Vesicular Stomatitis—What You Need to Know from a Vet in the Heart of It

Joe Stricklin, DVM from Greeley, Colorado, sat down with us to talk about vesicular stomatitis. Here’s what you need to know about this currently active disease.
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Vesicular stomatitis is a virus that's been hitting the Western states hard over the summer months. States with infected horses include Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, and Wyoming. Whether you’re in a state that’s seen infections or are trying to stay prepared just in case, Dr. Stricklin offers the must-have information to keep your horse safe.

Horse with lesions on coronary band.

Vesicular Stomatitis causes lesions on the ears, coronary bands, sheath, udder, nose, and mouth. 

What is Vesicular Stomatitis?

VS is a virus that can affect cattle, sheep, goats, and any number of animals—including humans. This year horses are the species most impacted; there’s also been one case of VS in cattle. While the disease can have an economic impact when cattle contract it, with horses the virus is generally only an inconvenience. Commonly confused with the importance of equine herpes virus, VS will cause your horse discomfort but rarely death.

What Are the Signs of VS?

This strain of VS has produced many cases with lesions in ears. Lesions can also appear on a horse's coronary bands, mouth, nose, tongue, sheath, or udder.

Horse with lesions in the ear from vesicular stomatitis.

This strain of Vesicular Stomatitis causes lesions in ears. 

How to Prevent VS

Fly control. Fly control. Fly control. The only way to prevent the virus is meticulous fly control—fly sheets, fly masks, fly spray, manure removal, etc. Taking general biosecurity measures will also help prevent the spread of the virus. Currently there's no vaccine.

[READ ABOUT: HORSE & BARN FLY CONTROL]

How to Treat VS

Use a warm saltwater rinse for oral lesions and an aloe vera cream for lesions on the body. With these treatments, the lesions usually clear up in four to six days.

What Are the Vectors of the VS Virus?

Black flies typically transmit the virus. When the fly population starts to swell, the disease starts transmitting. The flies that carry the virus are often found around water—outbreaks seem to occur closer to rivers or other bodies of water. There's some speculation that mosquitos may also carry the virus.

What to Do if Your Horse Contracts VS

Don’t panic! As mentioned earlier, this virus is merely an inconvenience to horse owners. Call your vet as soon as you notice lesions. If your horse does have VS, the entire barn will be under quarantine for two weeks.

Attending Events During the Outbreak

If a horse on your property or at your boarding facility develops VS, it must be quarantined for two weeks. If your horse is free of the virus, you’re OK to travel within state. Most of the horses contracting the virus have done so at their own barn—your horse is more likely to get VS at home than when traveling.

Most events are requiring a health certificate or have a vet onsite to inspect horses. Whether an event requires a health certificate is up to the officials, so be sure to check the event website or contact officials in advance to learn the requirements for that event. Many events are requiring a 72-hour health certificate, with some states even requiring a 48-hour health certificate—meaning your horse has been certified free of VS within 48 hours prior to the start of the event.

Traveling Across State Lines with VS

Check state regulations before you go. Traveling from a state currently affected by the virus requires documentation. Some states are requiring a 48-hour health certificate, along with a permit. Your veterinarian will inspect your horse for lesions before issuing a health certificate. If your horse is healthy, the vet will contact officials in the state to which you intend to travel to obtain a permit, indicating where the horse is headed to alert them in advance.

If, on the other hand, your horse has contracted VS, he’ll be quarantined to your property in your state for two weeks, with travel outside of state lines possibly restricted for up to 30 days.

[READ: WHAT TO DO IF YOUR HORSE IS EXPOSED TO DISEASE]

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