Travel can significantly increase the risk of a horse contracting an infectious disease. Horse shows in particular are breeding grounds for environmental risks, cross contamination and higher-than-normal stress levels for horses. These variables reinforce the need for veterinarians to provide horse owners with strong biosecurity guidelines and proper vaccination protocol, according to Dr. Craig Shoemaker, DVM, MS, Equine Professional Services Veterinarian at Boehringer Ingelheim.
“The stress of trailering, traveling, being in a new environment and/or working competitively takes a toll on a horse’s immune system,” he said, adding that veterinarians are in a unique position to provide preventative counsel to horse owners.
Dr. Shoemaker suggested that veterinarians share the following timeline for biosecurity measures with horse owners.
Vaccination against diseases is the first consideration. The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) recommends vaccinating horses against five core diseases, including mosquito-borne diseases like West Nile virus, and Western and Eastern equine encephalitis, as well as rabies and tetanus.
On top of these vaccines, horses need to be vaccinated for equine influenza virus and equine herpes virus within six months of attending a United States Equestrian Federation (USEF)-sanctioned horse show. For a complete list of USEF-required vaccines, click here.
“It is paramount that horses are vaccinated for equine influenza and equine herpes as both can be the cause of acute respiratory disease, especially in horses that experience the stress of travel and showing” Dr. Shoemaker said. “For a traveling horse under high stress, modifying vaccination protocols to include increased frequency of vaccination for equine herpes may be needed.”
Because the equine influenza virus changes over time just like the human influenza virus, using an updated vaccine that provides direct protection will compliment your respiratory vaccination protocol. Veterinarians should also discuss vaccination against other non-core diseases, such as strangles or equine rhinitis following a risk-based analysis. A baseline temperature should be taken and recorded for each horse before leaving for the show, and temperatures should be monitored daily while at the show, as a sudden spike can be one of the first signs of a problem.
Biosecurity at the Showgrounds
It is important for your clients to understand that diseases are easily spread from horse to horse and from equipment and facilities to horses. The following steps will help them to provide maximum protection:
1. Clean and Disinfect Stalls Even before unloading horses, stalls should be inspected for any remaining bedding or fecal matter, which should be removed and disposed of as far away as possible. Walls should be washed down with a good detergent or cleaning agent, then sprayed with a disinfectant, such as a 1:10 dilution of bleach and water. Other good disinfectants are available.
2. Avoid Contaminated Water All water buckets should come from the horse owner’s home, and horses should not be allowed to drink from any containers provided by the show grounds, including communal water tanks. Avoid cross-contamination by not allowing hoses to touch water or buckets when being filled.
3. Prevent Nose-to-Nose Contact “These diseases are spread three ways,” notes Dr. Shoemaker. The primary route is horse-to-horse or nose-to-nose contact. For instance, “In the practice ring, horses should not be tied to the fence where there is potential for contact with other horses walking by.”
4. Use Only Your Own Equipment The second route of infection is through contaminated fomites. With multiple horses, be sure each one has its own set of equipment, including a water bucket, that is used exclusively for that individual. “It’s less of an issue among horses from the same barn, but it’s one other variable,” Dr. Shoemaker noted. “If one horse gets sick, and equipment goes back and forth, infectious diseases could spread quickly.
5. Practice Good Hand Hygiene The third route of infection is human hands. “People are often the culprit in spreading diseases,” Dr. Shoemaker said. When moving from horse to horse, wash hands between contact. “I recommend a lot of hand sanitizer,” he added.
6. Monitor Health and Behavior A horse’s temperature should be taken twice a day – in the morning and evening, and a log of temperatures should be kept. A spike in temperature may be the first way to identify a potential problem. The individual should be isolated, and a protocol developed to limit exposure to other horses. Other signs of a potential problem are being off feed, displaying a quiet attitude, or developing a cough, runny nose or watery eyes.
Management at Home
When returning to the barn, a plan should be in place to segregate the horse that traveled from the rest of the barn for two weeks. “When horses are brought home from shows where they have potentially been exposed to disease risks it is wise to have a protocol in place to put them in a location where they’re not coming into contact with horses that did not go to that show,” Dr. Shoemaker suggested.
Proper vaccination and precise management before leaving home, limited exposure to other horses and equipment and careful monitoring of temperatures while at a show, and isolation before returning to the general population after returning – these are all strategies veterinarians can provide horse owners to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.
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