Equine influenza, or "horse flu," is a highly contagious upper respiratory disease that can cause serious secondary infections in our equine friends, especially in foals. Here, our veterinarians explain the symptoms to watch for and how equine influenza is treated.
Equine Influenza & Your Horse
Equine influenza is one of the most common illnesses seen by our horse vets. This airborne condition is spread primarily through the droplets dispersed when an infected horse coughs. This form of spread means that horses up to 160 feet away could easily become infected. Putting horses that frequently attend shows, racetracks, or busy stables, at higher risk of contracting the disease.
Equine influenza targets a horse's respiratory system, causing damage to the lining and mucous membranes in the animal's respiratory tract. The incubation period for this condition is typically 1-3 days after infection.
Symptoms of Equine Influenza
Equine influenza affects the upper respiratory systems of horses, causing symptoms similar to those of human influenza such as:
- Deep, dry cough
- Nasal discharge
- Lack of energy, lethargy
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Reduced appetite
Treatment for Equine Influenza
Treatment for equine influenza involves treating the symptoms and allowing your horse to rest. Just like the human flu virus, there is no cure for equine influenza. At least 6 weeks of rest are recommended for the damaged liner of the upper respiratory tract to adequately heal.
While your horse is healing they should be stabled in a clean, well-ventilated to avoid excess dust, which may exasperate their condition further. They should also be supplied with plenty of fresh hay and water.
Sometimes horses can develop secondary infections, such as pneumonia, from equine influenza that may require antibiotics to treat. If your horse does not appear to be recovering you should contact your veterinarian.
Preventing Your Horse From Contracting Equine Influenza
Our vets believe that prevention is always the best method of defense against contagious conditions such as equine influenza. If your horse frequents shows, race tracks, or shared stables, you may want to speak to your vet about having your horse vaccinated against equine influenza. You can also take protective measures such as ensuring all the equipment you're using for your horse is sanitized, and that anyone coming in contact with your horse that has been around other horses practices good personal hygiene.
If you are introducing a new horse to other horses on your property we recommend isolating the new horse for about 28 days to prevent the new horse from potentially spreading illnesses (including equine influenza) to your other horses.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding animals, or professional advice regarding equine regulations. For the diagnosis of your animal's condition and help to navigate regulations governing the care and transportation of equine animals please make an appointment with your vet.