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Equine Health Resource

Viral Upper Respiratory Tract Infections, Generally

Horses commonly get viral upper respiratory diseases, especially Equine Herpes Virus and influenza. Horses also get many other less familiar viruses (akin to the common colds in humans).

Viral respiratory tract infection is usually brought on by exposure to outside horses (travel to show or new horse in barn) harboring the virus. When viral respiratory disease is suspected, vets often treat symptomatically, assuming that the virus will run its course. Attention is also given to prevent its spread to other horses.

Viruses damage the natural immune function of the respiratory tract, enabling bacteria to establish a foothold. Viruses do not respond to antibiotics, however antibiotics are often used to prevent secondary bacterial infection. However, the practice of treating apparent viral infections with antibiotics has come under more scrutiny as the problem of resistant organisms has worsened.

Good nursing care is important. Monitor the horse to ensure they are still eating, drinking, urinating and defecating normally and that their attitude and appetite are good. Monitor the amount and appearance of nasal discharge, severity of cough and, especially, the horse’s general attitude and appetite.


Most vets think of viral respiratory disease from the standpoint of general management and preventative medicine. They can help you formulate a vaccination program tailored to your situation. If you have show horses, frequent vaccination for common respiratory viruses is recommended. Use of a quarantine facility for new horses helps to reduce spread of these diseases within a facility.

Keep horses in excellent health. Horses in good general health are more resistant to respiratory viruses. Managing their environment to reduce dust and ammonia in their stabling is also important. Avoid the use of leaf-blowers around your horses, as they tend to place large amounts of dust and other particulates in the air.

Helpful Terms & Topics in HSVGWritten, Reviewed or Shared by Experts in Equine Health

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP


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