As equine preventative health care gets more advanced, horse owners may become less concerned about their horse's risk of contracting a disease. However, infectious disease control is a vital part of preventing disease transmission and protocols for biosecurity should be implemented on every horse farm. Infectious disease occurs when an infectious agent (bacteria, virus, etc.) overcomes the disease resistance that is acquired through natural exposure to the disease or through vaccination. The goal of an infectious disease control program is to reduce exposure to infectious agents, minimize factors that may increase susceptibility to disease, and enhance resistance by vaccinating.
There are many factors that contribute to occurrence of infectious disease in horses including:
- High density of susceptible horses at a facility (breeding farms, sale/boarding facilities, show barns, racetracks)
- Horses are moved on and off the facility
- Environmental/managerial factors
- Poor nutrition
- Poor sanitation
- Contaminated water
- Horses with underlying disease
The most basic means of preventing infectious disease spread is individual testing, such as Coggins, piroplasmosis, and equine viral arteritis. Routine testing allows affected horses to be easily identified and prevents those horses from coming into contact with other horses in such a way that the disease can be spread. This is the reason that many venues require testing prior to a horse's arrival, and that testing is required for interstate travel. Certain vaccines are also required for entry to some locations, such as racetracks and sales.
There are some important measures that you can take on your farm to prevent infectious disease transmission.
- Quarantine new arrivals for 30 days in an area where it will have no contact with other horses (including touching other horses, water and feed buckets, and bits). If a horse arrives on your farm with an infectious disease, it will show signs during this period and can be appropriately treated. If the horse remains healthy throughout the quarantine period, it can be introduced into the rest of the horse population.
- Vaccinate all horses on the farm according to your veterinarian's recommendations.
- Do not share water and feed buckets between horses, if possible. Many diseases are carried in respiratory secretions and can be easily spread through sharing of buckets.
- A horse's individual equipment (brushes, halters, buckets, etc.) should be clearly identified and used by only that horse.
- Equipment that is shared between horses (bits, bridles, twitches, thermometers, etc.) should be cleaned and disinfected between horses.
- Multiple dose medications (oral bute, banamine, eye ointments, etc.) should not be shared between horses.
- If a horse develops diarrhea, infectious causes are possible and can be spread to other horses. Clean the stall with a separate muck bucket and pitchfork and do not allow other horses to have access to the stall or the manure of the affected horse. Clean boots after cleaning the stall or wear disposable boot covers.
- When you are at a horse show you should:
- Not share water or feed buckets between horses.
- Ship your horses in a clean, disinfected trailer.
- Not allow your horse to touch other horses. Respiratory diseases are easily transmitted by a simple nose to nose touch.
- Not share equipment between horses.
- Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer after handling other horses.
- When a horse in your barn is diagnosed with an infectious disease there are some very important steps you should take to prevent infection of other horses:
- Feed, water, and clean the stall of the affected horse after all other horses have been tended to. Change your clothes and wash your hands thoroughly before having contact with healthy horses. Disposable gloves and boots are a great tool to prevent contamination.
- Any opening between stalls where horses can come into contact should be closed with a solid barrier.
- Prevent the hose from becoming contaminated by not submerging it in the water when filling a bucket.
- Do not spread manure from affected horses onto pastures.
- When the horse is no longer ill, the stall and all equipment should be disinfected thoroughly.
- Remove all bedding and material from the stall.
- Scrub debris from all surfaces. Disinfectants will not penetrate manure so it must be removed before the item is sanitized.
- Scrub all stall surfaces with a detergent solution such as powdered laundry detergent.
- Solid surfaces (mats, metal, concrete, varnished wood, etc.) can be disinfected with a dilute bleach solution, then rinsed and allowed to dry thoroughly.
- Porous surfaces such as unvarnished wood and dirt floors can be sprayed with disinfectant, but inadequate results may be achieved.
- Disinfect all inside surfaces of your trailer if the horse was hauled during infection.
- A great tool to use at the entry to your barn or by the stall of a sick horse is a foot bath. You can easily make one using a low rubber or plastic feed tub, a plastic "fake grass" door mat, and a disinfectant. Put the mat in the tub, and mix the disinfectant with water according to label directions. When you walk in or out of the affected area, scrub your feet across the mat to disinfect your shoes.
Taking a few simple measures in your barn and at horse shows can help you prevent an illness from affecting your horse. If you have any questions about infectious disease control, please call Conley & Koontz Equine Hospital at 877-499-9909. For more information about vaccines, please see our educational articles Vaccine Recommendations and Why We Vaccinate.