, the two most practical and accurate tests currently available are (1) the dexamethasone suppression test, and (2) measurement of plasma ACTH concentration.


Treatment of Equine Cushing’s Disease

Optimal management of Cushing’s disease involves a combination of both specific medication to normalize the function of the pituitary gland and supportive care to address and prevent complications associated with the disease. In both cases, management will be life-long as there is no way to reverse the disease process. In the early stages, specific medication may not be required and conservative measures such as body clipping to remove the long hair coat, strict attention to diet, and scrupulous attention to teeth, hooves and preventive care may be sufficient to provide good quality of life. Since affected horses are often insulin resistant, sweet feed and other feedstuffs high in soluble carbohydrates should be avoided in favor of diets emphasizing fiber and fat. Pelleted or extruded feeds designed specifically for older horses are strongly recommended, but those with high levels of sugar or molasses should be avoided unless needed to encourage the horse to eat. In both mildly and severely affected horses, the importance of early diagnosis and aggressive treatment of bacterial infections cannot be overstated.

Medications used to treat this condition focus on (1) reducing the amount of ACTH and other POMC derivatives secreted by the pituitary, and/or (2) suppression of cortisol synthesis and release by the adrenal glands. A favorable clinical response to therapy will be associated with improvement or normalization of results in the dexamethasone suppression and plasma ACTH tests. Early cases or those characterized by seasonal exacerbation of clinical signs may benefit from intermittent courses of therapy, while more advanced cases generally require continuous treatment for the life of the horse.

If you have a horse with the described symptoms, please contact us, so that we can help you to treat and prevent it!!Content goes here


Horses, ponies and donkeys are efficient herbivores and one of the key adaptations that evolution for a life of grazing has equipped them with is a set of hardwearing and specialized teeth.

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What sort of teeth do horses have?

Incisors: Horses have 6 upper and 6 lower incisor teeth. These are simple in structure, deep-rooted and used to grasp and tear herbage.

Canines: Canine teeth are the short and often-sharp teeth found in the gap between the incisor teeth and cheek teeth on both the upper and lower sides of the mouth. Although generally only found in male horses, small canine teeth can also be found in some mares. Canine teeth erupt at around 4-5 years of age. The original purpose of canine teeth was as fighting weaponry and as such they serve no useful function in the modern horse.

Wolf teeth: Wolf teeth are small teeth that can be found immediately in front of the first upper cheek teeth. They erupt at 6-18 months and vary considerably in size and position; they can also rarely be found in front of the first lower cheek teeth. Not all horses have wolf teeth and not all of those that do have fully erupted wolf teeth on each side. Wolf teeth can be considered as an evolutionary dead-end having once been ‘molarised’ teeth and serve no useful purpose in the modern horse. They should always be removed in horses that are for riding purpose.

Cheek teeth: Horses have evolved dentition that allows them to spend a large part of their lives grazing on abrasive grasses. The teeth that do all the work grinding these grasses to prepare them for digestion are the cheek teeth. Horses have a total of 12 premolar and 12 molar teeth divided into an upper and lower row each of 6 cheek teeth on both the left and right sides of the mouth. While the premolar teeth have a deciduous (or ‘baby tooth’) precursor, which is ultimately shed as a ‘cap’, essentially adult premolar and molar teeth have the same appearance and function. Although both of the cheek teeth arcades are composed of 6 individual teeth, in the healthy horse these teeth erupt in a tightly packed unit, essentially acting as a single grinding tooth. The cheek teeth of young horses have a large amount of ‘reserve crown’ below the gum and for the majority of the horse’s life these teeth will gradually erupt into the mouth to make up for the wearing down of the grinding surface of the tooth. In old age this constant eruption eventually results in some teeth wearing completely out.


What is mastication?

Mastication means the process of chewing food. In the horse, food is grasped by the incisor teeth and moved back to the cheek teeth arcades by the combined action of the tongue and cheek muscles. The chewing motion of the mouth is controlled by several large muscles, which act to slide the upper and lower cheek teeth against each other, breaking up the bolus of food before it can be swallowed.


Why do horses need routine dental care?

Horses have survived perfectly well for a long time without human intervention so it is sensible to question why it is necessary to perform equine dentistry at all. The answer lies not so much with the horse but with the circumstances in which it now exists. As we have discussed above, horse dentition is superbly adapted for a life of grazing on tough grasses for up to fourteen hours a day.

Domestication has brought with it altered feeding patterns and many horses now spend little time grazing due to the feeding of energy dense concentrates. Not only is less time spent chewing but it has also been shown that the type of feed given to the horse can alter its chewing pattern. The same features that make the cheek teeth ideal for a life of free-range grazing (such as continual eruption and abrasive grinding surface) can produce problems in the domesticated animal. The cheek teeth of the upper jaw are set wider than those of the lower jaw and with the altered pattern of chewing, sharp points can develop on the outer edges of the upper cheek teeth and the inner edges of the lower cheek teeth. These can rub and catch against the cheeks and tongue causing ulcers.

In addition to the effects of an altered diet on the domesticated horse, horses are often asked to carry a bit, ride in collection and be responsive to cues. It is not hard to understand why oral comfort can prove to be so important. Horses these days are also living much longer than they might have done in the natural state. It is not uncommon for horses to ‘outlive’ some of their teeth and routine dentistry in older horses and ponies focuses on preserving good function for as long as possible.


What does routine dental rasping (‘floating’) involve?

The process of removing potentially harmful sharp points and edges from the cheek teeth is called rasping or ‘floating’. This is undertaken on a regular basis depending on the age of the horse and the health of the mouth. Before rasping the teeth a thorough examination of the mouth should first be performed. This can only be done properly by using a device called a speculum or ‘gag’ to safely keep the mouth open. This allows the practitioner to look and feel inside the horse’s mouth to check not only for sharp points but also for other problems such as broken or missing teeth. Only once the mouth has been examined will the teeth be rasped. There are many different types of dental rasps available and the practitioner will have a range of instruments to allow work to be performed on teeth in various parts of the mouth. Floating of the teeth can also be undertaken using electric equipment. Electric equipment in the right hands can be a very effective tool for both routine floating and the specific management of dental irregularities. In the wrong hands however it can cause much damage to the horse either through over-heating or over-reduction of the teeth or laceration of soft tissues within the mouth.


How often should routine dentistry be carried out?

Although it is sensible for foals’ teeth to be checked at a young age to pick up any developmental abnormalities, often the first thorough dental examination and rasping occurs at 18 months to 2 years of age. Young horses can have surprisingly sharp teeth and it is wise to make the mouth comfortable prior to breaking-in. The frequency of dental examinations varies according to individual needs but as a general rule of thumb more frequent examinations are necessary in younger animals. Horses will shed 12 cheek teeth caps and 12 incisor caps and erupt 36 or more permanent teeth before the age of 5. This ‘flurry’ of activity frequently means that there are sharp or loose teeth in the young mouth and 6 monthly examinations are common place. When horses gain a mature mouth often annual visits are sufficient to keep the mouth comfortable and balanced however some horses need more frequent care, particularly if there are any abnormalities of growth such as overlong or displaced teeth. When horses reach old age it is very important not to be too aggressive when rasping in order to preserve what grinding surface area remains in the mouth. For this reason management of old horses often simply involves checking for loose or obviously diseased teeth.


