Common Diseases in Horses

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Diseases are the most talked about issue right now and I want to carry that over into the horse world. Horses are susceptible to many different types of diseases, some being very deadly, while others are treatable and have full recovery rates. It’s important for horse owners to be well-informed on horse diseases, it is also very important to have a good relationship with a vet, they are a key part in the treatment and recovery process of a horse that contracts a disease.

The first disease that I’m going to high light is the Equine Coronavirus, ECoV. This strand of Coronavirus is not contagious to humans but it is spread from horse to horse by contaminated feces or oral contact to surfaces. Incubation time is 2-4 days and ECoV is a mild disease, but mortality does happen in severe cases. Symptoms of the ECoV range from a fever up to 105o F, lack of appetite, depression, colic, laying down constantly, low white blood cell count, and occasionally diarrhea. Calling a vet out to submit samples for PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests of a fecal sample is how ECoV is diagnosed. Treatment consist of treating the symptoms and making the horse comfortable. Prognosis is good and mortality is low. There is no preventive vaccine for Equine Coronavirus but being aware of symptoms can help with a diagnosed case.

One of the most common equine disease is Equine Influenza, EIV. EIV is not transmittable to humans but is highly contagious between horses. Equine Influenza is spread by coughing, contaminated feeders, water buckets, grooming tools, and clothing. Horses ranging from ages 1-5 years old are most susceptible to EIV. Symptoms of EIV include fever, dry cough, nasal discharge, lethargic, loss of appetite, weakness, and muscle pain. These symptoms can clear up with in 7-14 days in an uncomplicated case. There is a vaccine for EIV and talking with a vet about a shot schedule is the best way to help prevent EIV.

A disease that has a 90% mortality rate is Eastern Equine Encephalitis, EEE. This is a scary disease that humans and horses are susceptible to. EEE is spread by mosquito bites. Once a horse or human contract EEE, they can not spread it on to another host. Incubation period in horses is 3-7 days after being bit by an infected mosquito. Symptoms are fever, stiffness, hypersensitivity to touch, aggression, excitability, head pressing, wandering, constant chewing, and death. EEE can be detected with a blood test and can be prevented with a vaccine given by a vet. Eastern Equine Encephalitis is most common in warm climates like the South Eastern part of the US but can be found anywhere mosquitos inhabit.

West Nile Virus, WNV is another common disease in horses and humans that is transmitted by mosquitos. Like EEE, once a horse has contracted WNV it can not spread it to another host. In horses that fall ill to WNV, the virus infects the central nervous system. Symptoms of WNV include circling, hind limb weakness, inability to stand, multiple limb paralysis, muscle twitching, altered mental state, impaired vision, lip droop, inability to swallow, and hyper excitability. Blood work needs to be done to confirm a positive WNV case. There is a vaccine that can be given by a vet to prevent the West Nile Virus and is recommended.

The last disease I’m going to mention is Equine Rabies. Although Rabies is rare it is a lethal disease that attacks the nervous system. Rabies is transmitted by saliva from an infected animal bite. Symptoms range from strange behavior, lameness, neurological deficits, self-mutilation, fear, aggressiveness, and depression. These symptoms progress till finally the disease takes the life of the infected animal. There is no before death test that can be done to confirm a positive case of Rabies. After death evaluation of the brain can positively identify rabies in an animal. There is no effective treatment for Rabies in horses but you can vaccinate for Rabies through a vet.

These are just a few of many common horse diseases. It is important to have a good relationship with your vet and have your horse on a regular vaccine schedule. If you have further questions about these disease or other equine diseases contact your local vet.

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