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Spring Fevers: Horse Health Concerns Shift with the Seasons

As the calendar turns, so do priorities to protect our horses from a long list of threats
Credit: Michael Wifall photo

Credit: Michael Wifall photo

You've checked your vaccination records, sterilized your trailer, received the new Coggins test. Your trainer is confident you're read, your show clothes are back from the dry cleaners and you're polished your tack. Your horse has even shed out most of his winter coat and lost a few pounds, thanks to the time you've been spending in the saddle. 

So why aren't you headed to a show this weekend? 

Spring is the season when all the vectors of horse health seem to collide. Every horse owner on every level is reminded that it's time for "spring shots" and a parasite check.

Your horse is shedding enough hair to stuff a sofa. The farrier needs to come to pull off the winter shoes. The paddock is a mud-and-manure morass. You can see your horse reaching over (or under) the fence to get the first tendrils of green grass, which means that fear-of-laminitis season can't be far away.

Those are your problems if you're "normal". But what if you live in Minnesota and Wisconsin, where an Equine Herpes Virus outbreak is underway? Or in Tennessee, where horses have been identified with Equine Infectious Anemia?

And in Massachusetts, a horse was attacked in its stall by a rabid bobcat.

Suddenly, having horse hair all over your clothes, mud on your not-for-the-barn shoes and a late farrier don't seem like such problems anymore.

Here's a quick rundown of horse-health advice for the first week of spring:

Equine Herpes Virus in Minnesota

This news report from a local television station explains the situation in Minnesota, as horse owners wait for an "all clear" before they start moving their horses around. Even so, this is the time of year when mares are being transported for breeding, horse sales are going into full gear and people want to be trailering to their trainers or going to clinics.

According to the Minnesota Board of Animal Health, seven of the affected horses have tested positive for equine herpesvirus-1 (EHV-1) infection (non-neuropathogenic strain). The tally as of last week: "Two of the positive cases are horses on the same premises in Chisago County, Minnesota. One of these horses has made a full recovery; the other was euthanized.

"There is one confirmed case in Dakota County, Minnesota. This horse has been euthanized. Three more positive horses are located in Freeborn, Hennepin, and Wright counties. All of these horses are recovering.

"In Wisconsin one horse has tested positive from Polk County and is currently recovering. Diagnostic tests are still pending on a horse from Burnett County that was euthanized."

Equine Infectious Anemia in Tennessee

Photo: Even wild horses need a Coggins test. The BLM performs Coggins tests on horses in a holding center in Nevada.

The Tennessee Department of Agriculture reports that the Kord Animal Health Diagnostic Lab has recently confirmed six cases of Equine Infectious Anemia in horses in McNairy County, Tennessee. The State Veterinarian's office has quarantined two premises and the epidemiological investigation is ongoing. 

Sometimes still called "swamp fever", Equine Infectious Anemia is a viral horse disease transmitted primarily by biting flies such as the horse fly and deer fly. Your annual Coggins test clears your horse of infection with the disease. 

Many people refer to the disease as "Coggins", but that name actually refers to Dr. Leroy Coggins, who developed the test for the disease.

Most people think of a Coggins test result as a necessary piece of paper that lives in the glovebox of your tow vehicle or in a binder of veterinary records. It's the one thing you can't forget when you are leaving for a show or event, because your trailer will be turned away without documentation for the horses on it. 

But it is much more than that. Moving a horse with EIA, whether to an auction, a breeder or even when rounded up in time of flood or disaster, runs the risk of infecting other horses. 

Don't just ask, "Do you have a Coggins on that horse?" before it comes onto your property. Ask to see it, check the date, make sure it is signed and compare the horse markings to make sure it matches.

Rabies in Massachusetts

This video describes a 2012 outbreak of rabies in Florida that affected horses.

Rabies is never really news because rabies is always with us. It's out there, in the wild animals. We occasionally hear about a skunk or a fox or a bat with rabies being a problem.

The problem comes when a rabid animal bites a human or a horse. Then it makes the news. 

The news in Massachusetts this month was bizarre. It wasn't a small animal that had rabies, but a bobcat. And the bobcat attacked a horse in its stall at a farm in the town of the suburban town of Upton.

Town officials said that the horse barn was in a heavily wooded area. The story is especially poignant because the horse was both elderly and blind.

Local television station WCVB reported that the bobcat scratched the stall door, trying to get to the horse but that animal control officers arrived in time to shoot it before it could get to the horse. A press release from the town states that the bobcat did test positive for rabies.