The essential elements of quarantine for horses

Effective quarantine meets a basic goal: to prevent healthy horses from having contact with an ill horse or contaminated surfaces.

An effective quarantine meets a basic goal: to prevent healthy horses from having contact with an ill horse or any contaminated surfaces—-including human hands and clothing as well as buckets, brushes, fences and stall walls.

Few of us have the space and resources to move sick or exposed horses to a barn distant from our main stables and assign to them caretakers who never have contact with the rest of the herd. Nonetheless, an effective quarantine can be implemented on a smaller scale with a little creativity. Here are the points to address:

The goals of effective quarantine for horses are simple: preventing healthy horses from having contact with contaminated surfaces or those that are ill.

• Stall space. If a separate barn is not available, place the isolated horse in a stall at the end of the aisle farthest from the door that gets the most traffic, and leave at least one stall empty between him and the other residents. Use fans to direct airflow away from the quarantine area and out the back door rather than toward the other stalls. If your barn receives frequent visitors, post signs warning them not to approach or touch the quarantined horse.

• Turnout. Separation of the ill or exposed horse needs to be maintained at turnout as well as in the barn. Ideally, his turnout area would be downwind, far from the other horses, and would not share a fence with other turnout areas. 

If you have only one pasture, you could use temporary fencing to cordon off a section for the quarantined horse. But you’ll need to put up a double fence line, with each side separated by at least 10 feet, to prevent nose-to-nose contact. Another option is to alternate turnout times—bringing the quarantined horse in during the day and turning him out at night when the others are inside—but this poses the risk that the healthy horses will come in contact with secretions from the ill horse. Ask your veterinarian what’s best for your facility based on the disease agent. 

• Care protocols. If it’s not possible to designate one person to care exclusively for the sick horse, then the person who does the chores needs to finish with all of the healthy horses before moving on to the isolated one and dispose of his manure away from other animals. The caretaker will also need to avoid exposing the other horses to any gloves, clothing, hair coverings or footwear worn when caring for the quarantined animal. One way to accomplish this is to keep a designated set of coveralls, gloves and boots you put on only when caring for the ill horse; you can also buy washable surgical scrubs or disposable protective gowns, shoe covers, latex gloves and other items used by health-care workers. Your veterinarian or physician can help you find sources.

• Equipment. Keep a separate set of all equipment used to care for the isolated horse. Remember that pathogens can travel on tractor and wheelbarrow tires as well as stall-cleaning equipment, buckets and halters. That means placing a disinfecting footbath outside of the stall and scrubbing down tires and other contaminated surfaces with a bleach solution. Finally, of course, wash your hands after handling the horse.

• Monitoring and logistics. If you’re handling a horse with a contagious disease that could spread beyond your farm, your veterinarian will advise you on any other measures you might need to take. For example, you may be asked to keep your horses on the farm. Consider all other horses in the same barn as potentially exposed and begin monitoring their body temperature twice daily. Also, wear gloves even when working with seemingly healthy horses in the same barn. Change gloves and wash your hands before moving from horse to horse.




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