Removal of wolf teeth

Removal of wolf teeth is sometimes simple and sometimes difficult and often requires sedation and even the administration of local nerve blocks. How accurately can the age of horses and ponies be determined by examining their teeth? In the past it has been common to age horses by the appearance of their incisor teeth. The eruption and appearance of various features of these teeth have been associated with particular ages, however it is now known that the technique is inherently inaccurate. A reasonable degree of accuracy exists up until the age of around 10 years, however after that it is best to talk in age groups of 5 or so years. Gone are the days when a vet would confidently state the exact age of a horse by inspecting its incisor teeth.


What about ‘caps’?

‘Caps’ typically refer to the thin remnants of the deciduous (baby) cheek teeth. Horses will lose a total of 12 cheek teeth caps generally between the ages of 2.5 and 4.5 years of age. Most of the time these are shed perfectly naturally, however occasionally a young horse will salivate or show signs of mouth pain due to a partially dislodged or loose cap. Removal of these is simple and readily undertaken at a routine dental examination. Premature removal of caps is not advisable as it can damage the underlying ‘adult’ tooth.


What advanced dentistry is now practiced?

For the most part horses get through life perfectly happily simply with regular routine floating. There are occasions however when problems may arise. Common dental problems are:

Development abnormalities: some horses develop teeth that for one reason or another erupt abnormally. The most common of these is the ‘parrot-mouthed’ horse that results in an overbite; severe cases can have incisor teeth that do not meet at all. While these incisor problems rarely cause the horse discomfort, the same horses often have a misalignment of the cheek teeth. Because the cheek teeth are designed to wear against each other, any unopposed tooth or part of a tooth can become overgrown. In some cases large ‘hooks’ can develop at the front and back of the mouth. On a similar note, horses are sometimes encountered which have an uneven number of teeth (due to a missing tooth or extra tooth) and if left untreated the resulting overgrowth can cause oral discomfort and restriction of chewing.

Fractured teeth: fractured cheek teeth are not an uncommon finding in horse’s mouths. Sometimes the cause of these fractures can never be determined but in a large number of cases it is the result of the normal forces of chewing acting upon a tooth already weakened by disease. Fractured teeth do not cause problems in all cases, however on occasion they can result in painful chewing and even infection and death of the entire tooth.

Cheek tooth infection: if a horse develops a swelling on the face or jaw or a sinusitis the underlying cause may be an infection of one of the cheek teeth. Infected cheek teeth often require removal either by standing surgery or under general anesthesia.

Periodontal disease and diastema: the cheek teeth of most horses erupt as a tight unit, effectively acting as a single tooth in each arcade. However, horses are occasionally encountered with gaps between some of the teeth, either due to the loss of a tooth or to poor eruption. Food may become trapped in these gaps (called ‘diastema’), resulting in infection, gum disease and sometimes even tooth loss. Affected horses may suffer pain to the extent that they lose weight. Management may be problematic and ongoing treatment is often necessary.

If you have any questions or concerns please feel free to contact us and we will be happy to address and evaluate the oral health of your horse.

If you own horses long enough, sooner or later you are likely to confront a medical emergency. There are several behavioral traits that make horses especially accident-prone: one is their instinctive flight-or-fight response; another is their dominance hierarchy – the need to establish the pecking order within a herd; and a third is their natural curiosity. Such behaviors account for many of the cuts, bruises, and abrasions that horses suffer. In fact, lacerations are probably the most common emergency that horse owners must contend with.

There are other types of emergencies as well, such as colic, foaling difficulties, acute lameness, seizures, and infectious diseases.
As a horse owner, you must know how to recognize serious problems and respond promptly, taking appropriate action while awaiting the arrival of your vet.

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Recognizing signs of distress

When a horse is cut or bleeding, it’s obvious that there is a problem. But in cases of colic, subtle symptoms or diseases, or even subclinical manifestations, it may not be as apparent. That’s why it’s important to know your horse’s normal behavior patterns, as well as its normal vital signs, including temperature, pulse and respiration. You must be a good observer so that you readily recognize signs of illness, and it is very useful to transmit changes of vital signs to your vet.

What is normal? Normal ranges for adult horses are:

  • Pulse/heart rate: 28-42 beats per minute
  • Respiratory rate: 10-20 breaths per minute
  • Rectal temperature: 37,5°-38,5° C
  • Capillary refill time (time it takes for color to return to gum tissue adjacent to teeth after pressing and releasing with your thumb): less than 2 seconds
  • Mucus membranes: gum color is a shiny light pink

Example of a call to your vet with some supply of information: my horse has lost his appetite, I took his temperature which was 39,5°C.

Other observations you should note:

  • Skin pliability is tested by pinching or folding a flap of neck skin and releasing. It should immediately snap back into place. Failure to do so is evidence of dehydration.
  • Color, consistency, and volume of feces and urine should be typical of that individual’s usual excretions. Straining or failure to excrete should be noted.
  • Signs of distress, anxiety or discomfort
  • Lethargy, depression or a horse that’s “off-feed”
  • Presence or absence of gut sounds
  • Evidence of lameness such as head-bobbing, reluctance to move, odd stance, pain, unwillingness to rise
  • Bleeding, swelling, heat, evidence of pain
  • Seizures, paralysis, or “tying up” (form of muscle cramps that ranges in severity from mild stiffness to life-threatening illness)


Action plan

Anytime your horse is faced with an emergent medical condition it can be scary for both you and your horse. The first thing to remember when you find your equine friend in distress or injured is to take a deep breath and evaluate your horse.

A simple, quick evaluation includes 3 steps and takes only 5 minutes.

1. Look Watch your horse in the field and as he comes in. What is his primary problem? Does he have mobility or is he lame? Depressed or anxious? Is he colicky? What signs have you seen? Write them down.

2. Touch Run your hands over your animal, does he have any new cuts, bumps or sore areas? If you find an injury, how deep is the wound?

3. Listen Take the pulse, respiratory rate and temperature of your animal. Does he seem to be having any difficulty breathing?

Now when you call your vet you can provide some key information that will help him advise you on how to stabilize your horse until he arrives. Keeping a simple first aid and emergency kit near the stable will assure that you have the tools necessary to follow your vet’s instructions until your horse can be seen.

Here are some guidelines to help you prepare:

1. Keep the numbers for your regular vet and a second vet in case your regular vet is unavailable.

2. Prepare a first aid kit and store it in a clean, dry, readily accessible place. Make sure that family members and other barn users know where the kit is.

3. Have a flashlight and batteries always by hand, as most emergencies are noticed in the evening in fading light, and a flashlight is always helpful to evaluate wounds more closely.

