Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse

Ringing in 2013 brought not only a string of broken New Year’s resolutions but also a wave of equine herpesvirus outbreaks throughout the United States, highlighting the importance of biosecurity to help stop the spread of infection. But according to New Zealand researchers, while most horse owners are using biosecurity measures to protect their animals, the protocols used are unlikely to protect horses against infectious diseases.

“The implementation of biosecurity practices on a farm can be the difference between an infectious disease outbreak and maintaining the health/welfare of the herd,” explained Sarah Rosanowski, a PhD candidate at Massey University’s Institute of Veterinary, Animal, and Biomedical Sciences.

As part of a larger research project to develop control strategies for equine influenza, Rosanowski and colleagues collected data on biosecurity practices used on 660 farms. Key findings of the study were:

  • 95% of the farms had at least one biosecurity practice for arriving horses, such as obtaining vaccine or deworming history, assessing gait/lameness, checking for signs of disease, and calling a veterinarian to examine horses with overt signs of illness;
  • Only 31% of farms isolated new horses for more than four days;
  • Few farms reported checking for clinical signs of infection, such as fever, in new horses; and
  • One-third of farms had biosecurity protocols (e.g., changing clothing, hand or boot washing) in place for visiting professionals, such as dentists, farriers, riding instructors, and veterinarians (visiting professionals could act as a vector for disease spread between properties, as they can visit many properties in a day or week).

“Overall, few of the biosecurity practices used on noncommercial horse properties would be effective at identifying disease or stopping the spread of disease to resident horses,” Rosanowski explained.

The study investigated newly arriving horses onto the property, rather than resident horses that were returning to the property from events such as horse shows. The authors acknowledge that owners could have different practices for resident and newly arriving horses.

“This study provides valuable information regarding current biosecurity protocols," Rosanowski added. "While some biosecurity practices are in place on most properties, these practices are unlikely to be effective in an infectious disease outbreak.”

Rosanowski relayed that the biosecurity protocol outlined the July 2011 issue of Equine Disease Quarterly, could be applied to a quarantine period for newly arriving horses or resident horses returning from a trip off the farm.

Further work investigating biosecurity practices for resident horses and looking at why horse owners are not practicing biosecurity on their properties is needed, Rosanowski concluded.

The study, “The implementation of biosecurity practices and visitor protocols on noncommercial horse properties in New Zealand,” was published in Preventative Veterinary Medicine.