Heart Infections More Common Among Young Horses

Heart disease isn't just for the aging or overworked horse. Recent research in Belgium has shown that vegetative endocarditis, a bacterial infection of the heart, is actually much more likely to occur in younger horses than their older counterparts. Relatively rare in horses, endocarditis develops from bacteria circulating in the blood secondary to a primary infection elsewhere in the body.


Heart of cow with endocarditis

Bovine heart with visible vegetative endocarditis lesions.

In a review published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, horses with a confirmed diagnosis of vegetative endocarditis had an average age of 4.84 years compared to an average age of 10.8 years in a control group of horses presenting similar clinical signs. This might be because younger horses are at greater risk of developing the primary infections necessary to spur on the endocarditis, according to the study.

Phlebitis, septic laminitis, and foot abscesses have been reported as potential primary infection sources, but most of the time the source remains unknown, said Sarah Porter, DMV, MSc, PhD candidate in the Equine Teaching Hospital at the University of Li�ge and principal author of the study.

The most common clinical signs of endocarditis are fever, lameness, and swelling of the joints. Surprisingly, common heart problems such as murmurs and abnormal heart rate were not as frequently related to the disease, the study reported. Such vague clinical signs, which might also point to other conditions (such as Lyme disease), can make endocarditis difficult to diagnose, Porter said, particularly as it is a rare disease.

Early detection is key in treating endocarditis, which requires high doses of antibiotics for four to six weeks. However, prevention is the best plan, according to Porter. "The only way to protect your horse from endocarditis is to treat primary infections quickly and with the appropriate treatment," she said.

About the Author

Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Christa Lesté-Lasserre is a freelance writer based in France. A native of Dallas, Texas, Lesté-Lasserre grew up riding Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Shetland Ponies. She holds a master’s degree in English, specializing in creative writing, from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and earned a bachelor's in journalism and creative writing with a minor in sciences from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She currently keeps her two Trakehners at home near Paris. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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