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Equine Health 101: What is a Coggins Test, and why is it important?

What does a Coggins Test diagnose? Why is it required?
Coggins Test Paperwork - fair use

Horse show season is just around the bend, and equine veterinarians are already performing Coggins Tests. Equestrian facilities, horse show venues, and animal transporters require proof of negative Coggins results. What is this annual diagnostic tool, and why do equine practitioners bother with it?

What does a Coggins Test diagnose?

This blood test, performed annually, identifies exposure to equine infectious anemia (EIA). EIA is a dangerous retrovirus that is often spread by affected insects that bite horses in barns, pastures, riding rings, or the wild. EIA causes such symptoms as:

  • anemia
  • arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat)
  • diminished appetite
  • fever
  • loss of energy
  • swelling (usually of the chest and legs)
  • weight loss

Full-blown EIA infections generally prove fatal to horses within three weeks. However, horses may contract milder cases, causing them to become carriers of the virus.

The Coggins Test identifies the presence of EIA antibodies in the blood of affected horses. When this is found, it indicates an equine is EIA-positive, meaning that animal is a viral carrier and a potential transmitter of infection to other horses.

The official Coggins Test result documentation includes a detailed horse description and sketching of equine markings and scars, drawn by the veterinarian taking the blood sample.

What happens to Coggins Test results?

Coggins Test results, which take about two weeks after equine blood draws, are routinely filed with state agricultural department authorities. Horse owners must carry originals (and often photocopies) of current year Coggins Test results, usually accompanied by recent veterinary certificates, when transporting their animals to equine facilities, events, or even veterinary locations.

The horse owner’s Coggins Test result copy is usually yellow.

The vast majority of Coggins Test results are negative, largely because horses are routinely tested. Equines testing positive for EIA are quarantined and usually freeze-branded, if they survive even a few weeks.

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