Keeping Your Horse Healthy

Keeping Your Horse Healthy At Home

Work with your veterinarian to develop a customized health care program for your facility, taking into account the diseases in your area, number of horses on the property, their age groups, if they travel to shows or events, whether they are kept outside or inside, and other factors specific to your situation. It is important to have protocols in place before something happens. The plan should include:

  1. Vaccination protocol
  2. Deworming protocol
  3. Nutrition program
  4. Exercise program
  5. Manure control
  6. Insect and rodent control
  7. Biosecurity, especially during travel

An effective program requires day-to-day diligence, including:

  • Close monitoring of horses for signs of illness
  • Cleanliness

Know the signs of possible contagious diseases:

  • Fever (Have a thermometer for your horse!)
  • Nasal discharge
  • Cough
  • Diarrhea

Confine all new arrivals to the property to a quarantine area for 21 days.

What to do if a horse gets sick

  • Quarantine the horse in its stall.
  • Minimize traffic in the location of the affected horse.
  • Call your veterinarian.
  • Perform testing and isolate the affected horse from other horses.
  • Determine if quarantine is necessary for the whole facility.

How do I quarantine?

  • Quarantine procedures should be customized to the premises. Have a plan and train staff before quarantine is needed.
  • The safest option is to quarantine a sick horse in a separate barn designated for this purpose.
  • The next best option is a pen separated by 30-50 feet from other horses.
  • If neither option is available, quarantine the horse in a stall at the end of a barn, with no immediate neighbors (either across or adjacent).
  • If none of these options is possible, quarantine the horse in its stall.
  • Restrict movement of the horse and horses in the immediate area.
  • Wash your hands and/or utilize hand sanitizers before and after interacting with sick animals.
  • Place a disinfectant footbath outside the stall and disinfect footwear when entering and exiting the stall.
    • Bleach: Use a 1:10 – 1:16 dilution of bleach to water and ensure 10 minutes of contact time. Make sure your footwear is free from debris before going into a footbath (bleach is inactivated by organic matter such as bedding, hay, and manure.
    • Accelerated Hydrogen Peroxide: These are hydrogen peroxide products modified for increased stability. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has rated them among the safest disinfectants for the environment. They are safe to handle, work for a very wide spectrum of infectious agents, hold up better to organic matter than bleach (as long as there is <5% organic matter by mass in the footbath), and have a comparatively short contact time (5 minutes). These products include Accel/Rescue® and Intervention™.
  • Use protective equipment when handling sick horses, including gloves and disposable gowns. Change your clothes after handling a sick animal.
  • Designate separate stall cleaning equipment for quarantine areas.
  • Horses that are newly arrived to the property should be quarantined for 3 weeks in a separate barn or separate paddock 30 feet away from resident horses. Feed and handle these horses last, or designate separate personnel to care for them during the quarantine period.

Keeping Your Horse Healthy Away From Home

Before you go:

Only take healthy horses off the property
Avoid transporting sick horses, even if they only appear mildly sick. Horses with signs of any of the following should stay at home for monitoring:
  • Fever
  • Nasal discharge
  • Cough
  • Diarrhea
Protect your horse
  • Shipping is stressful for horses, and stress can impair their immune responses to infectious organisms.
  • Ensure horses are current on vaccines, including influenza, herpes (no vaccine for neurologic form), and possibly strangles. Note that vaccines do not guarantee
  • protection, but they make the disease milder and reduce shedding if your horse becomes affected.
  • Allow your horse to lower its head during transport, either freely or intermittently at stops. This allows for the horse to clear its airways of accumulated dust
  • or particulate matter, and helps to protect against pneumonia.
Pack your own equipment

This includes:

  • Water and feed buckets
  • Manure fork, shovel
  • Disinfectant foot bath
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Thermometer
  • Gloves

While you are away:

Disinfect stalls when you arrive
  • Remove organic matter, including manure and bedding material.
  • When feasible and the facility is amenable, scrub/wash the walls with soap (liquid laundry detergent) from top to bottom.
  • Rinse the soap off.
  • Disinfect the stall with bleach or an Accelerated Hydrogen Peroxide (AHP) product. Follow product labels and allow adequate contact time. Note that AHP products do not need to be rinsed off, but should be dry before putting a horse in the stall. If washing with soap first is not possible, the use of AHP products is optimal in that they include a surfactant for cleaning.
Minimize exposure
  • Don’t share equipment or tack.
  • Don’t allow nose-to-nose contact with other horses.
  • Don’t allow visitors to pet your horse.
  • Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer often.
  • When filling up buckets, keep the hose elevated out of the bucket (not under water level) to minimize transfer of organisms from the hose into the water. Monitor your horse’s body temperature and feed intake
  • Know your horse’s normal vital signs, including temperature, pulse, and respiration rate.
  • Train horses to having their temperature taken.
  • Take your horse’s temperature every morning (normal temperature is approximately 99° – 100.5°F). An elevated temperature can be an early indicator of illness. If your horse’s temperature is 101.5°F or above, contact a veterinarian and isolate the horse to prevent exposure to other horses. The earlier an illness is detected, the better the prognosis, the easier it is to treat, and the better the outcome.

Don't forget about your trailer!

  • It is important to disinfect your trailer, especially if you haul other people’s horses.
  • At end of the day, or after hauling sick horses, strip out all of the bedding. Scrub the whole trailer down with liquid detergent, rinse, and apply dilute bleach or AHP.

For more information on how to keep your horse safe at events, refer to the CDFA Biosecurity Tool Kit.

When you get home:

  • Separate traveling horses from resident horses as much as possible.
  • Maintain good vaccination protocols on resident horses.
  • Monitor body temperature on returned horses once a day for 7-14 days.
  • House traveling horses at one end of the barn and horses that do not travel as much at the other end of the barn.