Handling a Horse Exposed to Disease

If your horse is exposed to disease, take these steps to give him the best chance of staying healthy and to catch any resulting illness at the earliest possible point.

A horse that’s been exposed to disease or is showing signs of illness should be isolated in a stall or pen and watched closely. drial7m1/istockphoto.com

Exposed? Guard against illness

If you think your horse has been exposed to disease, isolate him from other equines. “Normally, within 24 to 48 hours of exposure, infected horses begin to demonstrate coughing, fever, depression, and decreased feed intake,” says Dr. Kevin Hankins, senior technical services veterinarian with Zoetis. He recommends you touch base with your vet; then if signs of sickness do appear, your vet can move quickly to diagnose the illness and begin treatment. Keep germs from spreading by following biosecurity practices (review the steps at HorseandRider.com). 

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Monitor Your Horse

(from left): Courtesy of AVMA; Jennifer Paulson


Take your horse’s temperature twice daily and report readings over 101.5˚F to your vet.


Check regularly to make sure your horse is eating and drinking as he normally does.


Watch your horse’s behavior and attitude, as depression is an early sign of illness.


Stop Core Diseases

For best disease protection, work proactively alongside your veterinarian to vaccinate your horse annually against the five core equine diseases, all of which can be fatal:

  • Eastern equine encephalomyelitis
  • Western equine encephalomyelitis
  • Rabies
  • Tetanus
  • West Nile virus

Consider your horse’s lifestyle, and discuss with your vet whether your horse may benefit from risk-based vaccinations to help protect against certain other diseases such as equine influenza, equine herpesvirus, or strangles.

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