Caring For The Traveling Horse
Travel to competitions can increase the risk for a number of diseases
Horses are exposed to additional disease challenges the minute they leave the barn for a competition or even a fun trail ride. What’s more, the additional stress of training for such an event can add to their risk of illness. Protecting horses prior to travel can help owners prevent downtime from disease – and keep their entry fees.
What’s the risk?
The Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) recommends considering additional vaccinations for horses traveling, and comingled with, other horses. These vaccinations include: equine herpesvirus (EHV), equine influenza and strangles. This is an addition to a set of “core” vaccination recommendations.
“Core vaccines are for diseases that horses cannot stay away – like rabies or encephalitis,” says Rob Keene, DVM, equine technical manager for Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc. “Then there are diseases that horses are potentially at risk for when they travel. Those additional vaccinations should be based on risk. For instance, in some areas they have more Potomac Horse Fever than others, but we don’t have much of that disease in Montana.”
Additional vaccinations are especially worth the cost for competitive horses, Keene says. It can take months for horses to fully recover from a respiratory infection. During which time, they aren’t training or competing at their best.
“To get back to where they were, the costs associated with training can be many times what the entry fees are for a show,” he says. “The biggest cost is loss of use. You can be out of training and competition for two to three months, which is a big deal.”
In addition, the cost of illness isn’t isolated. Each horse that has interacted with the infected animal – or even common areas and objects like grazing areas – can be at risk. Even horses left at home could need these additional vaccinations, Keene says.
“Even if you’re only taking a couple horses in a barn on the road – unless you have good quarantine protocol in place – horses at home may be at risk, as well,” he says. “As an example, sometimes horses may be infected with a disease, like Strep equi, the causative agent for Strangles, but may not be displaying outward signs of clinical disease. These types of horses can act as a ‘Typhoid Mary’ among the rest of the horses. The same can also hold true for equine influenza.”
“It’s very hard to not use common water sources,” he says. “We know that with strep, they don’t need to touch noses to transmit the disease. Using the same lead ropes, halters and common water sources can be hard to manage as are common grazing areas. Just like humans, horses that are very young and very old are more susceptible to disease than healthy, fit, adult horses.”
Timing vaccinations right is key to preventing disease, Keene says.
“We like to give a booster dose prior to travel,” he notes. “Travel is always a stress. How horses respond to vaccines can vary so we like to provide that booster in advance of that travel stress. The vaccine needs to be given well before travel to get the most bang for the buck.”
At times, it may take between 10 to 14 days for horses to see the peak benefit of booster vaccinations. Oftentimes, owners can be busy with training and travel preparations and miss this window.
In fact, this is the reason why the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) now requires all horses entering the grounds of a USEF-licensed competition to be accompanied by documentation of equine influenza virus and EHV vaccinations within six months prior to entering the stables.
Horses may need more time depending on their individual vaccination history, notes Megan Green, DVM, manager, equine and large animal veterinary services, Merial. Unvaccinated, or naïve, horses may require an initial vaccination as well as a booster dose.
“If we are vaccinating a naïve horse – or if we don’t have a vaccination history – then that puts us at a disadvantage,” Green says. “We’ll have to take the time to get the history from the previous veterinarian and have a discussion about diseases, timing of vaccines and make sure that the horses are protected and vaccinated appropriately.”
Simply knowing a horse is traveling is the first step, but Green also recommends understanding the geographic region the horse is traveling to and how many horses are expected to attend the event.
Before the trailer pulls out of the driveway, the stress of training for a competition can set horses up for disease. Increases in training – both time and intensity – can set a horse up for developing equine gastric ulcer syndrome (EGUS).
“Two out of three horses can be suffering from equine gastric ulcer syndrome – and that’s a significant amount. You want to be proactively staying ahead of the curve and thinking about your horse and what you’re asking your horse to do.”
For example, a horse may be given grass and hay in the morning and fed again in the evening. Meanwhile, acid is produced by the horse’s stomach 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In fact, adult horses can produce up to 16 gallons of stomach acid in a day. Without hay or other feedstuffs to absorb the acid, it can accumulate in the stomach and lead to erosion of the lining of the stomach, which leads to EGUS.
“When we look at signs a horse owner might notice, poor performance is really the most common complaint,” Green says. “A change of attitude and behavior or a change in eating pattern like eating a small amount and going over to their water bucket and drinking excessive amounts of water, as well as, intermittent colic episodes are all clinical signs that can be associated with EGUS”
Preventing EGUS can help equine competitors stay in top condition – and prevent treating more serious cases later on.
“It’s much easier on the pocketbook of the owner and better for the horse’s overall health and performance to prevent ulcers,” she says. “If you have trained, planned and paid your entry fees, then you want your horse to compete to the best of their ability.”
AAEP Risk-Based Vaccinations
Horse owners and veterinarians can determine a complete vaccination program that may include the following based on the horse’s individual risk.
- Equine herpesvirus (rhinopneumonitis)
- Equine influenza
- Equine Viral Arteritis
- Potomac Horse Fever
- Rotaviral Diarrhea
- Snake bite
Information provided by AAEP. For more details, visit www.aaep.org.
Potential Signs of Equine Stomach Ulcers
The diagnosis of equine gastric ulcer syndrome (EGUS) is based on the presence of clinical signs and confirmation with endoscopic examination. Clinical signs in adult horses can include:
- Poor appetite
- Attitude changes
- Decreased performance
- Reluctance to train
- Poor body condition
- Rough hair coat
- Weight loss
- Low-grade colic
Information provided by AAEP. For more details, visit www.aaep.org.
Courtesy of Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc.