10 Biosecurity Tips from Top Equine Health Experts
By Michelle N. Anderson, TheHorse.com Digital Managing Editor • Nov 15, 2013 • Article #32882
The more you know about equine contagious diseases, the scarier the threats seem. Trust us, we work for a horse health website and magazine and see all the outbreak news!
However, as horse owners, we also know it’s sometimes difficult to follow biosecurity recommendations in the real world. Protecting our animals day-to-day is less “best practices” and more “best we can do with our limited time and resources.” (Raise your hand if, after a 400-mile haul to a show grounds, you’ve headed to Olive Garden for dinner with friends rather than scrubbing down your horse’s stall.)
With that in mind, we contacted leading equine biosecurity experts to find out the most important measures, those you shouldn’t skip, and ways to incorporate them protecting your horses in your daily life. Here are their top 10 recommendations:
While the need for biosecurity might seem urgent and front-of-mind during and immediately after an outbreak, in some cases this might be too late. “My personal philosophy regarding biosecurity is that it needs to be applied every day and not only during an outbreak situation,” says Nicola Pusterla, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM, of the University of California, Davis.
“Work with your vet to come up with an infection control plan that's right for your horse and their farm,” says Scott Weese, DVM, DVSc, Dipl. ACVIM, of the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. “There's no standard plan.”
Enlist your veterinarian to evaluate your farm, look for holes in your current biosecurity practices, and put that new plan on paper and into action, Weese says.
Josie Traub-Dargetz, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVIM, of Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and Equine Commodity Specialist for Center for Epidemiology and Animal Health in Fort Collins, agrees about the importance of having a plan in place.
“The key is to define biosecurity needs and take steps to reduce the risk of disease introduction and spread,” she says.
When doing a risk assessment, consider your farm or property’s level of risk aversion, Traub-Dargatz says. For example, an active training stable of healthy adult horses can have very different needs than a breeding facility that houses foals at high risk for serious disease if exposed to certain pathogens.
“Some people might need to focus on reducing disease impact rather than complete prevention,” she says.
Horses and humans aren’t the only biosecurity risk to your herd. “Minimize rodents and insects by keeping feed secure and eliminate standing water,” says Sarah Reuss, VMD, Dipl. ACVIM, of University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine. These pests, along with critters such as opossums, can carry or cause many serious infectious equine disease agents, including West Nile virus (mosquitoes), pigeon fever (flies), and equine protozoal myeloencephalitis (opossums).
“Vaccinate!” recommends Reuss. “It’s sad to me how many horses succumb to completely preventable diseases like tetanus and Eastern equine encephalitis. Even if your horse never leaves the farm and is exposed to no other horses, it is still susceptible to these diseases that are spread by insects or bacteria in soil.”
Pusterla agrees: “Vaccination is one of the principles which may help in minimize the risk of infection.”
“Don’t use communal water sources or share equipment,” advises Traub-Dargatz. “And keep your horse under your control (when around strange horses).” That means no sniffing noses with other horses at shows, Pusterla adds.
“Ask people to wash their hands before handling your horse,” says Traub-Dargatz, pointing out that farriers, veterinarians, and even braiders (never thought of that one, huh?) can all spread disease as they move from horse to horse and farm to farm if they do not take appropriate action to reduce the risk of disease spread. Pusterla also recommends trainers and exercise riders wash their hands between riding different horses.
When transporting horses or housing them in stalls away from home, Traub-Dargatz recommends sanitization prior to introducing the horse to its home away from home. While scrubbing a show stall walls from top to bottom might not be realistic, disinfecting areas where horses spend the majority of their time (think horse boogers on the trailer wall) should take priority. “Focus on the bars at the front of the stalls, and the doors,” she says.
“Know how to take your horse’s temperature and learn what is normal for him,” Reuss says. Normal for horses can range from 99 °F to 101°F (37.2-38.3°C). Having a baseline for your horse will help you recognize when something is wrong.
- In addition to knowing your horse’s regular temperature and health baselines, Pusterla recommends daily monitoring for clinical abnormalities to recognize clinical signs associated with a possible infectious disorder. He lists anorexia, depression, fever, nasal discharge, coughing, diarrhea, or acute onset of neurologic distress as possible signs that something is seriously wrong.
The bottom line: Protecting your horse from infectious disease needn’t require storing him in a protective bubble. “Use common sense,” Pusterla says. And, when in doubt, call your vet.