We all know that Autumn and Winter are cold and flu season. However, it’s not only people who are prone to catching infectious viruses or bacteria, the start of the cold season is also prime time for horses to succumb to upper respiratory infections as well!
There are several pathogens that are responsible for upper respiratory infections in horses. You’ll likely recognise a few of these, such as Streptococcus equi, which causes strangles, equine influenza virus, and equine herpesvirus types 1 and 4.
These pathogens are highly infectious and can rapidly spread from horse to horse. Some can also be transferred from handlers and equipment that have encountered an infected horse, making them a challenge in any environment where horses are kept together.
In this article, we share advice to prepare your horse for Autumn to minimise the risks of upper respiratory infections and reduce the burden of chronic respiratory conditions.
Stabling Horses in Autumn and Winter
While we may prefer to stay cosy indoors during cold weather, our horses may not. Studies indicate that stabling horses in stalls and barns without proper ventilation for long periods increases the risk of respiratory health issues.
Horses thrive in the fresh air and research suggests that with sufficient quality forage, freedom of movement and access to free choice shelter, cold temperatures may not bother our horses as much as we tend to think they do.
Keeping horses in confined areas, such as stables and barns, is also problematic when there is a disease outbreak. This may occur when an infected horse returns from a show or a new horse carrying an undetected infection is introduced.
Exercising and Transporting Horses in Cold Weather
For the competition horse, an intensive exercise regime and regular long hauls to shows can wreak havoc on their respiratory health if not properly managed.
Cold dry air, combined with exposure to infectious pathogens, allergens or irritants can impair your horse’s local defences within their respiratory tract.
Poor air quality in indoor arenas and lorries may exacerbate chronic conditions, such as equine asthma. Additionally, repeated cold weather exercise can lead to asthma-like airway disease, as well as chronic airway inflammation, according to a 2008 study by Elfman et al.
Tips for Horse Respiratory Health in Autumn
Preparing your horse for the cold weather ahead starts with:
- A tailored vaccination program to protect them from harmful upper respiratory infections, such as strangles, equine influenza virus, and equine herpesvirus
- Providing your horse with a well-ventilated & clean indoor environment if they must be stabled, and prioritising turnout for optimum respiratory health.
- Taking precautions for any horse that suffers from chronic respiratory conditions to minimise their exposure to allergens and irritants
If you’re intending to compete with your horse, be sure to:
- Watch out for any signs of respiratory disease, such as nasal discharge, persistent cough, laboured breathing, fever, depression or lethargy, and loss of appetite
- Monitor them when you return from shows and other events, and keep them separate from other horses if you suspect any possibility of respiratory infection
- Support their overall respiratory health by avoiding intensive exercise in frigid temperatures and promoting airflow during transportation
Should a horse show signs of respiratory infection, follow these biosecurity protocols:
- Seek the advice of a veterinarian immediately to identify the type of infection and implement the correct measures to prevent its spread
- Separate the infected horse and avoid sharing their grooming, riding, and feeding equipment with other horses
- Clean and disinfect their stall and equipment, and ensure all handlers wash their hands before and after dealing with the infected horse
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to replace professional veterinary advice. Always consult your veterinarian if your horse as any health-related issue or is exhibiting symptoms.