Winter Horse Health: Tips for Managing Biosecurity in Open Barns
Equine respiratory diseases are common in Winter and can affect horses of all ages. However, young horses are one of the most vulnerable groups due to the fact their immune systems are still developing.
During Winter, it’s not unusual for young horses to be housed together in open barns or sheds. The hidden danger is that many equine respiratory diseases are highly contagious, and outbreaks can spread rapidly.
In this article, we discuss the correct measures for managing biosecurity in open barns to protect the health of youngstock and help to prevent respiratory infections.
Equine Respiratory Disease
Equine respiratory diseases can be divided into two categories — infectious and non-infectious. While both types of disease are concerning, for the purpose of this article, we’re going to focus on the infectious strains.
Infectious equine respiratory diseases typically originate from one of two causes, viral or bacterial. They include equine influenza virus, equine herpesvirus, and strangles. Let’s take a quick look at each of these in turn:
- Equine influenza virus — Caused by two subtypes of the Influenza A virus, equine influenza virus is an acute and highly contagious viral disease of the upper respiratory tract. It can spread rapidly due to its short incubation period of 1–3 days.
- Equine herpesvirus — There are two types of equine herpesvirus, type 1 (EHV-1) and type 4 (EHV-4). EHV-4 typically results in upper respiratory disease in younger horses, while EHV-1 can potentially devastate a breeding facility.
- Strangles — Caused by the bacteria, Streptococcus equi, strangles is highly contagious and commonly affects young horses. The bacterium is incredibly hardy and capable of surviving in moist environments, such as manure, for up to seven weeks.
The First Signs
The challenge with infectious diseases of the equine respiratory tract is that clinical signs are remarkably similar in the early stages, making it difficult to identify the offending pathogen.
A combination of clinical examination by a veterinarian and laboratory tests is the most successful way to identify and subsequently treat any infectious respiratory disease.
Some of the common clinical signs of equine respiratory disease include:
- Runny nose
Yet, many infected horses may only cough occasionally, or not at all. In other cases, temperature spikes greater than 38.5°C, which indicate fever, may be isolated.
Some infected horses may also show other clinical signs, such as loss of appetite, depression, or swollen lymph nodes around the head. So, how do you detect an early issue before it becomes a major problem?
Prevention Over Cure
When managing groups of young horses, routine health monitoring is the cornerstone of early detection. Any horse that is suspected to have a respiratory infection should be separated from others immediately to be thoroughly investigated.
Ideally, any new horses should be quarantined for two weeks upon arrival to prevent any diseases — respiratory or otherwise — from being introduced. Vaccination and de-worming regimes are the best protections for the immune systems of young horses.
Regular temperature checks are also good practice as is maintaining a healthy stabled environment. Barns and sheds should be clean and well-ventilated, with bedding replaced and manure removed routinely. Sunlight is a natural killer of harmful bacteria.
A nutritious diet that provides adequate protein, vitamin C, vitamin E, and trace minerals zinc, copper, and selenium will support a strong immune system.
Lastly, the Flexineb® E3 Complete System can be used to deliver medications and natural therapies to promote respiratory health.
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to replace professional veterinary advice. Always consult your veterinarian if your horse as any health-related issue or is exhibiting symptoms.