by Freya Stein, DVM, DACVIM (LAIM), McKinlay & Peters Equine Hospital
While horses do not carry COVID-19, the current pandemic drives home the importance of biosecurity as a form of preventative healthcare. At some point, we will all be able to move around again, and will enjoy riding with friends and heading to shows. Barns will be bustling with activity, which means that our horses will also be in contact with each other. Unfortunately, with this happy return to contact also comes the potential for equine disease transmission.
Hopefully, you have now become more familiar with how communicable diseases are spread through respiratory secretions, fecal-oral contamination, direct contact from horse to horse, and indirect contact through contamination of objects (these are called fomites). While vaccination is important in preventing some communicable diseases, no vaccine is 100% effective, and there are pathogens against which we do not have vaccines (particularly the gastrointestinal pathogens).
The most common circumstances for communicable disease transmission are when a new horse is introduced into a herd, and when horses from different places commingle. Fortunately, many basic biosecurity principles are universal, and you can apply some of the same concepts you’ve recently learned with COVID-19 prevention to equine communicable disease prevention.
Here are a few easy practices to keep in mind in show/clinic/boarding barn situations:
• Wash your hands between handling different horses – even if it’s just a pat on the nose.
• Wash tack (especially bits and bridles) when sharing between horses.
• Do not use common water troughs in public places, and do not share water buckets or hay nets with horses from another stable. Make sure not to dip the end of the hose in water buckets when filling them.
• Social distancing is still important between horses – respiratory secretions can disperse over 20 feet from the source.
Additionally, the following protocol should be used when introducing a new horse to your herd:
• Keep the new horse isolated for a minimum of 21 days. If the new horse appears sick, the isolation clock should extend an additional 21 days PAST the last sign of illness. Isolation means a minimum of 30 feet between the new horse and others.
• Handle the new horse (including feeding and stall or pen cleaning) AFTER the other horses at home.
• Ideally, wear different outerwear and use different tack with the new horse. Remember that your clothes and equipment can be very effective fomites.
• Place two shallow tubs to use for shoe and cleaning equipment disinfection outside the horse’s enclosure. The first tub should be filled with water, and boots/equipment are rinsed here after exiting the stall. Next, step in the second tub containing a chemical disinfectant – e.g. Lysol or Bleach (one part bleach to three parts water).
• Wash your hands!