10 Ways to Minimize Your Horse’s Risk of EHV-1 or Equine Herpes Virus

In May 2011, multiple horses participating in the National Cutting Horse Association Western National Championships in Ogden, Utah, contracted Equine Herpes Virus (EHV-1). Several horses became ill, and a few were euthanized. Veterinarians and horse owners in the U.S. and Canada are concerned.

EHV-1 may cause respiratory and neurological disease. The potentially fatal virus may also lead to abortion in pregnant mares.

What can you do to prevent your horse from contracting Equine Herpes Virus?

1. Keep your horse in his home barn, if an EHV-1 epidemic looms.

During equine veterinary health alerts, prudent horse owners may forego off-campus trail rides, horse shows and equestrian excursions. By staying home until the proverbial coast is clear, you can cut your horse’s chances of catching a possibly life-threatening infection like Equine Herpes Virus.

2. Cancel equestrian clinics, horse shows and trailer-in lessons, while a disease alert is pending.

Equestrian centers may reschedule on-site events, refusing to admit outside horses while equine epidemics are in full swing.

3. Avoid visiting multiple equestrian facilities during an outbreak.

Do you have friends at other barns? Mixing it up during disease outbreaks may be unwise.

Trainers, farriers, veterinarians and others who travel to various stables can wear disposable gloves, change clothes and thoroughly clean equipment and supplies between visits.

4. Read up on EHV-1.

As an informed horse owner, you can best help your horse avoid infection. The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers a free downloadable educational publication about EHV-1.

5. Watch your horse for symptoms of Equine Herpes Virus.

This dire disease is often causes coughing, fever, nasal discharge and general weariness. Additional symptoms may include lack of coordination and balance, leaking urine, tail muscle tone loss and lethargy. Affected horses may become clumsy with their hind legs, in particular.

6. Take your horse’s temperature twice daily, if you are concerned.

Veterinarians suggest equine owners check for fever, tracking horses’ temperatures. Normal body temperature for a horse is 99oF to 101oF, taken rectally. If your horse’s temperature rises above 102 oF, it’s time to call the vet.

7. Do not allow your horse to eat or drink from communal containers.

Because EHV-1 is often spread through saliva, equines should be prevented from sharing water troughs, feed buckets or pasture grazing spots. Skip hand-feeding to minimize spread of the virus.

Also, avoid petting multiple horses without washing your hands religiously, especially during times of heightened disease concern.

8. Quarantine EHV-1 horses and any equines arriving or returning from off-site locations.

The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) recommends isolating incoming equines for at least seven and possibly up to 28 days to prevent possible disease.

9. Sterilize equipment and supplies after handling an infected horse.

EHV-1 may be carried on bridles, bits, halters, saddle pads, tack, gloves, boots, clothing, buckets, grooming supplies and virtually anything that comes near an infected horse.

If a horse in your barn has Equine Herpes Virus, you will need to be absolutely certain that no objects are shared between horses and that humans take extreme biosecurity measures to prevent the spread of infection. Hand-washing and meticulous care matter.

Pregnant mares benefit from the highest precautions possible during times of prevalent disease threat.

10. Keep your horse as healthy as possible.

Currently, no vaccine exists to prevent EHV-1. However, the heartiest horses are best equipped to fight off the disease. Proper vaccinations, regular worming and balanced nutrition may give your horse the best chance of battling Equine Herpes Virus. A strong immune system can be his greatest ally, besides you, in fending off infection.

As a horse owner, you can give your beloved equine the highest odds possible of avoiding dangerous disease by taking these smart protective steps.

More from this contributor:

10 Tips for Pet Owner Etiquette in Veterinary Waiting Rooms

Four Final Options: Dealing Humanely with a Deceased Horse’s Remains

Horse Show Packing List: 85 Must-Haves for Equestrian Competitions