We of course all know a bit too much about quarantine these days. In fact, I’m pretty sure we’ve had just about enough of it. But if bringing home a new horse–perhaps a rescue, an adoption, or even just a spontaneous purchase from the place just down the road–is a possibility anytime in your future, then understanding the ins and outs of proper equine quarantine procedure is a must to protect other horses on your property or in your boarding facility.
In her book THE ULTIMATE GUIDE FOR HORSES IN NEED, large animal veterinarian Dr. Stacie Boswell provides the basics of what we need to know to quarantine properly.
Quarantining a rescue horse is important for reducing the chance of contagious diseases and parasites spreading.
Depending on the circumstances, you may not know much about your newly acquired horse. He may have an uncertain vaccine status. Travel exposes him to contagious diseases, especially if he commingled with others at a livestock auction or other holding area.
A new horse should be quarantined from your other horses for at least three weeks. Quarantine distance should be a mimimum 40 feet, which is based on a horse’s ability to sneeze or cough and spray droplets up to 15 feet, and accounts for additional wind dispersal. Another way respiratory diseases are spread is carriage by fomites—objects such as buckets, brushes, or clothing that have come into contact with infected horses.
Quarantine time period and distance recommendations are designed to prevent contagious respiratory diseases such as Equine Herpes Virus (rhinopneumonitis), influenza, and strangles (Streptococcus equi ssp. equi) from infecting the established herd. During the quarantine period, you should monitor the temperature of your new horse each day because a fever sometimes occurs before obvious disease. Spread of other contagious diseases that cause diarrhea (such as Salmonella spp.) are minimized by using proper quarantine procedures.
Finally, quarantine protects your established herd from both external and internal parasites such as lice or strongyles.
During quarantine, you should implement biosecurity measures, including a sanitizing foot bath and protective barrier gear, such as gloves, disposable barrier coveralls or gown, and a hat or mask, especially if there are any signs of illness. A horse can sneeze or breathe into the caretaker’s hair, and the virus particles can then be carried to other horses.
Another technique is to care for your established horses first, and then the new horse. Washing your hands between horses or groups is an easy and effective way to reduce the spread of infectious agents. You should attend to the healthy horses first, then any horses possibly exposed to illness or disease that are not yet showing signs. Take care of sick horses last.
A horse should be fully vaccinated and medically cleared before being moved from quarantine to general housing. A very thin or sick horse may remain in quarantine for a longer period of time. Quarantine should also account for a horse’s mental well-being. Maintain previously established groups, if possible. For instance, if a group of yearlings arrive together, they should continue to live together. Spend time haltering, brushing, petting, and bonding with your new arrivals. Quarantine pens are typically small, so if you have an untrained, untouchable horse, this is a great time to befriend him and begin the halter-training process. When you consistently provide food and water to a horse who has been neglected, this is the first step to showing him that you are trustworthy.
A horse who lives alone may feel stressed out. This is not ideal as stress weakens the immune system. When you adopt a single new horse into your group, he may need a companion during the quarantine time. A fully vaccinated, mature gelding with a steady personality can be used as a quarantine companion. Remember, the “companion” horse cannot be returned to the established herd until the quarantine period is over. A mare is not ideal as she could be impregnated by a newly rescued colt that has not been gelded. A goat can also be used as a companion, without the risk of contracting an equine respiratory disease.
THE ULTIMATE GUIDE FOR HORSES IN NEED by Dr. Stacie Boswell is available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.
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