National Equine Health Survey

In its eighth and final year, the annual National Equine Health Survey (NEHS) has confirmed that it is an accurate tracker of endemic equine disease in the United Kingdom.

Pioneered in 2010 by national pet charity Blue Cross, the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA), and professor Josh Slater, BVM&S, PhD, Dipl. ECEIM, of the Royal Veterinary College, the NEHS was designed to provide a landscape on horse health and welfare in the U.K. The results of the 2018 survey remain consistent with previous survey results, providing a clear sense of what continues to affect the health of British horses year after year, helping equine specialists to benchmark and educate on current and predicted equine health priorities.

“Thanks to the loyal support of the U.K.’s horse, pony, mule, and donkey owners and keepers NEHS has achieved more than we ever imagined over the past eight years,” said Gemma Taylor, education officer at Blue Cross. “Our charity’s history dates back to treating horses in World War I and rescuing and rehabilitating hundreds to this very day. Blue Cross is extremely proud to have played an important part in developing NEHS into one of the most important endemic disease monitoring initiatives in the U.K..”

David Mountford, chief executive of BEVA, added, “NEHS is now well recognized as an important benchmark for horse health and the results are cited regularly.”

And Gemma Stanford, director of welfare at the British Horse Society, said, “The information it has generated over the past eight years has been enlightening and gives all of us within the industry a valuable guide to the most significant endemic diseases affecting our horses today.”

As a snapshot survey at community level, the NEHS has looked at the prevalence of the same disease syndromes during the same week of May every year. It has relied on survey feedback from thousands of U.K. horse owners and keepers and is the first time anyone has obtained data about what really affects the UK’s horses from a community perspective.

The information generated by NEHS has helped researchers pinpoint trends in endemic equine diseases. The results are regularly referenced by veterinarians and researchers as benchmarks for general horse health knowledge. The emerging patterns are now helping to steer equine awareness, education, and research to help keep the U.K.’s horses healthier.

This year, 5,529 people returned records for 13,873 horses, similar to returns for previous years.

The results enable an initial breakdown into general disease syndromes and then a further breakdown into individual diseases. In each case the 2018 results for both were similar to previous years.

General disease syndromes:

  1. Skin problems (33% of all syndromes recorded);
  2. Lameness including laminitis (29% of all syndromes recorded);
  3. Metabolic diseases (7.4% of all syndromes recorded);
  4. Respiratory diseases (7% of all syndromes recorded) and
  5. Eye problems (6% of all syndromes recorded).

Individual disease syndromes:

  1. Lower limb (nonhoof-related) lameness (18.5% of all syndromes recorded);
  2. Laminitis (5.4% of all syndromes recorded);
  3. Mud fever (also known as scratches, 6.7% of all syndromes recorded);
  4. Sweet itch (7.3% of all syndromes recorded); and
  5. Pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID, or equine Cushing’s disease, 5.3% of all syndromes recorded).

More detailed survey results are available at bluecross.org.uk/national-equine-health-survey-0.

“The NEHS is a gamechanger that has proved its worth and has changed the landscape for endemic equine disease surveillance,” Slater said. “It has demonstrated that it’s possible to collect data at this level and the consistency has shown that the data is reliable. We now have a solid foundation that we never had before which tells us with confidence what the common problems affecting U.K. horses are.”

While NEHS has now finished, survey participants who have confirmed interest in pursuing further equine health initiatives will have the opportunity to take part in new projects in the future.

Supporters of NEHS include the British Horse Society, Horse Trust, Redwings, World Horse Welfare, and the Pony Club. Dodson and Horrell supported the initiative by helping Blue Cross cover the costs of running the scheme.