Horse Health: Mitigate Your Horse's Risk for Infectious Diseases


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We've all heard the old adage–“An ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure.” That approach cannot be overstated when it comes to managing horses. The more one can proactively avoid or prepare for threats to their horses' health, the less time, money and worry will be spent on fixing what may have been avoided.

This line of thinking is especially important for horses who travel for training and competition, such as racehorses. Often, these horses come in close proximity, not only with other horses who also have rigorous travel schedules, but with humans who have handled multiple horses and surfaces that unknown numbers of other horses have touched. Without vigilant biosecurity and mindful equine management practices, this is often how disease can spread, not only to the horse in direct contact with the disease carrier, but to its stable and pasture mates once he or she travels back home.

The Equine Disease Communication Center (EDCC) works to protect horses from the threat of infectious diseases in North America through its website, The site offers a real-time chronological list of verified infectious disease alerts (both suspected and confirmed cases), quarantines and regulations and includes information about geographic location, the horse's age, a brief overview of symptoms it presented and a suspected or confirmed disease diagnosis. Veterinarians and others charged with caring for horses can then use this information to make informed decisions about heightened biosecurity measures, vaccination protocols or adjustments to a horses' scheduled travel.

“The EDCC is a reliable source for not only accessing disease threats, but also defining progression of disease events,” said E. S. “Rusty” Ford, equine operations consultant, Kentucky Office of State Veterinarian. “The greatest benefit is reliability of the information posted, enabling us and others opportunity to develop and implement disease-mitigating strategies.”

There's An App For That

Last month, the EDCC announced the launch of a mobile phone app that will allow users to receive real-time infectious disease alerts on their smart phones.

Users of the EDCC Disease Alert app will have the ability to access information about a particular disease's risk status and quarantined facilities in their area, which can be valuable in making decisions about travel and biosecurity. The app will also provide fact sheets that include helpful information about symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of the diseases in question.

“Realizing that many of our users are on the go, we wanted to create an app that made our online information more accessible,” said Katie McDaniel, EDCC communications manager. “The EDCC disease alert app connects directly to the disease alerts page, making it easier for a user to filter by disease, state and date.”

Horsemen and others can download the EDCC Disease Alert app at the App Store or Google Play on their smart phones or tablets.

Simple Biosecurity Measures You Can Take

A strategic approach to biosecurity can play a crucial role in the health of the horses in one's stable or herd. Beyond simply ensuring that every horse in your care is up to date on all core and risk-based vaccinations, there are simple and easy-to-implement precautions horsemen and women can take to limit the spread of disease throughout a stable or herd.

When traveling…

– Always bring your own buckets and tubs for your horse to eat and drinks from and clean them daily.

– Label each horse's buckets and tubs so that they are never in a position to eat or drink out of another horse's vessel, which could be contaminated by germs or remnants of another horse's medications or supplements.

– When filling water buckets, never let the nozzle of the hose touch the bucket or the surface of the water as the bucket is filled (doing so can spread germs or remnants from one bucket to the next)

– Before a horse occupies a new stall, use disinfectant wipes or sprays to sanitize all smooth surfaces in the stall, including stall guards, bars, ledges, etc.

– Never let horses touch nose to nose

– Do not allow horses to drink from shared water sources, such as when cooling out after exercise

– When possible, do not share grooming supplies between horses, especially any that come in contact with a horse's nose and mouth or those that are used on a horse that is showing any symptoms of illness

– Do not share halters or lead shanks between horses, and clean after each use, disinfecting any brass or hardware, such as a chain.

– Wash your hands between handling one horse to the next

At the farm…

– Isolate any horse showing symptoms of illness

– When horses ship in, even from routine travel, isolate them for a minimum of 14 days, check temperature twice daily and monitor behavior to be sure they do not show symptoms of illness

– Remind staff to wash their hands after handling any horse that is being isolated from the herd

– Do not share halters or lead shanks between horses, and clean after each use, disinfecting any brass or hardware, such as a chain.

– Separate horses into groups based on use or life stage (i.e. keep yearlings or broodmares who primarily remain on the farm separate from horses of racing age who are traveling to and from races or training centers)

– Ask all farriers and other visitors to wash their hands before working on your horses

“If horse owners or trainers suspect their horse has an infectious disease, the first thing they should do is isolate the horse, either in its current location or move it to an isolated location away from other horses,” said Dr. Nathaniel White, Director of the EEDC. “Items associated with feeding and interacting with said horse should also be isolated.”

The EDCC is funded solely by the support of individual and association donations. To make a contribution and support efforts in preventing the spread of infectious disease, please contact Katie McDaniel at [email protected]

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