Safe and Healthy Equine Travels Start at Home

Photo: Erica Larson, News Editor

Whether your horse is traveling to another continent, an out-of-state show, or a mile away to the park, good equine health care starts at home. Follow these tips to help make the trip memorable, for good, not bad, reasons.

Make sure your horse is current on core vaccinations. The best way to help protect your horse against common equine diseases is to vaccinate, and do so several weeks before departing. The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) recommends that all horses be vaccinated against rabies, tetanus, West Nile virus (WNV), and Eastern/Western Equine Encephalomyelitis (EEE/WEE).

In the case of rabies, which is always fatal for horses, multiple cases have already been reported in 2012, including horses in Tennessee, Oklahoma, Virginia, Florida, and Montana. While instances of equine rabies are relatively rare, many horses live in areas where more common carriers, such as raccoons, skunks and bats are found. Other diseases also have devastating effects.

  • Tetanus, which can be contracted from common bacteria found on most farms, has a 50% mortality rate;
  • One in every three horses that contract WNV will die or be euthanized; and
  • Ninety percent of horses that contract EEE will suffer the same fate.

"One of the easiest and most cost-effective ways horse owners can help protect their horse's health is to work with their veterinarians to establish an annual vaccination schedule. Horse owners should also ask for safe and effective products," says April Knudson, DVM, equine specialist for Merial's Large Animal Veterinary Services. "Some people get lulled into a false sense of security, thinking because a disease hasn't been reported in their area it won't happen. But not vaccinating is a big gamble to take."

With the help of your veterinarian assess any risks for upcoming travel destinations, and vaccinate or take other preventive measures accordingly. The AAEP also recognizes several other equine diseases as being potential risks to horses, including equine herpsevirus, equine viral arteritis, influenza, Potomac horse fever (PHF), rotaviral diarrhea, strangles, anthrax, and botulism.

To determine whether or not their horses need any of the risk-based vaccinations, horse owners should consult with their veterinarians. "For example, in the case of PHF, whether or not to vaccinate will depend on when the horse is traveling and where the horse is traveling to," says Knudson. "PHF is more commonly identified in horses with access to aquatic insects with most cases being reported in July, August, and September. Veterinarians can help horse owners determine the need for risk-based vaccinations on a case-by-case basis."

Guard against the development of equine stomach ulcers. Equine stomach ulcers are very prevalent, with studies showing that two out of three non-racing competitive horses have them at any given time. Because stress is one of the leading causes of stomach ulcers and travel can lead to stress, horse owners should take precautions when traveling.

"Changing a horse's routine, including his feeding schedule, turnout schedule, and surroundings, can be very stressful," says Knudson. "Travel introduces all those changes--plus a trailer ride that may or may not be enjoyable depending on weather and road conditions. All of these things can contribute to creating a scenario in which ulcers are likely to develop."

To help prevent them from developing and threatening the horse's health and its ability to perform, horse owners can consider administering omeprazole (marketed as an FDA approved product as UlcerGard), which is designed to help prevent equine stomach ulcers.

Stay informed about potential disease threats that are present or develop along your travel route. While horse owners may have control over their horses' environments at home, that isn't the case as they travel. "Outbreak Alert," a free program created by Merial, helps horse owners protect the health of their horses, not just in their own backyard, but also around the country. As reports of influenza, WNV, PHF, Rabies, EEE/WEE, and EHV-1 are identified and confirmed, they are posted on the website map. As an additional service, horse owners and veterinarians who have signed up for the service and live within a certain radius of the report receive a text or e-mail notification.

"Horse owners are able to make better decisions about their horses' health when they have information available to them," says Knudson. "Because so many people travel with their horses, we recognized a need to provide information about what might be happening in other parts of the country.

"The best defense against equine disease, whether at home or on the road, is always going to be a good offensive strategy, with vaccinating as recommended on the product label at the top of the list," says Knudson.

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