Read Towcester Veterinary Centre’s advice on equine flu

March 14, 2021

Equine flu, or equine influenza, is a highly contagious viral respiratory disease. Symptoms can be severe, so it’s important to know when to contact your vet.

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Horses can catch equine flu via direct contact with an infected horse, and via indirect contact with a handler or inanimate objects like feed buckets and equipment. Equine flu can also become airborne when a horse sneezes infected droplets.

The incubation period is 1-5 days so it can spread very quickly through your horses, neighbouring stables, and those further afield. Given the right weather conditions, airborne equine flu can travel several miles, putting all UK horses at risk.

Because equine flu is so contagious, Towcester Veterinary Centre’s expert team recommends contacting your vet as soon as you have any suspicions. You should also isolate your horse and keep their environment as dust-free as possible.

Clinical signs of equine influenza:

  • Increased temperature (up to 41°C/106°F) for 1-3 days before visible signs.
  • Swollen & sore airway, and a harsh, dry cough that can last up to 6 weeks.
  • Nasal discharge that starts clear and can become yellow/green and thick.
  • Loss of appetite and lethargy.
  • Painful and swollen glands underneath and around your horse’s jaw.

The influenza virus is not to be underestimated. It can weaken a horse and leave it vulnerable to secondary infections like bronchitis, pneumonia, lower limb swelling and muscle soreness. These are very worrying in young foals, elderly horses, and horses with pre-existing respiratory conditions. Death can occur in serious cases.

It can take many weeks for a horse to get back to full health, and they can be susceptible to secondary complications up to 100 days post-infection. You should always consult your vet before returning your horse to regular duties.

How to protect your horse against equine flu

The best way to give your horse protection against equine flu is to stay up to date with annual vaccinations – missing even one day puts your horse at more risk and could mean starting their vaccination course again, which can be costly.

The equine flu virus has a habit of mutating so keeping vaccines up-to-date with the latest strains can be challenging. This does mean that vaccinated horses can become infected, however, the symptoms aren’t as severe and don’t last as long. Vaccinating is still the best way to give yours and other horses the best protection. Maintaining a good level of health & hygiene management can also help to stop the spread.

Call us on 01327 811007 if you suspect equine flu or to book a vaccination.

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