Equine Influenza: Caring for Affected Horses

New South Wales (NSW) chief veterinary officer Bruce Christie, BVSc, said in a Sept. 11 statement released by the NSW Department of Primary Industries that it is important to match treatment for equine influenza (EI) with the severity of the virus.

"Reports of the effect of EI vary enormously," Christie said. "Some horses have minimal signs with just an odd cough while others have lost their appetites, are coughing badly, have thick nasal discharges and are showing signs of depression."

Owners should monitor their horses and stay in contact with their veterinarian to receive prompt advice in case the illness worsens.

According to Christie, horses with EI should be rested in a dust-free, well-ventilated environment and owners should discuss supportive treatments with their veterinarian. Supportive treatments such as cough suppressants might help reduce complications.

At least 30 days complete rest is recommended after infection, with a longer period being required if the fever lasts more than four days. Rest reduces the opportunity for secondary infection and speeds recovery.

Particular care should be taken if animals are vulnerable to disease. Vulnerable animals include pregnant mares, foals, stallions, and older horses.

For stallions or pregnant mares with very high fevers, anti-inflammatory drugs can be used on veterinary advice to avoid testicular degeneration in stallions or abortion in mares.

Foals can deteriorate quickly if they contract EI. Premature foals that are smaller in body size are more prone to the virus. Concerned owners should contact a veterinarian to discuss the health of newborn foals.

It is important that horse handlers implement a policy of strict personal disinfection and hygiene when handling all horses.

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