Five Pressing Questions on Equine Coronavirus
What is equine coronavirus?
Equine coronavirus is an emerging, contagious, species-specific, enteric viral infection of foals and adult horses. In English, this means it’s an intestinal disease that horses spread, but you and your other pets are not at risk.
Is my horse at risk?
We are currently seeing cases of coronavirus in our practice area. This virus is contagious via the feco-oral route, meaning that a horse will acquire the infection from ingesting fecal-contaminated feed or water. An at-risk horse must be in relatively close proximity to an infected horse. However, with people, horses, and farm dogs walking through barns and show grounds from horse to horse, we unfortunately aid in this transmission. Like any viral infection, horses at higher risk are those traveling to horse shows; mixing with new populations of horse and living in unclean conditions that were previously contaminated by an infected horse.
How will I know if my horse gets coronavirus?
Clinical signs of equine coronavirus resemble those of many other viral illnesses and intestinal infections, including inappetence, lethargy, fever, diarrhea, and colic. It is worthwhile to note that diarrhea due to coronavirus can range from soft-formed manure to a watery consistency. Fever and no appetite are commonly the first signs noticed and precede gastrointestinal signs. Definitive diagnosis is made by detecting coronavirus in feces. There is also a presentation of the infection in which a horse tests positive but displays no clinical signs, which is called an inapparent infection.
How can I protect my horse from coronavirus?
Biosecurity, biosecurity, biosecurity! Isolate any sick or febrile horse from the barn population immediately. Designate a person to solely care for the ill horse and not enter the main barn. If this is not possible, eliminate any cross contamination from the sick horse by caring for the sick horse last and changing shoes and gloves after caring for the sick horse. Work closely with your veterinarian to set-up a biosecurity protocol whenever there is a sick horse in your barn. Horses with moderate to severe clinical signs should be isolated and treated in a hospital setting.
Here are some additional biosecurity tips to protect your horse when traveling or when there is a sick horse at your barn: Avoid nose-to-nose contact between horses. Do not share any husbandry or grooming tools between horses. Clean stalls frequently and consider feeding hay and grain raised from the ground. Keep the end of the hose out of buckets when filling. Keep barn dogs out of the stalls, out of manure tubs, and far from any ill horse. At horse shows, consider selecting your tack stall to separate your horses from an adjacent barn population.
What is the therapy and prognosis if my horse has coronavirus?
Like most viral infections, there is no curative medication. The therapy for coronavirus is supportive in nature and based on clinical signs. Our focus is aiding in the patient’s care as the disease process takes its course, which is usually 4-7 days. Prognosis for a complete return to health following coronavirus infection is good. Fatalities are rare and most often associated with disruption of the intestinal barrier in severe forms of the disease, resulting in impaction, septicemia and neurologic signs.
The bottom line…
If your horse has a fever, diarrhea, or is displaying signs of inappetence or lethargy, call your veterinarian. Nothing beats a thorough examination, and early institution of treatment for any illness commonly results in a milder disease course and faster return to health.
Luvie Abell, DVM