4. Head collar and leadrope.


First aid kit

If you haven’t got your First aid kit yet, what are you waiting for? They can be simple or elaborate, but there are some essential and mandatory items. These small items can make a great difference. Here is a list to get yours started:

  • Saline NaCl 0,9%
  • Peroxide
  • Surgical scrub and antiseptic solution (examples: iodine solution. Use the same products brands to make it easier, ex: betadine solution, betadine “foam” (red), and betadine paste)
  • Gauze pads (sterile)
  • Cotton roll
  • Contact bandage
  • Adhesive elastic bandages
  • Adhesive tape
  • Sharp scissors
  • Rectal thermometer
  • Latex gloves

Remember these points:

1. Keep the horse as calm as possible. Your own calm behavior will help achieve this.

2. Move the animal to a safe area where it is unlikely to be injured should it go down.

3. Get someone to help you, and delegate responsibilities, such as calling the veterinarian, retrieving the first aid kit, holding the horse, etc.

4. Notify your vet immediately. Be prepared to provide specific information about the horse’s condition, as mentioned above, and other data that will help your practitioner assess the immediacy of the danger and instruct you in how to proceed.

5. Listen closely and follow your equine practitioner’s instructions.

6. Do not any type of medication, unless specifically instructed to do so by the vet.

7. Prevent large clusters of people around your horse.


Take home message- Your horse’s health and well-being depend greatly on you! 

  • Many accidents can be prevented by taking the time to evaluate your horse’s environment and removing potential hazards. Also, assess your management routines to make them safer.
  • You can help your vet in an emergency by providing the proper environment to evaluate your horse, with fresh water and a power source. If your horse can walk, bring the horse into a clean, dry, covered, well-lit area.
  • The exceptions to moving your horse are, if he is down, if he is lame and refuses to walk.
  • Preparation eases the stress associated with an emergency.
  • Routine preventative care, imposed by your vet, good nutrition, and adequate water intake are the key to preventing many emergencies.

If you have any questions or concerns please feel free to contact us. We will be happy to elaborate an emergency plan with you.


Equine Herpes Virus (EHV) is a common virus that occurs in horse populations worldwide. The two most common types are EHV-1, which causes respiratory disease in young horses, abortion in pregnant mares and paralysis in horses of all ages and types, and EHV-4, which usually only causes low-grade respiratory disease but can occasionally cause abortion.

EHV-1 and EHV-4 are endemic and are present in a lot of horse populations across the world.
The hallmark of these viruses is their ability to establish life-long infections achieved by a state of latency (they remain in the body in a “sleeping” mode) from which the virus may reactivate from time to time with recurrence of infections and transmission of the virus to other susceptible horses.
EHV-3 is a venereal disease that causes pox-like lesions on the penis of stallions and the vulva of mares (Equine Coital Exanthema) and EHV-5 is a virus that is currently associated with unusual sporadic cases of debilitating lung scarring (Equine Multinodular Pulmonary Fibrosis) in adult horses.

A hoof abscess can be excruciatingly painful for a horse and is probably the commonest cause of a sudden onset of severe lameness. Many owners understandably think their horse may have broken its leg, such is the degree of lameness seen.

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What is a hoof abscess?

A foot abscess is an infection of the foot that can occur at a variety of locations and for a variety of reasons. They can occur when a bruise (or corn) becomes infected, when a puncture wound occurs, after a nail prick or often for no apparent reason. As an abscess can take several days to develop the inciting cause is often never found. Once an infection has been established and an abscess forms then if left untreated there are several possible outcomes. The infection may burst out through a weak area of the sole, often somewhere around the white line, or it may track up through the foot bursting out at the toe or in some cases at the coronary band. This is known in common parlance as “gravel”. However most abscesses never come to this, as the degree of lameness seen causes the owner of the horse to seek attention of the vet.



Diagnosis of a foot abscess can be straight forward or extremely difficult. The application of hoof testers is generally resented by the horse. There is often a bounding digital pulse and the hoof temperature can be elevated. However these signs can also be caused by a variety of other conditions (such as laminitis) making the diagnosis difficult, especially early in the course of the abscess. This often results in situations where a vet may look at the foot on one day and find little wrong, and look at the same foot a few days later (once the abscess is fully formed) to quickly and easily finds the abscess.


What to do

If a vet suspects a foot abscess may be present then they will pare away the horn and evaluate any suspicious looking tracts in an attempt to find the abscess, which may be deep seated within the foot, and establish drainage. Establishing drainage is the key to successful treatment of foot abscesses and your vet will endeavor to remove sufficient horn to ensure that the abscess drains and does not reform but do so in such a way as to allow the foot to heal. They may also have to remove the shoe as many abscesses are found beneath it and would go undetected if the show were left on. There are abscesses that may be very deep seated and impossible to find without removing excessive amounts of horn. In these cases your vet may advice poulticing to draw out the abscess and make it easier to locate. In extreme cases they even recommend an X-ray of the foot to localize the abscess. Once drainage has been established it is generally advisable to poultice the foot for several days using a wet poultice. This should ideally be changed two times per day but this can be difficult to achieve and once daily is satisfactory. Once the horse is much improved and no further pus is detected when changing the wet poultice, a dry poultice can be used, ideally in conjunction with something to harden the hoof. Your vet will advice you on the ideal course of action for your horse depending on the size, depth and location of the abscess. It is also essential that if your horse suffers a foot abscess that its tetanus cover is up to date. If not your vet will need to administer tetanus anti-toxin to proved short term cover, as well as give a tetanus vaccine to re-establish longer term immunity.


Take home message

In summary foot abscesses are common place, can cause horrendous lameness but thankfully in most cases are easily resolved with the horse making a swift and complete recovery.

If you have any questions or concerns please feel free to contact us.

Good management is the key to keeping horses and ponies healthy and to preventing or controlling injury and the spread of disease. Good management practices aim to keep horses in good condition and in a healthy environment, in order to reduce the risk of introduction and spread of disease, to identify individuals especially at risk and to promote rapid recovery if disease does occur. Management considerations include stabling, feeding, grazing, fencing, vaccinations and worming. You should discuss all aspects with your vet to develop a practical and economic management and preventive medicine program appropriate to your own circumstances.

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Do horses require stabling?

Native horses and ponies have evolved over many years to be best adapted to outdoor conditions but this is not necessarily true for many domesticated types and this lifestyle does not suit performance horse requirements. Those who live out at all times should be provided with shelter either in the form of a run-in shed or stable, or some large trees with dense cover. You should make provision for stabling or enclosing the shed in case of emergency where box rest or isolation is required. If your horse is stabled for some or much of the day, a very important feature is good ventilation. Allergic respiratory disease is a constant ‘battle’ for the stabled, domesticated horse, whose lungs are constantly challenged by stale air containing micronised environmental particles (including bedding, food and faeces), allergens and potentially infectious particles (including viruses, bacteria and fungae). The stable structure should be such that there is free flow of air from front to back or side to side to provide fresh air. Alternatively there should be adequate height to the ceiling to let stale air rise and then exit through vents preferably in a ridge at the highest point of the roof. A good deep bed should be provided both for comfort and to help avoid injury and bedding should be clean and dust free to reduce the stimulation of respiratory allergy. The doorway and ceiling should be high enough so the horse does not knock his head when entering or leaving or if he throws his head up. Doorways should be wide enough to prevent hip injury when entering or leaving. Roller bars can be helpful in this respect. Ensure there are no protuberances or sharp edges that can cause injury.


