Boarding barns are a little like daycare. If one horse gets sick, it’s just a matter of time before the whole barn is exposed.
There is a mild viral respiratory bug (thankfully not Strangles and not Herpes) making the rounds in the D.C. Metropolitan area. I keep my mare at a very clean barn with excellent horse-health management. And she has not been off the property since she arrived almost 2 years ago. Even with the best hygiene practices, trainers, farriers, and vets visit; new horses arrive; and boarders take trail rides or lessons off-site. Over the fall, a handful of horses presented with snotty noses, coughs, fever, or stocked-up legs.
A horse 3 stalls away from my mare had a positive culture for Streptococcus equi zooepidemicus (“Strep Zoo”). This bacteria is common in the respiratory tract of horses. When a viral infection has dampened a horse’s immune system, Strep Zoo can take over and result in nasal discharge, coughing, and pneumonia.
Last week, my mare’s breathing sounded hollow, but with a clear nose and clean tight legs, I figured it might just be the dusty indoor arena. Saturday the barn manager sent me a note that her nose was a mess.
She has been quarantined since. As difficult as it has been, I have not gone within 20 feet of her. The vet administered the first of three doses of EqStim. This Neogen product is intended to boost the immune system so that the body can better fight the secondary bacterial infection. The mare is also receiving daily doses of oral antibiotic. While it is never a good time to have a virus in your barn, winter makes prevention and treatment especially difficult.
- Exercise in cold weather inflames a horse’s airways. This can suppress the immune response for up to 48 hours afterwards! Winter air can also dry out the mucosa in the nose and throat. Horses tend to drink less in winter, so dehydration is common. Barns and indoors tend to get dusty. This leaves a horse more susceptible to asthma and infection. Tip: If the mercury dips to 23 degrees or lower, keep your rides at the walk only. Use a bucket warmer and keep a salt lick readily available.
- Horses are in confined spaces more often in winter. On snowy nights, horses huddle together in pasture or breathe in the shared air in a closed barn. The indoor arena is crowded. The potential for infection is high. Tip: Be aware of a drop in appetite, snotty nose, coughing, dull eyes, lack of energy, increased respiration or fever and remove symptomatic horses from the herd as soon as possible.
- Humans (and horses!) are wearing more clothes that are less washable. Boarders, barn staff, vets, and farriers may be diligent to wash their hands, rinse boots, and launder breeches. But what about fleece-lined leather riding gloves? A waterproof oilskin barn jacket? These winter essentials aren’t made to be washed with detergent and hot water. Tip: If possible avoid symptomatic horses. Make a disinfecting solution of 1/4 cup bleach per gallon of water for boots, plastic, and rubber. Handle symptomatic horses last. Wash hands often. Wear disposable rubber gloves atop winter gloves and discard after each use.
Do you have experience with prevention and containment of respiratory infection? Share your tips in the comments!