A Practical Approach to… Controlling Infectious and Contagious Diseases

By Fiona Reed

We are all aware via magazine reports and the ever present social media websites, of the dangers and risks of our horses contracting some dreadful infectious or contagious disease.  This sort of transfer of information can be very useful, but can also create hysteria and panic, where often none is necessary.

There are always plenty of articles written about these diseases looking from the veterinary perspective, but here we hope to give you some practical guidance in how on a daily basis you can observe, prevent and/or control any of these equine health issues should they come your way, and also to demystify some of the technical jargon.

How Diseases are Spread

  • Direct contact from horse to horse
  • Via droplets from coughs and sneezes
  • Contaminated objects eg: feed buckets, headcollars, bridles
  • Feed and water
  • Vectors – ie a third party carrier like an insect, another animal or person
  • Dirty bedding, urine and droppings
  • Veterinary equipment, particularly hypodermic needles
  • Vehicles, both horseboxes/trailers carrying horses and cars coming on and off the yard

Biosecurity is the term used for steps you should take to reduce the risk of infection in your horse and/or at your yard.  Biocontainment is the prevention of spread of a disease within the yard.  There is no need to be paranoid, but careful observation is important …. far better prevention rather than cure!

Care of the horses

  • Be vigilant and note any change to your horses’ normal demeanour. Has he got a snotty nose, a bit of a cough?  Is he listless?  Is he eating or drinking more or less than usual?  Does he have a temperature?
  • Try, where possible to avoid direct contact with horses that are not kept at the same yard.  When working in at a show, when waiting in the collecting, or when standing in the lineup for your rosette, do not allow your horse to touch noses with others.
  • When hacking out, avoid doing so with horses from other yards unless you are confident of their health situation, and do not stop and allow your horse to speak to others over a fence when passing.
  • Do not share transport if at all possible, even though the share of expenses is very tempting.  The enclosed space within a lorry or trailer is potentially a high infection risk
  • Where feasible isolate any new horse into the yard.  Ideally this should be in a stable that does not share the same ‘air space’ as existing horses, or a field well apart and down wind of the prevailing wind for a period of 10 days.
  • Observe any horse that has been away from the yard for competition, being vigilant for any potential disease.  If considered to be high risk then monitor closely by taking temperature regularly and keeping a close eye on food and water intake
  • Ensure all horses are vaccinated
  • Keep all feed and water buckets clean and if possible ensure the same buckets are used for the same horse each day


Management of yard staff/owners/visitors

  • It is essential that anyone coming on and of the yard is aware of the risks and those attending horses should have a good idea of the signs of an unhealthy horse
  • If there is a risk of infection in the locality then visits to the yard should be restricted to essential people only and no-one to visit directly from any suspect yard
  • Any infected or high risk horse should be cared for by a person who either does not look after any other horse or who changes their clothes and equipment before then going nearly a healthy horse
  • If there is infection in the yard then the following additional precautions should also be taken:
    • Consult your veterinary surgeon, not just for appropriate treatment of the disease present but for their advice and help
    • No horse, whether affected or not, should leave the yard
    • Affected horses should have no contact with any others
    • No person from the yard should visit other yards at all if possible, and if essential then only after all clothing and footwear have been changed
    • Only receive visitors if absolutely essential
    • One person should attend to the affected horse(s) and no others
    • All clothes and footwear should be changed/cleaned/disinfected after attending to affected horses
    • Disinfectant footbaths should be available for all entering the yard and to the proximity of the affected horses
    • Hand sanitisers should be available and regularly used
    • Cats and dogs should not be allowed to move freely around the yard
    • Rodent, bird and insect control should be implemented as best as possible
    • Dirty bedding from the affected horse(s) should not be added to the open muck heap but instead burnt/incinerated if possible
    • Mark all mucking out tools, grooming kit, feed and water buckets for affected horse(s) and ensure they are kept away from and not used on healthy horses
    • Ensure all disinfectants are used to the recommended strength for the disease present
    • And last but by no means least … advice other yards in the locality that you have a problem.  Be honest and open and explain the precautions you are taking, that all protocol is being followed, what disease you have, and the probable length of time you are likely to remain in quarantine.   There is a lot of whispering behind hands, finger pointing and blame surrounding outbreaks of infectious diseases and yet it is very, very rarely the fault of the poor person whose horse has become ill.  Yet, because of this type of scandalmongering and gossip many yards choose to stay quiet when they have a problem, or even opt to deny they have any issue.  This in the long run causes suspicion and hysteria and makes it difficult for other yards when they are not sure where and when there may be an outbreak of disease in their area.

Apart from the occasional Cough, the main diseases that cause concern with the UK are Equine Influenza, Equine Herpes Virus and Strangles, but can also include the fungus Ringworm and the Notifiable Diseases; Equine Infectious Anaemia (EIA), Equine Viral Arteritis (EVA), African Horse Sickness (AHS) and West Nile Virus (WNV).

Take care of your horses, watch out for any changes in their normal behaviour, don’t mix closely with horses of unknown origin and history, but do not become overly paranoid, these diseases are not as common as many would have you believe  ….. go out and compete and enjoy your horses, don’t hide away at home!

Author: Features Editor

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