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Utah’s horse world – Containing equine illness and enhancing biosecurity

Regular exercise and good care contribute to maintenance of the healthy, happy horse.
Regular exercise and good care contribute to maintenance of the healthy, happy horse.
Photo by Kelly (with Meisja, Tala, Sarah and Tuffy)

In our last article we discussed communicable disease and shared basic information about some of the common conditions that concern horse owners throughout Utah and our region.

Several readers have since asked how best to contain an outbreak and keep their horses on a reliable path to reasonable health. In addition to following your veterinarian’s advice, you may want to consider these steps to manage the limited spread of disease and secure the environments in which our horses live;

Stay home. If you know horses have been sick and you suspect they, or their handlers, have been out on the trail or visiting certain venues, don’t go there. Surely you can forego another ribbon or two and miss out on a month’s worth of shows in order to maintain optimum health for your horses?

Sanitize. Whether your horse has been ill or if she’s potentially been exposed to a disease, you can reduce germs by making her stall as clean as possible. Regularly remove feces and clear out soiled shavings. Wash down any solid surfaces with a bit of common dish soap and hot water, then sanitize with a 3/2 bleach water mixture (3 parts bleach, 2 parts water). A power washer can be used for more thorough cleaning.

Isolate if necessary. If your horse has been diagnosed with a communicable disease or if you are certain they have been exposed and are now contagious, it's likely that your vet will advise you to isolate him from other nearby horses. Make sure he is not sharing feed or water and keep the horse from areas that will be used by other animals. If you can put the infected horse in a pen where he is physically separated, but still able to see and talk to (but not touch) friends, this can help lessen the degree of emotional and psychological distress during a reasonable recovery period.

Change and shower. For viruses such as EHV-1 or strangles, easily carried from human to horse as well as via horse to horse, thoughtful hygiene can help reduce their spread. If you have to interact with persons who’ve been around infected animals, be sure that you shower and change your clothes before going out to handle your own horses. Rinsing/spraying off shoes with a strong bleach solution or Lysol can help, too (pay special attention to the soles, removing any debris in treads).

Eliminate stress. It remains true for both horses and humans; those who are happy and lead a balanced, healthy lifestyle are generally less prone to picking up and over-reacting to common ailments. Make sure that your horses always have plenty of fresh clean water and that they are fed an adequate amount of food on a regular, reliable schedule. If at all possible, feeding 3 meals (at approximately 7-8 hour intervals) or (even better) allowing free-choice hay, can help keep your horses in a relaxed, content state. Give them room to move. Exercise, especially if permitted within the natural social confines of a small and congenial herd environment, will also lower their stress levels.

Know your horses. Spending adequate time with your horses, so that you are well aware of their normal behaviors, will help facilitate early detection should any unusual condition arise. Timely and correct diagnosis of any illness can lead to the most prompt and thorough treatment, allowing your horses to recover quickly and prevent infections from spreading.

Good care, adequate education and responsible action are always the best recipe for optimum health.

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