Is it necessary to isolate any new horses coming into the stables?

Strict isolation for horse or pony enterprises is seldom possible to arrange. Nevertheless, for premises where there is a number of or a relatively high turnover of horses, or in a competition yard where disease outbreaks could seriously affect performance or business activities, a small isolation unit should be organised. This should be as far as possible away from the main stable block and paddock area and should consist of one or more stables and a small paddock. Any new horse should be put into isolation for three weeks on arrival. During this time it should be monitored for signs of disease (e.g. raised temperature, depression, inappetance, weight loss, nasal discharge, diarrhoea, skin disease). The use of this type of isolation facility helps to reduce the risk of infection, which may be introduced by new horses, which may be incubating disease or may be symptomless ‘carriers’. It also allows tests to be performed prior to introducing the horse to the rest of the group, e.g. strangles. Likewise if a problem occurs the affected horse(s) can be isolated from the rest until a diagnosis is made and recovery complete. Please remember that strict isolation means separate staff, or at least separate protective clothing for staff who understand working procedures specifically for isolation stables and it means separate stable utensils (brooms, shovels, forks, skips, etc.) and mechanical aids (tractors, trailers, etc.). The associated costs must be compared to and set against the costs of business shutdown to control outbreaks of infectious disease. Speak to your veterinarian about developing isolation facilities and standard operating procedures appropriate to your own specific needs and risks.


What should I feed my horse?

Feeding is a very complex issue and should be monitored ‘by eye’. A horse’s condition is a good guide to feeding and they should be neither maintained neither too fat nor too thin. Every horse has basic essential requirements for water, energy, protein, minerals and vitamins. Water should be clean and freely available at all times. Automatic drinkers should be regularly cleaned and checked to ensure that they are functioning correctly. Native ponies require only poor quality grazing, providing they have sufficient space to walk and graze, to thrive. This is not the case for the more specialized domesticated, particularly performance horses. Most foodstuffs provide energy, although poor quality grass and hay may contain very low levels of energy, much of which is reasonably difficult to digest. Protein and energy requirements increase during growth (foals and yearlings), pregnancy, lactation and during strenuous exercise, so they need to be supplemented either with good quality hay or concentrates for performance horses for example. Vitamin and mineral requirements for unstressed adult horses can often be met entirely by grazing good quality pasture. Young growing horses, pregnant mares and performance horses need supplementation. Many vitamin and mineral supplements are available commercially in the form of ‘licks’ that can be attached to a fence, wall or supplied in a bucket to be left standing in the paddock. Other supplements come in liquid or powder form to be added to concentrated feed. Do not be tempted to mix supplements unless you have been advised to do so by your vet or a competent equine nutritionalist as it is possible to create imbalances. Avoid overfeeding as this can also cause problems such as laminitis. It may be necessary to restrict grazing, particularly during the spring when there may be excessive quantities of lush grass which is more suited to the digestive systems of cows and sheep than to horses.


What should I do to help look after my paddock?

Fencing should be safe and sturdy and must be regularly checked and maintained for potentially injurious damage. Barbed wire should never be used in horse or pony paddocks and paddocks should be free of all extraneous debris, implements and other items which may result in injury. Droppings should be regularly picked up from paddocks to reduce patchy grazing and also to reduce the risk of parasite infestation. All veterinarians are now concerned about the international spread of parasitic worm resistance to the anthelmintic drugs available to treat intestinal parasitism in horses. Dropping picking has never been more important than it is now to maintain ‘clean’ pastures to control equine parasitic diseases. Any potentially toxic plants such as ragwort or bracken should be removed (pulled out to remove the roots) immediately they are seen. Never overstock your paddocks. Horses and ponies will fight and injure themselves if made to live in close proximity, horses will be continually reinfested with parasitic worms from each others’ droppings and the stress of overcrowding will increase their susceptibility to infectious and contagious diseases. Overstocking is a sure sign of bad management.


What about vaccinations?

The availability of safe and efficacious vaccines for some equine infectious diseases is one of the success stories of modern veterinary medicine. Speak to your veterinarian to discuss and formulate the best policy for your own needs. The vaccines available in Portugal are:

Tetanus: There is no excuse for any horse or pony not to be fully vaccinated against this invariably fatal disease, the cause of which, Clostridium tetani, is a bacterium that is widespread in the environment and commonly contaminates wounds. Vaccination ensures freedom from worry every time your horse has an injury. Tetanus vaccine is initially administered on two occasions a month apart and can be first administered from 3 months of age. A third vaccine is given at 12 months and booster vaccinations are given every 12 months. In most cases this vaccination regime can be combined with that for influenza.

Equine influenza: This is an unpleasant disease that can cause epidemics of raised temperature, depression, nasal discharge and coughing in horses. It can be fatal in young foals and donkeys. More commonly it can disrupt horse training, racing and performance events and therefore certified vaccination against influenza is a condition of entry to competitions, fairs, and many other equine premises. Equine Influenza vaccine is administered at the same sequence as the tetanus vaccines. Please note that certain organisations (e.g. FEP and FEI) do require 6 monthly boosters. There is no doubt that more consistent and protective immunity is provided by 6 monthly booster vaccination and so this is recommended for horses in training for racing and performance sports.


What about worms?

It is important to have in place a worming program which involves:

  1. Rotational paddock management with periods of paddock rest.
  2. Regular removal of droppings to maintain clear pastures.
  3. Avoidance of overstocking.
  4. Routine and strategic administration of anthelmintic drugs (worming medication) and assessment of the worm control program with periodic dropping testing for worm eggs.

All four measures are important in the control of internal parasites and worm control will fail if one is unsatisfactory. New horses should be wormed on arrival and ideally groups of horses that are turned out together should all be wormed at the same time.


How can I justify the expense of preventive medicine?

The question should really be: how can I justify not budgeting for the expense of preventive medicine! There is never any question that prevention is better than cure and the costs of unsatisfactory management in relation to horse health and welfare can be very high. Apart from important welfare considerations, the costs of diagnosis, treatment, recuperation, time off and return to performance and potential business shutdown are much higher than satisfactory clinical exam, vaccination, worm control and some routine blood tests.

Please feel free to discuss this with us and we will help you formulate a cost-effective program tailored to the individual needs of you and your horses.

Modern technology combined with the love of horses has resulted in a large population of older horses and ponies. Our animals give us a great deal of pleasure during their competitive lives and we owe them the quality of life during the twilight years. As in humans the geriatric horse often requires more care and attention. They live on a tightrope, less able to cope with the stresses of everyday life.

