Respiratory Disease In Horses
Of the many communicable illnesses that affect horses, respiratory disease is the most common. Early detection of respiratory infection is important for successful treatment. Veterinary treatment can be costly and substantial, as well as the potential consequences of the loss of use of your horse for training, showing, or instruction.
There are several causes of respiratory infections, but the most significant are Equine Herpes Virus (Rhinopneumonitis), Equine Influenza, Equine Viral Arteritis (EVA).
Equine Influenza is one of the most severe viral infections in horses. As in people, Influenza can cause high fever and lung damage, and can have many additional complications. Horses will usually be sick longer with Influenza as opposed to other viruses.
Even though Influenza can be the most severe, Herpes Virus (in the form of Rhinopneumonitis) is the most widespread. Once infected, Herpes Virus remains with the horse for life. Foals and aged horses are the most likely to have symptoms, which range from a slight discharge from the nose, to cold like symptoms of fever and cough.
Equine Viral Arteritis (EVA) is an infectious viral disease of horses that causes a variety of clinical symptoms, most significantly abortions. The disease is transmitted through both the respiratory and reproductive systems. Many horses are either asymptomatic or exhibit flu–like symptoms for a short period of time. An abortion in pregnant mares is often the first, and in some cases, the only sign of the disease.
In addition to viral infection, bacterial infection is also a common respiratory illness in horses. Strangles is a bacterial infection which usually remains confined to the upper portion of the respiratory tract, throat and local lymph nodes, but can also involve the lungs. In addition, chronic infections in the guttural pouch can occur. Bacterial Pneumonia can be caused by a variety of bacteria infecting the lungs after they have been irritated by a viral infection, or in horses with weak lungs due to chronic allergic disease.
Risk factors that can contribute to the development of Bacterial Pneumonia and Viral infections include transporting horses or exercising horses, because they can cause a temporary weakening of the immune system. Foals and aged horses, which have a weaker immune system, may be more susceptible to bacteria in the lungs.
Some of the symptoms of a respiratory infection include the following:
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Carolynn MacAllister, DMV from Oklahoma State University states in her article Respiratory Disease in Horses, What You Can Do to Prevent Them, "vaccination is not a substitute for good management practices. Respiratory infections spread through groups of horses by direct contact between animals, handlers, and contaminated surfaces, or through inhalation. A producer can minimize the spread of infectious organisms by quarantining all animals brought onto the farm, specially those returning from events such as shows, racetracks, or sales. When there is an outbreak of respiratory disease or abortion, all affected horses should be isolated and not allowed to co-mingle or leave the premises until three weeks after recovery. It is always best for healthy horses to be housed in a separate airspace from sick horses."
"Consult your veterinarian concerning vaccination protocols. A veterinarian can evaluate each horse as an individual considering age, health, and environment to recommend vaccination and management programs that will provide maximum protection for each horse."