Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Manage Potentially Contagious Horse

In some cases, you may want to treat a horse as though it is a contagious risk to other horses. In retrospect, this may seem like an overreaction. However, at times it is better to overreact than regret inaction later, especially if the suspected illness is life-threatening or difficult or expensive to treat.

While it can be difficult in some cases to prevent the spread of disease, taking certain common sense precautions can certainly reduce this risk.

Procedure

What you can do in this instance depends in large part on the unique layout of your facility, how many horses you have on your property, where they are located, and the amount of help you have.

Ideally you should separate the potentially infectious horse from others at a good distance (40 feet minimum) in a separate corral or barn. At minimum, you may isolate your horse in an end stall and leave an empty stall between them and your other horses. All personnel should enter the stall and touch the horse as little as possible.

A few additional guidelines include:

1. Feed, water and handle your other horses before you handle the potentially infectious horse, or have one person dedicated to exclusively caring for your potentially infectious horse.

2. Set up a foot wash outside your horse’s quarantine stall using a large wide shallow pan with diluted bleach in water 1:20 parts. Step into and soak both of your feet in this foot wash each time you leave your horse’s stall.

3. Wash your hands after contact with the horse, and change the clothing that you wear after handling the horse. Better yet is a dedicated coverall or protective slicker which you put on when you enter the stall and take off when you leave.

4. Keep a large bottle of alcohol based hand sanitizer outside the stall to clean your hands when you leave.

5. Disinfect all tack or equipment that has come into contact with your horse, including blankets, sheets and masks.

6. Designate separate equipment, feed, and water for your horse. Use a separate manure fork, wheelbarrow, feed and water buckets etc... Anything that you use to manage your horse should not be reintroduced for use with your other horses until it has been disinfected.

7. Do not dispose of the horse's manure, bedding or shavings in a pasture or near your other horses.

8. Do not let barn dogs or cats near your horse, as they can carry infectious agents to your healthy horses. Likewise, maintain control of rodents, birds and flies in the area as well as possible.

9. Revisit the vaccination status on all of your horses, and discuss with your vet.

Tips for safety & Success

Given the layout of your facility, number of horses and staffing, this is a good skill to think about before the need arises. Consider what you would do beforehand and consider purchasing a portable pen for these occasions. Your vet may also have some practical suggestions given their knowledge of your facility.

Choose odd or bright colors for the equipment dedicated to the isolation stall(s), so it is easy for you and your staff to distinguish between it and your regular stable supplies.

If possible, segregate horses that travel (for shows or competitions) from those that do not. Upon return from a trip, it is good practice to evaluate the general health of all horses that were on the road for several days. If they develop a fever or any other signs of illness, contact your vet.

If the horse is extremely ill, has diarrhea and temperature, or nasal discharge consider taking them to a veterinary hospital that has a dedicated isolation facility.

There is a rare but potentially fatal possibility for you to contract rabies from a horse infected with this disease if their saliva comes into contact with a wound on your skin. Due to this, it is recommended that you ALWAYS wear latex gloves when handling horses with mystery illnesses, particularly if rabies is suspected.

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP

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