The Critical Importance of Biosecurity

While vaccines are an important part of an annual health care program, controlling and preventing diseases through management and disinfection is critical.

Preventing infectious diseases has often been perceived by horse owners as “which vaccines do I need this year?” While vaccines are an important part of an annual health care program, controlling and preventing diseases through management and disinfection has only come to the forefront in the past 20 years.

Veterinary and university hospitals, because they house sick animals along with healthy ones awaiting routine surgeries, have been at the fore­front of what is now routinely known as biosecurity. Large hospitals now often have an individual solely dedicated to infectious disease control.

The recent recognition of an equine herpesvirus variant causing neurologic disease and several large outbreaks spanning multiple states has horse owners really understanding the critical importance of biosecurity. The threat of “was my horse exposed” looms when a herpesvirus-infected horse has been confirmed at a racetrack, horse event or horse farm. Unfortunately, it sometimes takes a potentially deadly disease to get people’s attention.

Following are biosecurity measures to implement when horses are congregated at events:

  • Minimize nose-to-nose contact between horses. Do not allow another horse to sniff your horse’s nose “to get acquainted.”
  • Do not share equipment for use with other people’s horses. Alternatively, if any equipment is loaned, keep it away from your horses until it is cleaned with a detergent, rinsed, and properly disinfected.
  • Do not use common water troughs. Bring your own water and feed buckets.
  • Avoid common-use areas such as tack stalls used to groom and tack multiple horses. If these common areas must be used, use cross ties instead of tying horses to a post, wall, or other nose-to-nose contact area.
  • Halters, lead shanks, and face grooming towels should be used on one animal only and not shared between animals.
  • Wash your hands or use a 62% ethyl alcohol hand gel before and after handling or riding other people’s horses.
  • Early detection of disease is paramount, especially contagious infectious diseases. Take horses’ temperatures twice daily (morning and night) during the event and for two weeks after return to the stable.
  • Quarantine horses when they return to the barn or training facility after an event.
  • Clean and disinfect horse trailers before they’re used by other horses.

These procedures do make a difference! As always, consult a veterinarian about an appropriate vaccination program and biosecurity recommendations for your particular circumstances.

Managers of equine event facilities also have a part to play. Financially, they want events to proceed without major disease interruptions and potential quarantines for the sake of the horses, the owners and basic economics. However, how many stalls at busy facilities are completely cleaned and disinfected before the next round of horses arrives? Horse owners need to take personal responsibility to inspect their assigned stalls (yes, even when arriving at 2 a.m.), and clean them if necessary. Use your own equipment, including buckets, lead ropes, cross ties, hay nets, pitchforks, etc.

Reprinted with permission from Equine Disease Quarterly, published by the University of Kentucky’s Gluck Equine Research Center and funded by underwriters at Lloyd’s, London, Brokers and the Kentucky Agents.






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