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One year of a horse’s life is equal to about 3 years of a human life. In young horses the ratio is about one year to 3.5 years. Therefore a 15 year old is equivalent to a 45 year old person and a 25 year old comparable to a 75 year old person. Common signs of ageing include:

  • Loss of muscle tone, resulting in a flabby or a “pot-belly” appearance a sway (dipped) back
  • Tooth wear
  • Change in facial appearance, such as drooping of the lower lip and deepening of the pockets above the eye accompanied by grey hair
  • Change of weight distribution; they may deposit fat in one place yet appear skinny in others
  • A hair coat changing color and/or rough, dull, long hairs that don´t shed out properly


Areas which require special attention include:

Body Condition: Aged horses and ponies cannot withstand fluctuations in their body condition. Once older horses become thin, it is difficult and sometimes impossible to return them to correct body condition. Furthermore, thin horses tend to be more susceptible to disease and parasite problems. It is also important that the older horse and pony does not become obese. Extra weight can exacerbate problems such as arthritis and laminitis.

Vaccination and worming: As they become older, horses and ponies become more susceptible to the damaging effects of parasites and infections. The maintenance of regular worming and vaccination programs is essential to reduce the risk of ill health, either directly or indirectly related to parasite damage or infection such as ‘flu’ (Equine Influenza).

Teeth Care: Regular attention to teeth will enable the older horse or pony to make best use of the feed that he/she is receiving. Poor teeth result in difficulty in properly chewing and digesting food. The horse`s teeth constantly erupt, with each year wearing off a certain amount of the tooth until eventually there is no longer any tooth left. For many horses the loss of their teeth and inability to chew is what limits their lifespan. A visit by your vet once or possibly even twice a year, is necessary to ensure that sharp enamel edges or overgrowths do not form. Tooth damage and abnormal growth can be recognized and dealt with. Equine teeth get harder as they get older and abnormal growth problems are usually easier to correct at earlier rather than later stages. In the very old horse and pony, some teeth may be missing or in very poor condition and these may be very difficult to improve. The earlier abnormalities are dealt with, the better for the horse. There are several signs of teeth problems:

  • Holding the head sideways whilst chewing
  • Eating with the mouth open – losing feed as it chews (quidding)
  • Exhibiting pain when drinking very cold water
  • Biting problems
  • Losing weight

Hoof Care: Retirement does not mean that you can say goodbye to your farrier. Feet should be kept picked out and regularly trimmed even if the horse or pony is not being exercised. This not only helps him/her move about but reduces the risk of abnormal hoof conditions and associated foot pain developing, which may interfere with his/her ability to eat and will help maintain quality of life.


Feeding the older horse

Older horses and ponies need access to good quality feed and pasture as their nutrient demands increase because their digestive system becomes less efficient at converting food into energy. This is more important if the horse is still in work. Recent research indicates that older horses apparently do not digest protein, phosphorus and fibre as efficiently as their younger counterparts. If an older horse is doing well, no change may be necessary. The nutritional objective for the older horses, especially if they are losing weight, is a higher quality, more digestible feed. If a horse has obviously lost weight, extra energy needs to be supplied by feeding more concentrate.

  • If teeth are a problem the feed must be more energy dense requiring less quantities to be fed. ¼ – ½ cup feed grade corn oil daily will boost energy intake.
  • A total protein level of 10% is preferred.
  • More phosphorus is required which means that more calcium needs to be added to keep the correct calcium/phosphorus ratios.
  • Sugar beet pulp can be added to the ratio to provide a highly digestible fibre source.

There are several commercially-available feeds specifically made for the older horse and your vet will be able to help you decide which would best suit your requirements. If pasture is poor in quantity, hay should be fed. This does not need to be the best quality but should be readily digestible. Clean water must be available at all times.

Grazing: Most older horses and ponies on good quality pasture can meet the nutritional requirements as long as they remain in correct body condition. However in the Algarve the pasture is not as rich, thereby you should always complement with hay. Often the problem with older animals losing weight on pasture is their fear of being hurt by other animals therefore:

  • Put in groups where they are less likely to be bullied
  • Feed separately

Hay: Choose grass hay with plenty of leaves and small (fine) stems. The hay should be soft to touch. A pound of hay produces more body heat than a pound of grain. Older horses often shiver in cold weather. After eating hay, they will usually stop shivering. For those animals who eat less hay, haylage may be better and there are also many commercial alternatives to hay such as readigrass and grass high fibre cubes for example Alfafa and Luzerna.


Disease problems

Older horses and ponies are more likely to suffer from tumors, either of the skin or internal organs, some hormonal conditions, such as Cushing’s disease, degenerative diseases such as arthritis and muscle weakness, allergic respiratory disease and diseases of the liver and kidneys. This seems like a daunting list but most horses and ponies can and do lead happy and comfortable lives even in the presence of one or more of these conditions, the key is to care for your animal! Attention must be paid to appetite, attitude, and response to the environment and owners should look out for behaviour changes which indicate poor health. A periodic blood check for signs of infectious, inflammatory, parasitic and metabolic diseases may be a helpful measure to exclude any health issues of your dear companion. In many cases all that is required is a little extra care, e.g. making feed more palatable or more appealing, either by changing it to a specialised ration or by the addition of treats such as chopped apples, carrots and molasses.


Respiratory problems: Older horses and ponies are more susceptible to respiratory problems.

  • Older animals are less able to fight infection and therefore yearly vaccination is necessary
  • Dust allergies (COPD) tend to be more common in this age group and therefore care must be taken to provide a suitable environment in affected animals, e.g. shavings/paper beddings, soaked hay or alternatives. These horses tend to do better outside.

Liver damage: Unfortunately, once marked clinical symptoms can be observed, your animal is well down the slippery slope. Signs of liver damage range from subtle signs such as weight loss, excessive yawning, lethargy and lack of interest in hard food, to total anorexia and neurological signs, for example head pressing. A diagnosis is confirmed by assessing the liver enzymes and by specific liver function tests. Treatment of liver disease is aimed at supporting some of its functions and reducing the amount of protein intake.

  • High carbohydrate – low protein diet
  • B vitamins

Kidney damage: These problems can show a variety of signs. The animal may be dull, listless, stumbling or dragging the back feet. They may also have a poor or excellent appetite but be unable to gain weight. They may drink excess amounts of water and urinate excessively. A blood screen can help diagnose these problems, and treatment includes diet changes and sometimes medication.

Hormone problems: Horses with a hypo thyroid are often overweight and lack energy. A blood test can determine if there is a problem, and the horse´s feed can be supplemented with medication. Cushings disease is caused by a increase in hormone production by the adrenal gland. These horses will have a long, rough, curly coat, which usually never sheds. They may suffer from hoof abscesses and are more prone to suffer from laminitis. It is very important that they have regular dentistry checks, because it is characteristic of this disease to have an abnormal wear of the teeth.

Weight problems: Sometimes people think that they do not feed their horse anything, and yet it is still fat. Many horses`s metabolic rates will slow down as their feed is decreased. This allows the horse to conserve its energy stores when feed is not available. Sometimes the only way to get this type of horse to lose weight is to start them on an exercise program to increase the metabolic rate. The obese horse may be seen in the more geriatric horse due to feeding too much, thyroid problems or lack of exercise. The extra weight puts additional stress on the horse with lung and heart problems and aggravates arthritis, laminitis and navicular disease. Lipomas or fatty tumors are more likely to be found in the older fat horse. These fatty tumors are generally inside the horse and often look like a large mushroom. They can wrap around intestines, causing blockages, circulation collapse, colic and even death. Too much weight loss can also be a problem in more geriatric horses. As the horse ages, there is often a reduced efficiency in the digestive system. It is believed that the older horse may need a 10 to 20% increase in feed to make up for the loss of efficiency. Researchers have determined that older horses need higher-quality protein, more digestible energy and increased minerals as compared to the maintenance requirements of the adult horse. Horses over 20 years of age often have the same requirements as yearlings. Once an older horse loses weight, it is more difficult to return it to good body condition. Sometimes no matter what is fed, the horse does not gain weight, but clients have reported good results with a variety of feeds and supplements.

Colic: The geriatric horse is more prone to internal fatty lumps or lipomas which are not problems in themselves but they may cause the intestines to twist and become entangled. Such conditions can be corrected by surgery if diagnosed early but one has to consider the age of the horse with respect to such a major operation, associated anaesthetic risk and cost with the risk of recurrence.

Melanomas: Melanomas are one of the most common ‘skin cancers’ of the horse. They occur most commonly in grey animals and can appear at any age. In older horses however, they can be well progressed in their development and cause problems depending on the site affected. They appear initially as small fairly hard swellings in the skin which are not painful to touch. The tumours are mostly slow growing and it may take 5-6 years to reach 3-4cm diameter. The most common sites include the anus, vulva, dock, lips, eyelids and prepuce. Large growths in this region may interfere with defecation for example. Small tumours that are not causing a problem tend to be left alone. However, when interference is apparent or ulceration of the skin becomes evident then the standard treatment involves surgical removal. This may not be possible if, for example, extensive areas of the anus are involved. There has been some recent evidence of a drug helping to limit or improve the situation but it is not curative.

Arthritis: Arthritis affecting one or more joints is a common phenomenon of the geriatric horse. It is usually seen as a stiffness or lameness of varying degrees that tends to improve with exercise. Affected animals are worse in cold damp weather. Once arthritis is present it cannot go away. However, the situation can stabilise. Arthritis is probably one of the most common reasons for retirement of horses. Initially, the animals do well if the workload is reduced, for example competitive work to light hacking. Lameness diagnosis and x-rays are necessary first in order to confirm the diagnosis and establish the severity of the condition. Work will tend to speed up the condition and if tripping is a feature then riding cannot be recommended due to the potential danger of injury both to the horse and rider if the animal was to fall. For the retired arthritic horse, painkiller medication can be used but preferably on a low dose alternate day medication as the drug can cause liver damage in the long term. In addition, if high doses are required in order to keep the animal comfortable then one has to question the welfare aspects of keeping the horse alive. Other remedies that are often used include: homeopathic remedies, commercially available herbal remedies.


Take home message

Most old horses and ponies are able to lead a good quality life for many years after their working life is over. They are often excellent companions for each other, younger horses or orphan foals. They can also be a wonderful first introduction for young children to the joys of just having a horse around. However, it is important that we make sure that they are still enjoying their lives. This can be clearly and honestly assessed by those who know them by their demeanour and their behaviour. Old horses and ponies should not be left to suffer. When they are no longer enjoying themselves, for incurable reasons and this becomes clear, humane euthanasia should be discussed with your vet, earlier rather than later.

However painful a decision this may be to you, it will be a kindness to your friend. If you have any questions or concerns please feel free to contact us.

Ticks are able to inoculate infectious diseases into horses when feeding on them. Horses are especially prone to this, therefore, especially during the spring and autumn months, owners should be aware of how to look for and how to remove ticks from their horses, thus reducing the risk of the horse becoming infected by a possibly fatal or devastating disease. There are a few tick diseases which owners could be confronted with and these include Equine Ehrlichiosis, Lyme disease, and Equine Piroplasmosis. There is an increased awareness regarding the emergence of these TBD (tick borne diseases) in Europe. Over 800 tick species have been described, but only a few of the Ixodes, Rhipicephalus, Dermacentor, Hyalomma, and Haemaphysalis tick species are known to transfer diseases to humans. In Portugal and in Europe, the most common tick is Ixodes ricinus.

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These blood-borne parasitic diseases affect horses, ponies, donkeys, mules, and zebras. They TBD are transmitted by ticks and caused by parasites located inside the erythrocytes. The main tick borne diseases are:

  • Equine Piroplasmosis (Babesia caballi and Theileria equi). This disease is endemic in many tropical and subtropical areas of the world, as well as in temperate zones like the Algarve.
  • Equine Granulocytic Ehrlichiosis (Anaplasma phagocytophilia).
  • Lyme Disease (Borrelia burgdorferi). The clinical relevance of a B. burgdorferi infection in horses is still unclear, but horse owners and equine practitioners show increasing concerns about this pathogen.


How are TBD spread?

Ticks ingest blood from infected equine and then bite uninfected equine, spreading the disease through blood contact. The ticks however, must be attached to the host for at least 12 to 24 hours to be able to transmit the disease. B. caballi and T. equi are spread by ticks in the genera Dermacentor, Hyalomma, and Rhipicephalus. Anaplasma phagocytophilia and Borrelia burgdorferi are spread by Ixodes ricinus ticks. Equine piroplasmosis may also be transmitted via contaminated surgical instruments, blood products or syringes. Intrauterine infection from mother to foal has also been reported. Following recovery from infection, horses may become lifelong carriers of the disease and represent a potential reservoir of parasites.

The clinical signs of equine tick borne diseases are often nonspecific, but the most constant signs are fever, lethargy, anemia and ictericia (jaundice).

Common clinical signs:

  • progressive signs of fever
  • depression
  • lethargy
  • partial anorexia
  • limb edema
  • petechiation (red, pinpoint lesions on mucous membranes)
  • ictericia (yellow discoloration of mucous membranes)


Specific clinical sigs:

  • Borrelia burgdorferi : lameness, edema of the joints, and stiffness
  • Equine piroplasmosis: can occur in acute, sub-acute and chronic forms. Severity depends on whether the horse was previously exposed to the agent and immunity status. Some horses can present signs of colic and weight loss. Theileria equi tends to cause more severe disease than B. caballi.
  • Anaplasma phagocytophilia: Horses under the age of one may show little or no signs and symptoms whereas old older horses are more at risk of having more severe problems, like ataxia.


How can I be certain that my horse has a tick borne disease?

TBD should be considered in any horse that has a fever, lethargy, depression and ictericia and that lives or has been imported from an endemic area. Diagnosis is often based on the typical clinical signs described above and abnormal laboratory findings. Laboratory tests are needed to confirm diagnosis.


Is there an effective treatment?

Equine Piroplasmosis: Treatments are available which include anti-protozoan drugs as well as supportive therapy. Following infection, this can be a very stressful time for both horse and owner. This disease can be fatal, and some horses may have long term problems following recovery, such as continued kidney problems or less energy during exercise. Intramuscular imidocarb, a specific anti-Babesia antibiotic is used to treat the disease. Recent literature suggests that even high dose treatment may not be capable of eliminating B. caballi and T. equi infections from healthy carriers. We have to keep in mind that an infection with T. equi often results in life-time carriers.

