In the last few weeks, the Equine Disease Communication Center in the United States has been posting warnings about strangles, equine herpesvirus and Equine Infectious Anemia. Itís not possible to protect our horses completely from disease, but there are things we can do to improve our chances of avoiding many common viruses and bacterial illnesses.
Some diseases can come from contaminants in food. Potomac Horse Fever may contain the slug that carries the bacteria. Dust from hay molds can cause COPD. Some silage can have botulism spores. Make sure your hay is as dust-free, and nutritious as possible. Grains too should be clean. Pests can foul poorly stored grains and concentrates (and hay) with their urine and feces. So all feeds should be properly stored and pests such as mice, rats, raccoons and opossums discouraged from getting into them.
While itís possible for a horse to become ill from drinking unclean water, itís more likely that a horse wonít drink enough water to digest itís food properly. This can lead the way to impaction colic. Horses can pass diseases through water, and the containers that water is held in. Cleaning buckets and troughs is important. And, when you go to events, itís best to have your own buckets for your horses to drink out of, rather than drinking out of a common container. If you can, taking your own water ensures that you have clean, familiar water for your horse to drink.
Saddle pads, brushes, harnesses, and blankets can all harbor germs that can be transferred from horse to horse. Ideally, each horse has its own gear. And, brushes and all other equipment should be cleaned often. Lice transfer very quickly, so if youíre treating one horse for lice, you might want to treat them all.
Travel and Trailering
Dust in trailers can cause a nasty cough and something called shipping fever. So, keep your trailer cleaned out and anything you put in the trailer such as floor bedding or feed should be as dust free as possible. If youíve hauled someone elseís horse that you suspect is sick you might want to disinfect it. Horses that are transported from place to place are at greater risk of spreading or picking up diseases.
Again, donít let your horse drink from troughs or buckets that don't belong to you. Keep your distance from other horses as much as possible, especially if there is a known illness going around. Donít let horses sniff each otherís noses, as many airborne viruses are transferred this way.
Do have your horse Coggins or ELSA tested. The only way to eradicate many diseases is by surveillance. If you suspect your horse is ill, call your veterinarian. Blood and other tests can determine if the disease is serious, treatable and infectious.
Not only should we keep our horses, stables, and equipment clean, but we need to pay attention to hygiene too. Just as we can slow down the spread of colds and flu in ourselves, hand washing is essential after handling horses. If you're some place where you are able to pat and touch a lot of horses, consider how you might be contributing to the spread of germs.
One of the best and easiest ways to protect horses from diseases is to vaccinate them. You donít have to give them every type of vaccination in existence, just the ones that it will most likely be affected by. For most of us, this probably means the core vaccination of rabies, tetanus, WNV and Equine encephalomyelitis. Depending on where you live, or where you are likely to haul your horse there may be other vaccinations that will want to talk to your veterinarian about.
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