Avoiding the spread of disease

Most diseases are introduced to a horse property with the arrival of a new horse that is already infected or is a carrier of a disease.

To reduce the likelihood of introducing disease in this way:

  • Arrange a pre-purchase examination by a veterinarian when you are buying a new horse.  Depending on where the horse has come from, screening tests for specific diseases may also be advisable
  • Isolate new arrivals from resident horses for at least two weeks and check them daily for signs of ill health
  • While in isolation, ensure new horses undergo faecal egg count reduction testing (FECRT) to reduce the chance that resistant worms will be introduced to your property. Consult your veterinarian for more information about FECRT in horses.

Horses coming into contact with other horses is a primary way for infection to spread.

Horse events act as multipliers for the spread of infectious diseases should an outbreak occur.

When you attend competitions or events:

  • DO NOT bring horses that are suspected of carrying infectious or contagious diseases or have been in contact with other animals suffering from such diseases to horse events
  • Always take your own feed bins, water buckets, tack and grooming gear. Sharing such equipment, or using communal water troughs or feeders, can be a source of infection and can spread disease
  • Keep competition horses separate from horses that rarely mix with horses from other properties where possible
  • Keep records of horse movements so that these horses and their contacts can be quickly traced in the event of a disease outbreak.

Nose-to-nose contact between your horses and those on a neighbouring property may allow an infectious disease to spread. To effectively manage this risk:

  • Keep horses away from the boundary or use double fencing
  • A line of trees between the fences is ideal both as a windbreak and to improve biosecurity.

Contaminated equipment including rugs and halters can also result in infection. Strangles is one disease that is often transmitted between horses and properties this way. Ticks can also attach to rugs and be spread between areas. To avoid this:

  • Make sure you clean your horse equipment regularly
  • Check your horses and equipment for ticks and ensure you adhere to tick treatment requirements when moving your horses.

People can also introduce diseases if they have handled an infected horse and then handle another horse soon afterwards. If you have been in contact with other horses, it is important that the following biosecurity precautions are adopted:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly after being with each horse and before handling your own horse
  • Wear gloves and protective gear
  • Disinfect your clothing and boots
  • Ensure that visitors to your property follow the same biosecurity precautions.

Hygiene is paramount when it comes to keeping your horse healthy. Horses should be checked daily to ensure they are healthy and injury-free. The sooner a health problem is detected, the easier it is to manage.

  • Insects can act as vectors to spread some disease. Insect control is therefore important, particularly in stables. Ensure good drainage and manure disposal as a measure to control and prevent insects such as mosquitos and march flies from breeding
  • Clean and disinfect stables, equipment and transport vehicles regularly
  • Thoroughly wash wipes, rags or towels after use to avoid the transfer of infection from horse to horse
  • Disinfect and clean foaling boxes regularly
  • Clean and disinfect equipment exposed to any body fluids from horses before using it on another horse.

On studs and large operations where horses are stabled, it is advisable to:

  • Take daily rectal temperatures to monitor for any disease onset
  • Segregate horses by age and use on properties with a large number of horses, eg. keep yearlings separate from older horses
  • Always wash your hands between handling groups of horses.

Pregnant mares require special care to avoid the spread of infections that can cause abortion, such as equine herpes virus. Some causes of abortion in horses can also cause illness in humans.

You should:

  • Separate pregnant mares from other horses, particularly new arrivals
  • Ask a veterinarian to investigate any abortion or sick foal as soon as possible
  • Always wear gloves and a disposable face mask when handling aborted foetuses, fetal membranes associated abortions or weak/sickly foals.

Vaccination is an important way to prevent infectious diseases. You should:

  • Consider vaccinating your horse to help prevent tetanus, Hendra virus, strangles and equine herpesvirus. There are a number of other vaccines also used in some specific situations
  • Consult your veterinarian for advice on an appropriate vaccination program for your horses.