Equine Granulocytic Ehrlichiosis and Lyme Disease: Intravenous oxytetracycline or oral doxycycline is usually sufficient to resolve the disease. We also recommend treatment to manage the fever and some horses need additional supportive therapies such as IV fluids and laminitis prevention due to the high fevers. The prognosis for recovery from EGE is excellent, and horses that are promptly treated often have resolution of clinical signs within 12-24 hours. A full course of treatment is still recommended to be certain that the Anaplasma p. organism is eliminated.


Are there any preventive measures?

Unfortunately there are no vaccines available for these tick borne diseases. Prevention of infection in horses is mainly achieved by looking for ticks and removing them correctly as soon as possible with repellants, never manually, and applying tick repellents. A tick must be at least 12 to 24 hours attached to the horse to be able to transmit the disease, so the searching for ticks and removing them with chemicals is the key to prevention! Environmental factors, such as climate, vegetation type, and abundance of suitable hosts, limit the geographic distribution of the ticks and the pathogens they may carry. Climate changes, certain human activities and behavior, movements of animals and other factors may lead to changing numbers of ticks and dispersal of the tick population and the pathogens they carry. Such changes may lead to a new status quo of the risk of tick bites for human and animal health. Monitoring tick distribution and the prevalence of tick-borne pathogens in domestic animals (including horses) is important to understand the epidemiology and therefore the risk of tick-borne disease in general. Multidisciplinary strategies addressing these pathogens may also help to implement measures to diagnose, treat and control transmission to humans and animals.

Please feel free to contact us for more information about tick repellents.

In the Algarve we see a lot of horses with the so called sweet itch, also called Seasonal Recurrent Dermatitis (SSRD), summer itch or more technically and correctly Insect Hypersensitivity.

Sweet itch is a medical condition in equines caused by an allergic response to the bites of Culicoides (gnats) and Simulium (black flies) species, Stomoxys calcitrans (stable fly) and, possibly, Haematobia irritans (horn fly). It is a very common disease in the horses here in the Algarve because of the warm climate.

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How and why does my horse get sweet itch?

A hypersensitivity reaction to specific allergens in the saliva of Culicoides and Simulium species. This hypersensitivity response is mediated by IgE, an antibody produced by the horse´s immune system which binds the allergens, causing a cascade production of histamine and cytokines which make the horse´s skin inflamed and itchy. It is possible that some horses have hypersensitivity to multiple insects, however Culicoides are the most important cause of equine insect hypersensitivity. What are the clinical signs of sweet itch?? Clinical signs are distinctly seasonal (spring through fall), paralleling the presence of insects. The condition typically worsens with age. Clinical signs are often worse near dusk and dawn, when the Culicoides are more active.

Affected horses usually show one of three patterns of skin disease: (1) Dorsal distribution; (2) ventral distribution; (3) some combination thereof. These differences in lesion distribution probably reflect the different preferential feeding sites of the various insect species.

1. Dorsal insect hypersensitivity: is characterized by pruritus, with or without crusted papules, usually beginning at the mane, rump, and base of the tail. The condition then usually extends to involve the face, pinna, neck, shoulder and dorsal thorax. Self-trauma and chronicity lead to excoriations, variable hair loss, lichenification, and pigmantary disturbances.

2. Ventral insect hypersensitivity: is characterized by pruritus, with or without crusted papules, beginning on the ventral thorax and abdomen, axillae, and groin. The legs and intermandibular space are often involved. Secondary changes may occur as described above.

Affected horses scratch and chew at themselves, and rub against environmental objects. Reflex nibbling movements can often be elicited by manipulation of the skin of the mane. Some horses may suffer behavioral changes (anxious, nervous, restless, aggressive), and be unfit for riding, showing or working. Others may lose weight due to the constant irritation. Sometimes horses develop secondary bacterial infections.


Is there any way to treat my horse with sweet itch?

Yes there is!!! The cause of sweet itch is the insect bite, so if you can control the insects and prevent them from biting your horse, you can control the disease. There are a lot of repellants on the market, but mostly you have to repeat the application several times a day to be effective and control the insects.

Please contact us for information on OUR WAY of preventing and effectively treating your horse!

Horses, ponies and donkeys often receive cuts and other wounds particularly on their face and legs.
Many wounds require just simple first aid measures, while others require the attention of your veterinarian. Simple first aid measures can help reduce the risk of infection or further damage.
The sight of blood may unnerve you, but maintaining your presence of mind can save your horse’s life. The initial steps you take to treat a wound can prevent further damage and speed healing. How you proceed will depend on your individual circumstances, and you must exercise good judgment.

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Some useful guidelines:

1. Catch and calm the horse to prevent further injury. Move the horse to a stall or other familiar surroundings if this is possible without causing distress or further injury to the horse. Providing hay or grain can also be a good distraction.

2. Get help before attempting to treat or evaluate a wound. It can be difficult and very dangerous to try to inspect or clean the wound without someone to hold the horse. You cannot help your horse if you are seriously injured yourself.

3. Evaluate the location, depth, and severity of the wound. Call your vet for a recommendation anytime you feel your horse is in need of emergency care.

4. Here are some examples of situations where your vet should be called:

  • There appears to be excessive bleeding
  • The entire skin thickness has been penetrated
  • The wound occurs near or over a joint
  • Any structures underlying the skin are visible
  • A puncture has occurred
  • A severe wound has occurred in the lower leg at or below knee or hock level
  • The wound is severely contaminated


5. Consult with your vet regarding a recommendation before you attempt to clean the wound or remove debris or penetrating objects, as you may precipitate uncontrollable bleeding or do further damage to the wound. Large objects should be stabilized to avoid damaging movement if possible. Don’t put anything on the wound except a compress or cold water.

6. Stop the bleeding by covering the wound with a sterile, absorbent pad (not cotton), applying firm, steady, even pressure to the wound.

7. Do not medicate or tranquilize the horse unless specifically directed by your vet. If the horse has suffered severe blood loss or shock, the administration of certain drugs can be life-threatening.

8. If the eye is injured, do not attempt to treat. Await your vet.

9. If a horse steps on a nail or other sharp object and it remains embedded in the hoof, first clean the hoof. Consult with your veterinarian regarding a recommendation before you remove the nail. If your vet advises, carefully remove the nail to prevent the horse from stepping on it and driving it deeper into the hoof cavity. As you remove it, be sure to mark the exact point and depth of entry with tape and/or a marker so the vet can assess the extent of damage. Apply antiseptic to the wound, and wrap to prevent additional contamination.

It is very important to have always a first aid kit near the stable or padock.

Basic First Aid Kit for Wounds:

  • Saline NaCl 0,9%
  • Cotton roll
  • Contact bandage – Gauze pads (sterile)
  • Adhesive elastic bandages
  • Adhesive tape
  • Sharp scissors
  • Surgical scrub and antiseptic solution (examples: iodine and peroxide solution)
  •  Latex gloves
  • Wound spray, crème and/or powder


What should I do first?

