Disease Du Jour: Tips on Handling an Equine Disease Outbreak

barn aisle horse heads
Knowing that at some point you will have to deal with an equine disease outbreak in client horses, now is the time to help your clients prepare. iStock photos

It’s not if an equine veterinarian will face an equine disease outbreak, it’s when. Knowing that at some point you will have to deal with an infectious/contagious disease in client horses, now is the time to get ready.

In episode 100 of the Disease Du Jour podcast, Cara Wright, DVM, MS, offers tips on handling an equine disease outbreak. Wright is a founding member of the Sustainability in Equine Practice Seminars, which focus on improving the wellbeing and productivity of equine veterinarians. She also is a facilitator in the Decade One and Starting Gate programs for equine vets and students. Wright joined the Professional services Team at Merck Animal Health in the summer of 2022.

Wright said the first thing veterinarians need to do is prepare for an equine disease outbreak. She focused most of her tips for the attending veterinarian for private farms and stables. Have a conversation to prepare a farm owner or manager ahead of facing a disease crisis rather than being forced to react when a horse spikes a fever.

Protecting Horses

The planning starts with determining how farms will isolate horses that come home after mingling with other horses. That could be a show, sale or trail ride. Horses returning home from a disease-free event should remain in isolation two to three weeks, said Wright. “Three to four weeks would be even better,” she added.

While that might seem like a long time, Wright said vets should remind horse owners that “incubation periods for some diseases can be up to 21 days.”

Taking each horse’s temperature twice a day can be the best way to determine which horses are getting sick. Wright said that can be done with rectal thermometers or with the new Bio-Therm microchip. That microchip allows horse managers to take a horse’s temperature with a scanner, and without touching the horse. (Editor’s note: for more about the Bio-Therm microchip visit this website.)

Wright said having a spot to quarantine or isolate a horse that is suspected of being sick is the first step. That perfect spot depends on the traffic in the barn where the horse is housed. Wright reminded veterinarians that horse owners need to understand how diseases spread. That spread can be by fomites (such as wheelbarrows, people, tools or feet) or through aerosol spread.

“Even if the horse is in the last stall at the end of the barn and can’t stick his head out the window or door, it doesn’t mean he can’t spread disease with a cough or sneeze,” reminded Wright.

Of course proper vaccination can help animals either avoid illness, not be as sick as unvaccinated animals and reduce the amount of virus spread from an infected horse.

“Remember to tell your clients that vaccination for respiratory disease is not a forcefield,” reminded Wright. “Our goals with vaccination are to decrease the level of illness and to decrease shedding, but generally we are not going to get a total blockade of disease.”

Learn more tips for educating horse owners about preparing for an equine disease outbreak by listening to the podcast.

About Dr. Cara Wright

Cara Wright, DVM, MS, is a 2009 graduate of the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. Prior to veterinary school, she completed a Master’s degree at Louisiana State University, where she studied the reproductive characteristics of high body condition mares. She completed an internship in Ocala, Florida, then ran a successful equine veterinary relief business at several private practices across the country. Dr. Wright is a founding member of the Sustainability in Equine Practice Seminars, which focus on improving the wellbeing and productivity of equine veterinarians. She also is a facilitator in the Decade One and Starting Gate programs for equine vets and students. Dr. Wright joined the Professional services Team at Merck Animal Health in the summer of 2022.

Resource

Check out the article Implementation of biosecurity on equestrian premises: A narrative overview, authored by C.R. Crew, M.L. Brennan and J.L. Ireland.

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