Witches And Brooms: Preparing for Equine Diseases

What an incredible time of year! Spring is in the air. Flowers are blooming. Hopes are high as a new season starts, and horses are traveling everywhere for training and competition. Diseases are threatening our horses, our livelihoods, and us...Is it just me, or is there something going on out there that isn't quite right?

At the time of this writing, March isn't even over, and already we as horse owners are threatened by a handful of nasties that could severely affect, or even kill, our horses, stop movement of animals among states and across oceans, and put us out of business. It's an alphabet soup of equine diseases that spells out jeopardy--WNV, EVA, CEM, PHF, EPM. (These translate to West Nile virus, equine viral arteritis, contagious equine metritis, Potomac horse fever, and equine protozoal myeloencephalitis.) Then throw in a couple of problems, like importing screwworms and reducing import restrictions to make diseases even more likely to invade the United States, and you've got the stuff that Excedrin headaches and bankruptcies are made of.

These are in addition to our own group of diseases that are a constant battle to prevent, contain, control, or eradicate, including botulism, encephalitis (EEE, VEE, WEE), equine herpes virus (EHV), equine infectious anemia (EIA), Hendra virus, influenza, Lyme disease, rhinopneumonitis, Rhodococcus equi, rotavirus, strangles, vesicular stomatitis (VS)...

The list can go on to include many more common problems that we face, such as colic, COPD, EIPH, endometritis, epiphysitis, laminitis, melanomas, navicular disease, OCD, parasites (parasites, parasites), placentitis, rabies, sarcoids, tying-up, ulcers.

Remind me again why we do this? Oh yeah, because we love this business and our horses.

Then, let's gird our loins, to put it Biblically, and ready ourselves for battle.

What Can We Do?

1) Be informed. Make an effort to find out what is going on, where it is happening, how it started, who is in charge, and what is being done to control the situation. While screwworms entering Florida might not seem a problem to you in Oregon, those import stations are just that--an entry for horses traveling all over the United States. If import officials aren't vigilant, or given the federal, state, and industry support they deserve, our business and recreation could be in jeopardy. There are numerous web sites, pamphlets, and publications that can offer you information about diseases and problems affecting equids in the United States and abroad. (See the end of this article for some useful web sites.)

2) Be involved. A good example of this is a news item in our Up Front section about Potomac horse fever (page 15). The Ohio State University researchers are seeking information from horse owners (via their veterinarians) on what they suspect might be involved in the life cycle of PHF. You should discuss problems endemic to your area with your veterinarian to determine if there is something you, alone, can do to help or prevent the problem, and involve other horse owners to have a community effort to protect yourselves if a problem does arise. Wouldn't it be nice to know if strangles or encephalitis or equine viral arteritis was found in your area before it hit your farm? There are things you can do to protect your horses, if you know what is going on.

3) Be a voice. State and federal officials always are seeking input and information from the public. Get to know the officials in your state and see if there is something you can do personally, or as a group, to assist in combating introduction of diseases to your area, or controlling problems when--not if--they occur.

4) Be prepared. If you have done the first three things, then you are pretty knowledgeable about what is going on around you. However, you must have a plan in place if you are involved in any of the above disease situations. I commend Crystal Springs Farm in Kentucky for putting out a press release about some cases of EVA that occurred on that farm. Kentucky and New York are the only states that have a control program in place for this highly contagious venereal disease. This disease won't progress in Kentucky breeding sheds. Can you say that for your state? What would happen if you are a breeder and either through live cover or artificial insemination brought in a disease that caused an outbreak of EVA on your property? If you breed horses, then that is a very real possibility. It has happened all over North America, on every type of breeding farm you can imagine. It doesn't matter if you are breeding one or 100 mares: How would you like to lose up to 100% of your foal crop? This disease, unfortunately, is widespread -- and easily spread -- in performance horse venues. It's so simple to bring it back to the farm.

5) Be active. Once you realize that any one of these problems could ruin your competition season, not to mention your bank account, it's easy to imagine that you would want to take an active role in preventing these from happening to you. This is one of those situations that, by helping plow the garden, you later can eat the vegetables. In other words, donate money to fund basic research in order to better understand and fight these diseases and problems that you face every day.

I'd love to be able to say that research at one university is more important than that at another university, but that isn't possible. We have some of the brightest minds in the world trying to solve our industry's problems, and many are doing so on a shoestring. (As horse owners, we are masters of the shoestring, so we should be extremely empathetic with the researchers' plight.) Once you have researched and followed the steps outlined above, you probably will feel more compelled by one problem or another. That's where to put your money.

Stay tuned. Dorothy and Toto might just drop in at any moment with the next big surprise--we aren't in Kansas any more.

For more information on problems or diseases, search the following web sites:

www.uky.edu/Agriculture/VetScience/Q_articles.html (index of articles in Equine Disease Quarterly).

About the Author

Kimberly S. Brown

Kimberly S. Brown was the Publisher/Editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care from June 2008 to March 2010, and she served in various positions at Blood-Horse Publications since 1980.

Stay on top of the most recent Horse Health news with FREE weekly newsletters from TheHorse.com. Learn More