By Laura Lambert

By definition, biosecurity is protection from biological harm—the protection of the economy, environment and health of living things from diseases, pests and bioterrorism. With the outbreak of Equine Herpesvirus-1 (EHV-1) in May 2011, the responsibility of equine owners with respect to biosecurity became front-page news.

Public sensitivity to the issue of protecting one’s investment in the equine industry heightened in the face of the threat. Outbreaks of other contagious diseases have happened in the past and will inevitably happen in the future, but by taking precautions, we can reduce the number of animals infected and the territories involved.

Equine diseases are spread in a variety of ways, including direct contact between horses and contact with feces, insect or animal vectors, aerosol particles and contaminated needles. Often overlooked, but equally important modes of disease transmission include contact with contaminated equipment, tack, transport vehicles, clothing, boots or hands. Apart from contaminated apparel or hands, humans themselves also can be a source of infection.

Prevention

nose2nose

Avoid letting your horse have nose-to-nose contact with unfamiliar horses. (BHN File Photo)

The United States Department of Agriculture prepared some suggestions for equine owners’ best biosecurity measures in a publication dated June 2005. Within these recommendations, the USDA advises that horses should be shipped in your own completely disinfected and cleaned trailer. You also should be very careful not to let your horse touch other horses, especially nose to nose.

As with human cleanliness, care should be taken to wash your hands on a regular basis. Common stranger danger precautions should also be taken—not to allow strangers to pet your horse, especially those with horses at home or people who have been out of the country within the past two weeks.

Knowing that diseases are generally spread through the sharing of nasal fluids or contaminated air, emphasis should be put on using clean disinfected buckets along with never allowing anyone else to use your buckets. Equipment falls into the same guidelines, and if the need should arise for you to allow your equipment to be shared, a good cleaning process should be in place before you expose any part of the equipment to your barn, trailer or other horses.

Traveling to other facilities opens your risk factors immensely. With proper protection and preventative measures, we can reduce the risk we put on our horses. Disinfectants should be used before placing horses in stalls at public facilities.  

According to Chris Morrow, DVM, of Mobile Veterinarian Service in Amarillo, Texas, household bleach mixed one part bleach to 10 parts water works well as a disinfectant for tack.  The mixture should be sprayed on and then allowed to dry hanging in the sun.  

“First, clean your tack, so that it is free of dirt and other debris,” Morrow said. “Then, follow with a good disinfection policy. General precautions and good husbandry will decrease your odds of spreading infection.”

The bleach formula can be used for shoes, grooming equipment, buckets and tack, among other things. There are many other forms of disinfectants, including products formulated specifically for purifying equine items, but cost effectiveness bodes well for a bleach and water combination.

Not only should you consider your tack and horse items, but it is important that owners remember that infections can be spread from human to horse also. Making sure that your clothing, shoes and body are clean from infection is a must. Just as in human-to-human contact, we need to be reminded of the importance of washing our hands between horse contact.  

Further measures can be taken by instilling a footbath at the entrance of your barn or between stalls. According to the USDA Biosecurity flyer “The Key to Keeping Your Horse Healthy,” a simple footbath can be made by using a low plastic tub large enough to fit an adult foot inside along with a plastic doormat, water and disinfectant. The USDA recommends a disinfectant that will continue to work even when dirt or manure are present, such as Tek-trol or One Stroke Environ.  

Simply place the doormat inside the plastic container and cover with the disinfectant of your choice.  Before entering the barn or between stalls, you and your guests should step into the container and “scrub” your shoes.  The scrubbing motion of the doormat will help remove debris and manure from the shoes, while the disinfectant will kill viruses and bacteria.

General Care
Good husbandry practiced on a day-to-day basis is the most effective way to reduce the spread of diseases. Horses should be checked daily to ensure they are healthy and not at risk of injury. Worming and vaccination programs should be implemented and records for each horse should be maintained.

Where horses are stabled, it is important that manure is cleaned up twice a day and disposed of properly.

Keeping vermin (such as mice) and insects under control is also important in preventing spread of disease. Steps to deter insects and vermin can include having the manure pit emptied regularly, having feed in vermin proof containers, disposing of old and un-eaten feed and limiting spots for vermin to hide and breed.

Keeping equipment and tack well cleaned and washing and rinsing of feed and stable water buckets daily is also recommended. Water troughs should be cleaned weekly.

“Keeping our horses healthy revolves around taking personal responsibility for their environment,” Morrow said. “We need to be diligent in keeping our feed and water buckets clean and not using a community approach.

“Reducing stress by reducing the number of runs we would have in a day or a weekend. Just because we’re there doesn’t mean we have to keep entering. We need to tie our horses were there is good ventilation, and not where they are likely to have nose-to-nose contact.”

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