Horses are susceptible to many different diseases which can be passed between them. Horses are traveling and mixing with other horses at shows and events more and more and this increases the risk of them catching different infections. Disease control is very important in order to minimize the risk of disease spread and keep our horses healthy.
Disease control is also called biosecurity and it consists of a series of measures which help to reduce the risk of horses catching and spreading infectious diseases.
The infections we are concerned about range from ringworm to influenza and Strangles, and although the details of disease control will differ between them, the principles remain the same.
A disease control strategy for any yard is based on several important features:
- The general health of the horses on the yard.
- Dealing with new arrivals on the yard.
- Dealing with sick horses on the yard.
- Yard hygiene including the stables, paddocks and equipment.
- Good education and compliance.
If a horse has good general health they can more easily fight infections and are less susceptible to disease; good nutrition is vital for maintaining good health, regular deworming, farriery, dental care and vaccination can help to maintain a horses good health.
Vaccination is a key part of disease control – a regular vaccination programme against the most common diseases reduces your horses susceptibility to that disease and reduces the spread of disease.
Horses should routinely be vaccinated against tetanus as, although it cannot be transmitted between horses, it is a fatal disease. Influenza vaccination is very important in disease control and is a requirement in horses competing at a high level. Influenza is a respiratory disease of horses which can spread very quickly and particularly affects young horses.
Pregnant mares should also be vaccinated against equine herpes virus in the later stages of pregnancy.
The most common source of infections on yards are new horses coming onto the yard. It is up to individual yards how they manage new arrivals and it is important to carry out a risk assessment of each new arrival to identify horses which may be carrying diseases.
In an ideal situation the new arrivals should be separated from the rest of the horses for at least 3 weeks after arrival, during this time the horse should be monitored for any signs of disease such as a fever, cough or nasal discharge.
It should be a requirement of the yard that each new arrival be up-to-date with their deworming and vaccination.
Horses coming from abroad should be tested by a vet for various infectious diseases before entering the country.
Having assessed the risk, some yards also decide to isolate horses returning from high risk places such as shows, events or veterinary hospitals.
It can be very difficult to decide what action to take when a horse on the yard becomes ill.
The most important first step is to contact your vet. Your vet will be able to tell you if the illness the horse has is potentially infectious to other horses and what measures should be taken.
Sometimes it is not possible to control the spread of the disease on the yard as the other horses have already been exposed. If this is the case it is important to prevent the spread of disease from the horses on the yard to other horses in the population, that is to say that horses should not leave the yard and new horses should not enter the yard until your vet tells you they are no longer at risk.
If the other horses have not been exposed or the disease was diagnosed very early it may be possible to prevent spread to other horses on the yard by isolating the sick horse. In this situation the sick horse should have its own stable or paddock away from the others, be attended to by a different person and have different equipment such as grooming kit and feed buckets. If separate personnel are not available, the sick horse should be handled last, and personnel should wear overalls or other protective clothing dedicated to the isolation area.
Certain diseases thrive in dirty environments, and although it is impossible to keep horses in spotless conditions, it is important to observe good hygiene including regular manure removal from paddocks, regular cleaning of stables, food and water buckets, tack and grooming kit.
A sick or new horse should have its own equipment which is not shared with others and the stable they are using should be thoroughly disinfected when they have left it.
Vermin control is also very important as rats and mice can carry many different diseases and also spread diseases around the yard.
It is important that all personnel on the yard are aware of the disease control measures and implement them effectively.
A sick or new horse should be dealt with by a designated person who should not have contact with the other horses.
It is important as well that people coming onto the yard do not bring diseases with them, if they have had contact with sick or high risk horses they should be asked to thoroughly clean their boots and outer clothing.
A good disease control strategy can help you keep your horse and its stable mates healthy, but it relies on the compliance and commitment of all owners with horses on your yard.