Some infections only occur once and don’t spread between horses, however there are many illnesses that are contagious between horses and some are even zoonotic (can be passed between humans and animals).
Depending on the severity of the infectious disease horses can become quite un-well and may need veterinary help for a couple of days or even weeks. Furthermore it can also set back training, competition time and in more severe circumstances your yard being closed.
Prevention is better than cure – one of the most well-known sayings when it comes to biosecurity, but it is 100% correct. There are daily/monthly policies and procedures yard and horse owners should be putting in to place to eliminate harmful bacteria and prevent the spread of infectious disease between horses by bacteria, viruses or parasites.
The most common infectious diseases seen with horses are ringworm, strangles, equine herpes virus and equine influenza. Understanding how these diseases spread can aid in maintaining and developing a good biosecurity plan and limiting the risk.
Ringworm spreads by direct or indirect contact, so grooming kits, stable walls, fence posts, humans and tack are often the main culprits in spreading of the disease which is a fungal infection.
Strangles is a bacterial infection which can be passed by direct contact, fomites (e.g. equipment) and shared environments.
Both ringworm and strangles can be managed through barrier nursing along with other responsibilities in fighting the disease.
Infectious respiratory diseases caused by bacterial and viral infections, can be passed in a shared environment. Vaccination, when available, is the best prevention for infectious diseases and keeping up to date with them is key.
With these in mind owners can take the necessary precautions to avoid transfer of infectious diseases. For example:
• Each horse should have their own grooming kit, water buckets, feed buckets etc.
• Make sure water buckets and feed buckets are cleaned daily and grooming kits and equipment to be disinfected every other month to keep bacteria at bay
• If you see any signs that a horse is un-well, put them into isolation and seek veterinary advice
• Try not to move an isolated horse, they should stay away from other horses until given the all clear
• If you are looking after a number of horses, tend to the poorly horse last so there is no risk of spreading to the others, also use disposable protective clothing if possible and consider foot dips and disinfectant sprays
• Have good washing facilities with running water, antibacterial soap and hand sanitizer which is becoming more popular to have on yards now
Disinfecting stables isn’t always a practise horse owners prioritise but it is important to remember that this is one of the main areas where your horse spends most of their time, eating, sleeping etc. To lower the levels of bacteria a thorough clean of your horse’s stable is a great way to provide a hygienic location.
Start from the floor and work your way up, by lifting rubber matting and sweeping out any dirt from underneath. Then move on to the wall and stable doors and remove dust, cobwebs, old bedding etc. A pressure washer is great in removing stubborn dirt.
Choosing a disinfectant is equally as important because it needs to be effective in killing bacteria but also safe to use in the horse’s environment.
A growing trend and one that acts as another barrier is painting stables, feed rooms and tack rooms with anti-bacterial paint for long term protection. There are non-toxic paints on the market that contain agents that can kill bacteria.
A new horse or pony coming to the yard could also be bringing with them an infection so there are easy to do steps before hand to reduce the risk:
• Check the horse has been vaccinated against equine influenza in the last six months
• Before the horse has left the previous yard, test for strangles
• For worms, ask for a faecal worm egg count. This allows you to see if the horse has a high egg count. If they do it is more likely that infection will spread as they leave larger numbers of eggs left in the pasture can turn to larvae and spread disease.
On the arrival of the new comer, the horse or pony should be kept in isolation for at least two weeks if not longer (21 days is preferable). Again stick to the same rules as if you were treating a poorly horse to stop the spread of any infectious disease – horses may not be displaying clinical symptoms but could still be infectious.
The same rules apply if you were away with your horse competing. Take your own equipment (feed buckets, water buckets, grooming kit etc.) and avoid sharing.
If you do end up sharing equipment or tack make sure you clean them thoroughly before you use again. Remove any grass, hair, sweat or saliva, rinse and then disinfect.
Try not to let your horse come into contact with any other horses at events and avoid shared water troughs, grazing areas and equipment if possible.
All these precautions are there to prevent contagious diseases from spreading and reduce the risk of our horses and ponies becoming ill which compromises welfare. We do it for ourselves so it is important for them too.
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