  • If your horse has sustained a cut or wound the most important thing to do is to stop the bleeding. This can be done by applying direct pressure to the wound using gauze or a compress, either held or bandaged in place until the bleeding has stopped or your vet has arrived.
  • If there is foreign material, e.g. wood or metal, protruding from the wound, pressure should be applied immediately above and around the wound. If this is small and can safely be removed, it is best removed. But remember to always consult your vet before you remove any foreign body, and keep it for his or her examination, as he or she will wish to make sure that no more foreign material is left more deeply in the wound.
  • If an artery or vein has been cut it may take 20 minutes to half an hour for bleeding to stop. In some cases of arterial bleeding, this cannot be stopped until the artery has been clamped or tied off by a vet and in such cases it is important to continue to apply pressure until he or she arrives.
  • Liberal dowsing with water, using a hose, is effective at flushing off dirt and debris and helping to minimize swelling and inflammation. Cold water also helps to stem bleeding.
  • Minor wounds can be cleansed using a dilute solution of disinfectant (clorhexidine or betadine), and wound spray.
  • If the wound is large or deep or there has been extensive bleeding your veterinarian should be called. While waiting the wound should be left covered where possible. Wounds on the upper limbs, body and head, not amenable to bandaging, should just be cleaned and left open or continually cold-hosed. Do not apply wound powder or ointment just in case the wound needs stitching, unless your vet is going to be delayed, then it is helpful to cover the wound with anti-bacterial ointment/creme but always with consent of your vet.
  • If your horse has a wound that you think may require suturing it is important to call your vet as soon as possible after discovery. Wounds sutured within 4 hours of occurrence tend to heal much more successfully than those that are repaired later, after the tissues have started to dry out. When sutured later, wounds may have already developed a considerable amount of swelling are therefore less amenable to suturing and are more susceptible to the development of complications and infections.


Wounds over joints, tendon sheaths and penetrating body cavities

Wounds involving joints and tendon sheaths are always potentially life-threatening as infection in these structures can be extremely difficult to resolve even if undertaken very quickly. Inflammatory responses can result in joint surface or sheath membrane damage and, with associated infections, can cause long term or permanent incapacity. If there is evidence of infection the joint or sheath this will require treatment urgently, the sooner this is done following injury the better are the chances for a successful recovery. Similarly, penetrating wounds into the chest and abdomen may cause immediate death or serious life-threatening complications.

Wounds into the chest and abdominal area

Wounds into the chest may affect a horse’s ability to breathe and can result in the development of pleuropneumonia. Penetrating wounds into the abdominal cavity will result in the development of peritonitis and may cause damage to any of the internal organs. These cases, if resolvable, will need intensive treatment. Your vet should be called immediately, stressing the emergency nature of the injury.

Wounds that don’t heal

Some wounds that may appear very simple sometimes don’t heal. When this happens call your vet, because the wound that doesn’t want to heal is not just a simple wound, it has an underlying problem that requires the attention of a vet.

If you have any questions or concerns please feel free to contact us.


What does the law say about animal cruelty?

Portugal’s animal protection law (DL nº 69/2014 de 29 de Agosto) came into effect in October 2014 and criminalizes the abandonment, neglect and abuse of “companion animals”. According to the law, abandoning companion animals or putting them in danger through lack of care or food, can be punished with high fines and even imprisonment. The same law applies to animal owners (or the person in charge of looking after the animal), who without reasonable cause inflict pain, suffering or any other kind of physical maltreatment, or whose behaviour result in the death of the animal, the deprivation of an important organ or limb or serious and permanent damage to their ability to walk.

Whilst the new law was a great step forward in the prevention of animal cruelty there are still many inconsistencies and gaps. For example, the definition of a companion animal or pet is unclear for in our experiences it excludes equines that are kept as “farm animals, for the purpose of breeding, sports and trade”.


What are the signs of equine cruelty?

Please note that the legal definitions of animal cruelty (abandonment, abuse and neglect) can vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Nevertheless, below are listed the most obvious signs of animal maltreatment that we have seen in practice.



  • No evidence for food and water over long periods of time.
  • Lack of shelter from extreme weather conditions.
  • Filthy living conditions (animals found in faeces, garbage, broken glasses, sharp objects, or any other harmful objects).
  • No adequate space for normal movements or for having social interactions (too small or overcrowded spaces).
  • Lack of companionship (in many first world countries it is forbidden to keep one horse only, without a companion).
  • Inappropriate husbandry conditions (particularly in extreme weather).
  • Hoarding (involves owners who have more animals than resources to care for them).



  • Wounds on the body (often caused by tight collars or ropes around the neck or feet).
  • An owner striking or physically abusing an animal.
  • Multiple scars and untreated skin (loss of hair, scales, bumps, rashes, sunburns).
  • Extremely thin or emaciated animals (bones may be visible).
  • Presence of an excessive amount of fleas, ticks or other parasites.
  • Overgrown hooves.
  • Limping or inability to stand or walk normally.
  • Discharges from nose and eyes.
  • Visible signs of confusion or drowsiness.
How can I file a complaint?

Before you report a case of equine cruelty to the authorities (SEPNA & GNR) it is advisable to gather as much information as possible. However, never put yourself in danger and do not enter another person’s property without permission. Also be extremely careful around animals that may experience high levels of stress due to being scared or in pain.


  1. Write a clear and concise report on what you have witnessed, when and where (including dates, times, full address or GPS coordinates of the location).
  2. Take photographs of the animal and if possible of the location where it is kept.
  3. Gather testimonies from other witnesses (neighbours, locals or other people/organizations with firsthand information).
  4. Keep record of the name of the law enforcement officer assigned to your case, the date of the first contact and any documented evidence you presented. Should the response take too long, make a polite follow-up call.
How to prevent road accidents involving equines!

Every year numerous traffic accidents involving horses occur in the Algarve. The majority are caused by animals that have been left to roam freely in fields without fencing, animals that broke loose from their ropes or by abandoned animals.

Whilst it is illegal to abandon an animal, the rules surrounding insecurely tethered horses are not yet clearly defined by law.

For this reason, the Councils of Albufeira, Lagos, Portimão and Olhão, in cooperation with their respective GNR Police Force, have introduced a scheme of fines ranging from €50.00 to €2,500 that owners will be charged with should they leave their animals insecurely tethered or to graze on land that is not fenced.

Olhão was the first Council in the Algarve that took the exemplary initiative to introduce this new penalty scheme in order to save lives.


Citizens should report any cases of loose or abandoned horses in public areas or near public roads to the PSP or GNR, the Municipal Veterinarian or the Municipal Fire Station of their respective area of residency.



(SEPNA) Serviço de Proteção da Natureza e do Ambiente
Largo do Carmo
1200-092 Lisboa
Tel: (+351) 213 217 291/2
SOS: (+351) 808 200 520
Email: /

For contacts of the GNR in your area, view this page.



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