PPE, disinfection, avoiding contact with others…it’s all too familiar in the wake of the COVID 19 pandemic. But, did you know that these are also the mainstays of controlling infectious diseases in animals as well?
Horses are susceptible to multiple infectious diseases that can be transmitted from horse to horse. Some of them have effective vaccines to help limit their spread, some do not; some have high mortality rate, some do not and are just plenty expensive to treat. But the good news is that most are controllable by having good biosecurity practices in place.
Nearly every year around the start of horse show season in the various regions in the US, there are cases of some of the more common infectious diseases in horses that crop up during or immediately after the events. The most common are Streptococcus Equi (aka “strangles”), Equine Influenza and Equine Herpes Virus types 1 & 4. All are highly infectious via respiratory droplets, easily spread and are a direct result of horses, and people who touch said horses, being in close proximity. They are not the only characters to keep an eye on, though. There are several gastrointestinal infections that can spread like wildfire, too. As you know, horses produce a lot of manure and all of that manure is a possible source of infection.
This year has been no exception for infectious disease outbreaks, with confirmed cases of EHV-1 in Westchester NY and Strep confirmed in Rhode Island all before April even hit our doorsteps.
So, you might wonder what can be done, and what High Hopes specifically does, to limit horses’ exposure to these infectious diseases. Here’s the low down on that, plus what YOU can do to help.
Luckily, for the most part, our horses don’t leave our farm. So their contact with other horses outside of our herd is limited. Occasionally though, we bring in horses to try out as prospective new program horses and that is probably our most likely source of infection. In order to mitigate the risk of the new horse bringing in a disease to our “closed” herd, we have several steps in place to ensure the horse is healthy both before they come here and during their trial. This includes vaccination requirements and a veterinary exam complete with a health certificate issued prior to, but also close to, the time of their arrival here.
- Once they are here, we limit access by volunteers and the majority of the staff for the first 7 days. The fewer people that touch the horse, the better our chances of avoiding spread of disease in the initial weeks after arrival. We wash our hands or sanitize between contacting the new horse and contacting our horses.
- The horse is kept in its own paddock, with a separate water source and fencing that keeps them from touching any horses in neighboring paddocks.
- The horse is monitored daily for signs of ill health (lack of appetite, nasal discharge, coughing, diarrhea and fever).
- The horse is never permitted to make physical contact with our existing horses and often we even avoid bringing the new horse into the barn when our horses are inside. A horse sneeze can send droplets dozens of feet from their nose, so distance from other horses is key.
- The new horse has its own set of equipment for feeding, grooming and riding that is kept away from the same equipment for our other horses.
All of this in place for at least 21 days, which is the typical incubation period for many of the equine infectious diseases. In conjunction with daily monitoring of our existing horses for any signs of illness and keeping our horses current on vaccines, these systems go a long way to keeping our horses safe.
It is important to note that while horses are the main source of disease transmission to other horses, people can carry these diseases from farm to farm as well. Actually, they could even be spread by the tires on a vehicle that have contacted an infection source! People (and other animals such as dogs) can unwittingly contact infection at another farm and if they do not disinfect their boots, wash their coat or change their gloves before heading to High Hopes could bring those diseases right to our farm. This is why we encourage volunteers to head home to change between their barn and ours.
You can help keep our horses safe by:
- Having a separate set of barn clothes to wear here that you do not wear anywhere else.
- Washing (or sanitizing) your hands when you arrive and again before you leave.
- Not coming to our farm if you’ve been at another farm where an infectious disease has been confirmed or is suspected.
Interesting fact: some of these diseases, such as EHV-1, can be carried by and cause infection in llamas and alpacas too – so it’s not just other horse farms to avoiding cross contaminating with ours.
It is important to note that outbreaks of these diseases are not a result of poor farm management, lack of good health care or thoughtless horse owners. These happen at any and all type of facility. But with some mindful practices in place, we can greatly lower the chances of spreading infectious diseases amongst our horse friends.