infectious disease

Horses have always been at risk for infectious disease. But nowadays, they’re moved around a lot more than they used to be – from one competition or clinic to the next, from barn to barn, and from barn to veterinary clinic. All this mobility increases the chance for diseases to spread among horses.

When transporting horses within North America, it’s up to the owners, handlers and barn owners to limit the risks to both their own horses and others in the vicinity. But when traveling with horses internationally, mandatory quarantine procedures have to be followed.


The first preventative step against infectious diseases is vaccinations. It’s vitally important that necessary immunizations are kept up to date and records are maintained. Providing vaccination records for showing at the professional level has been a necessary requirement for some time. However, providing proof of immunizations is now becoming more commonplace at local shows and boarding facilities across North America. Seek the advice of your local veterinarian to establish what vaccinations your individual horse needs, as this depends on a number of factors such as his age and use, as well as your geographic location and environment.


Contagious diseases such as herpes, influenza, strangles and salmonella are spread through physical contact, or from direct contact with objects that have been contaminated. Having biosecurity measures in place when traveling with your horses; when new horses come into the barn; or when resident horses are returning from competitions, is crucial to help prevent the introduction of infectious disease.


When a new horse arrives at the barn, or a resident is returning from competition, he should ideally remain in a quarantine area for up to 30 days, with no physical contact with other horses. Prior to the horse’s arrival, and throughout the period of quarantine, the stall and all related equipment such as buckets, halters, lead lines, tack, blankets, grooming supplies and stall cleaning paraphernalia should be cleaned and disinfected – with special attention paid to wheelbarrows because infection can easily be transported around on the tires. All this equipment should be used solely for the horse in quarantine and kept away from any other horse’s equipment. Handlers also have to be careful not to contaminate via their person or clothing, and should wear gloves/overalls when possible. If the handlers have to deal with other horses as well, then the quarantined horse should always be attended to last. His owner should also avoid any contact with other horses in the barn during the quarantine period.


When you’re away from home with your horse, it’s imperative to maintain a clean environment to limit any risk of infectious disease. The best precautionary measure is to effectively treat the horse the same as if he were in quarantine at home. Only use your own equipment, avoid contact with other horses yourself, and prevent any horse-to-horse contact. It is inevitably more difficult to control the environment when you’re away from home, but steps should still be taken. Remove any hay or bedding that may be present in the stall on your arrival, and thoroughly clean and disinfect all surfaces, paying particular attention to waterers, handles and latches.

One of the most often overlooked times of potential contamination is when the horses are being transported. Infectious disease can occur either through direct contact with other horses also being moved, or through contact with contaminated surfaces within the vehicle. Clarifying the bio-security measures taken by haulage companies is of great importance, as is establishing the history of any horses that may be accompanying yours on any journey.


When traveling between the US and Canada, health papers prepared by a veterinarian must be presented at the border. The papers must detail the identities of the horses in transport, and their respective owners, and also include a signed declaration from a vet that the horse(s) appeared in good health when examined. Horses must also be confirmed to be free of Equine Infectious Anemia (EIA). EIA (or swamp fever) is a viral disease for which there is no vaccination, so it is necessary for horses to have a Coggins Test and have paperwork that states they are not infected. Some horses can be carriers of EIA without showing any obvious symptoms, which is why testing is a necessary precaution.

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to implementing bio-security measures at home or when travelling. But the key to preventing the incidence of infectious disease is to limit both your own and your horse’s contact with other people, horses and equipment, while maintaining a clean, sanitary environment.


If your horses are going to be jet-setting around the globe, know that there are specific regulations in place to protect both your horse and those he may come into contact with from infectious disease. Prior to leaving the country, your horse will have to be isolated for 30 days in a specified quarantine facility that has been approved by the federal government (either the USDA or CFIA). The exact vaccination and blood test requirements will depend on the country you’re travelling to, as is the quarantine period on arrival. The same 30-day period of quarantine is also required on re-entry to North America.

Samantha Lacey is a British Horse Society Intermediate Instructor and hails from England where she worked as a facility manager and chief instructor at a number of equestrian centers. Since moving to Canada in 2008 she has continued to fulfill her passion of working with horses and is currently working as part of the care team at an Equine Hospital in the Greater Toronto Area. In addition, Sam is also studying for an MSc in Equine Science through an online distance learning program with the University of Edinburgh.