Protecting horses from disease

Equine influenza has demonstrated how easily an infectious disease can spread within the horse community, while Hendra virus incidents highlight the need for the community to learn biosecurity practices to protect both their horses and themselves.

Good biosecurity means using hygiene and other husbandry practices to prevent the occurence of illness or disease in the animals on your property. People who look after horses need to do everything they can to reduce the risk of introducing disease to their property and of spreading disease.

General biosecurity

It is important to carry out good biosecurity at all times, not just during an emergency incident, to reduce the spread of disease. Good biosecurity includes:

  • checking horses daily for signs of ill health and injury, and to ensure they are eating and drinking
  • removing manure and soiled bedding twice a day where horses are stabled or in yards
  • controlling vermin and insects, which can spread disease
  • ensuring tack and equipment are kept clean
  • keeping up to date with vaccination and worming protocols.

Before purchasing a new horse, have your veterinarian examine it to identify any potential health issues.

Bringing new horses home

When bringing a new horse home, follow these basic rules:

  • isolate the new horse from other horses for a minimum of 2 weeks (although the horse may not be showing signs of ill health, it could be a carrier of disease)
  • use separate equipment (feed bucket, brushes, tack) for the new arrival
  • handle (feed, rug, etc.) other horses before the new arrival
  • check the new horse morning and night, monitoring food and water intake
  • record the new horse's temperature once a day if possible
  • wash hands after dealing with the new horse.

Horses on neighbouring properties

Ideally, double fencing should surround the perimeter of any horse property. The perimeter fence is crucial because it keeps the property's horses in and stray animals out. The fence should be constructed of post and wire or post and rail. An electric tape fence is not suitable for a permanent perimeter fence.

Double fencing is most simply achieved by adding an electric tape fence to the inside of a solid perimeter fence. For additional protection against nose-to-nose contact with neighbouring horses, trees can be planted between the two fences.

After an event or competition

Events or competitions can be a common point for disease spread. When at a show:

  • don't share feed or water containers
  • don't share grooming equipment or tack
  • minimise contact with other horses where possible
  • monitor your horses for signs of illness.

When arriving home from an event:

  • clean and disinfect float, tack, feed and water containers, etc.
  • shower, change your clothes and disinfect your footwear before touching other horses on your property
  • avoid close contact between horses that attended the event and horses that did not go to the event for two weeks
  • monitor your horses' health (feed and water intake plus any other clinical signs).

Keep good records of horse movements (horse identification, date, venues travelled to and event that took place etc.)

People on your property

Simple measures to minimise the risk of disease being spread by visitors include:

  • have one entrance and a set area for visitor parking located away from your horses
  • ensure antibacterial hand wash and disinfectant agents are provided for visitors to use before touching horses
  • keep a visitors record
  • on larger properties, have foot baths at the entrance of the stables and record which horses visitors come into contact with—change the disinfectant solution in the baths regularly.

If your horse is sick

If you suspect that your horse is sick:

  • immediately isolate it from other animals
  • call your veterinarian
  • change clothes and wash your hands before handling other horses
  • wash and disinfect any tack or equipment that has been in contact with the isolated horse.

Further information