October 2008 - Crimean War Disease resurfaces as horse neglect increases

October 2008 - Seedy Toe


BulletArchive - Forge Magazine - October 2008
Crimean War Disease resurfaces as horse neglect increases

There has been an alarming reappearance of a skin disease, verrucous pastern dermatitis, according to equine welfare charity World Horse Welfare. The disease, which was eradicated from horses during the Crimean War in the mid-19th century, develops as a direct result of standing in damp, muddy and unhygienic conditions, and is one of an increasing number of skin diseases being seen by skin experts in the UK, as a direct result of horse neglect. Over the past five to 10 years there has been a 25 per cent increase in reported cases of verrucous pastern dermatitis, at the same time, a significant increase in other skin diseases such as sarcoids, mud rash and canker, affecting the legs and hooves of horses is reported by the University of Liverpool’s Professor Derek Knottenbelt, an expert in skin diseases in horses.
‘In 1973, sarcoids affected around 1.5 per cent of the horses in the UK, but this has risen to over 6 per cent now. The numbers don’t look high but in a population of over 1 million horses this is an enormous increase of around 45,000 cases!’ Professor Knottenbelt explains.
This rise in the number of cases of skin diseases directly corresponds with World Horse Welfare’s statistics that show an increase of nearly 50 per cent in the overall number of concerned welfare calls to the charity in the past five years.
Professor Knottenbelt says: ‘If these diseases were preventable during the Crimean War, when horses spent their days and nights knee deep in mud, then they are surely preventable today. The reason we’re seeing such an alarming increase in the number of new cases is largely a result of owners’ ignorance and regrettably in many cases, neglect.’
Once these conditions develop it becomes increasingly difficult to control their progression. Prevention is inevitably better than cure, but prevention involves regular and careful checking and appropriate care. Early detection of any disease gives opportunities for treatment; chronic neglect usually means that treatment is difficult, disappointing and usually expensive.
World Horse Welfare’s UK Operations team now receives over 33,000 calls a year. As a result of these calls over the past 12 months a nationwide team of 16 field officers investigated 1,700 individual welfare concerns.
According to Professor Knottenbelt there are two major reasons for the resurfacing of skin diseases like verrucous pastern dermatitis: ‘Firstly, owners often try to manage disease themselves in an attempt to save money, and most owners have had a good go at any skin disease before any professional person has been consulted. Often owners seek advice from the internet and administer dubious treatments which, in lots of cases, render the condition virtually impossible to treat, causing unnecessary pain and suffering to the horse. In some of the severe diseases affected animals may have to be euthanased.’
‘The second main reason is that some people simply don’t care and treat their animals like disposable machines. Owning a horse is a privilege and carries significant responsibilities.’
Exactly a year ago, World Horse Welfare encountered its first case of verrucous pastern dermatitis in a horse named Guinness (pictured above). One of Guinness’s hind legs had swollen over a long period of neglect to three times the size of the other, and Ramsay Duncan of Woodside Veterinary Group, who treated Guinness says: ‘I had never seen anything like it. His leg was severely infected and hundreds of maggots were burrowing into his flesh. We were advised that Guinness should be euthanased and consulted Professor Knottenbelt and he confirmed the disease.’
Treatment of Guinness’s disease has been slow, expensive and has involved a pioneering operation, performed by equine veterinary surgeons at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies’ Large Animal Hospital at the University of Edinburgh, but he is on the road to recovery and now features on World Horse Welfare’s website:
‘Guinness has been lucky,’ says Professor Knottenbelt. ‘He had the determination and expertise of the people at World Horse Welfare to help him pull through. There are many others who are not so fortunate.’

About World Horse Welfare

World Horse Welfare is a horse welfare charity – working for a world where the horse is used but never abused. It focuses on three core areas: UK welfare, campaigning and international training.
The charity was founded in 1927 by Ada Cole to prevent British horses being exported for slaughter. It was originally known as the International League Against the Export of Horses for Butchery, but was quickly renamed the International League for the Protection of Horses (ILPH). In May this year the charity announced its new name – World Horse Welfare.
The charity’s International training projects transform the lives of working horses and their owners in the developing world through tailored education programmes in saddlery, farriery, nutrition and business skills. Projects are currently being run in South Africa, Lesotho, The Gambia, Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Romania.



BulletArchive - Forge Magazine - October 2008
Seedy Toe

The Donkey Sanctuary produces a series of ‘notes for farriers’ on a variety of subjects, including this one, revealing the Sanctuary’s tried and tested method of dealing with seedy toe in donkeys.


Seedy toe initially affects the horn layer adjacent to the white line, and may be seen to radiate from a point of penetration of the white line. The horn takes on a grey, crumbly texture with lesions varying in their severity from minor pockets in the hoof wall to extensive separation of the wall from the white line. Such advanced lesions can extend for several centimetres towards the coronary band and for much of the circumference of the hoof. Filled with a degenerate mix of crumbling hoof material and debris, these lesions may sound hollow on percussion.
Seedy toe lesions are rarely painful, but they may lead to the formation of an abscess in which case the donkey may be very lame. In severe cases the farrier should work with a veterinarian.
All necrotic and discoloured material should be removed to expose clean, healthy horn.
‘Sugardine*’ is a cheap and effective dressing application that has a potent fungicidal and antibacterial action; it also promotes the drying and hardening of lesions. Apply to the sole and resected area of the hoof wall. Keep in place using a thick cotton wool pad, a cohesive bandage and ‘silage bag’ patches.
*Sugardine is made by mixing Pevidine (iodine) antiseptic solution with granulated sugar to a crumbly texture.



The veterinary and farriery team at The Donkey Sanctuary are always ready to help; if you wish to discuss a foot problem with The Donkey Sanctuary, please ring 01395 578222. Fax 01395 573011 or e-mail


Various factors appear to predispose to the development of seedy toe
✱ Damp or dirty bedding.
✱ Muddy paddocks.
✱ Faecal and urinary contamination
✱ Poor diet.
✱ Recurrent/chronic laminar disease.
✱ Delayed farriery.
✱ Old age.
Treatment and control of this condition necessitates attention to all of the above factors and a thorough assessment of the individual case. Neglect of any of these, risks an unsatisfactory outcome.



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