Would you know if your horse had flu? With many cases going unrecognised, scientist Adam Rash, from the Animal Health Trust, explains how to spot the signs and protect your horse
Equine flu is one of the most contagious diseases affecting horses. It’s caused by the influenza virus, which can be passed very easily from one horse to another, and it relies on being transmitted between horses to survive. The virus reproduces in your horse’s nose, throat and windpipe, and is spread when he breathes, coughs or sneezes. It can also be passed on by direct contact between horses and their handlers, so good hygiene is very important.
Equine flu is common, so most horses will come into contact with the disease at some point, but it isn’t always diagnosed and this could be due to a delay in owners calling their vet out or not recognising mild cases, especially in horses who have been vaccinated.
The warning signs
There are several signs of flu in horses, but those affected may only show one or two of them. They include…
- harsh, dry cough
- raised temperature
- laboured breathing
- clear or white nasal discharge
- enlarged lymph nodes in the throat
- loss of appetite
If you think your horse might be showing signs of flu, isolate him immediately to help prevent the disease spreading and call your vet as soon as possible. They’ll take a swab from his nose and blood samples to confirm the infection. If flu is diagnosed, it’s important that your horse receives plenty of fluids to keep him hydrated and he may be given non-steroidal anti-inflammatories to help reduce his temperature.
You’ll also need to monitor him carefully to make sure there are no complications, such as pneumonia, developing. It’s sensible to isolate horses who’ve been in contact with him, too, in case they’re now incubating the disease.
It takes time for the lining of your horse’s respiratory tract to fully recover after a flu infection. During his recovery, it’s important that he’s not put under any stress or strenuous exercise because it’ll put him at risk of developing other respiratory infections. A good rule of thumb is for every day that your horse had a raised temperature, he’ll need at least a week off work.
Read more about protecting your horse from equine flu in the June issue of Horse&Rider, out 3 May.