Bug Off! Three Common Horse Diseases
While flies are a known and expected problem at the barn during spring and summer, there are three other common diseases to be aware of for your horse's health: PHF (Potomac Horse Fever), WNV (West Nile Virus) and Tick Borne Diseases. Learn more about each and get up to speed on how to prevent them.
Potomac Horse Fever (PHF)
PHF appeared on the disease radar more than 20 years ago, caused by bacterium (Neorickettsia Risticii). The bacterium has been identified in flukes (tapeworms) that develop in aquatic snails and are released into bodies of fresh water like creeks, rivers and irrigated pastures. As of right now, this disease is largely limited to northern regions, but because of weather changes and flooding, that could possibly change. PHF usually occurs in late spring all the way to early fall.
Symptoms may include: anorexia, fever, depression, diarrhea, laminitis and decreased intestinal sounds. Although PHF is not contagious you should have your vet out to test for it if suspected. The test that is performed is called the Polymerase chain reaction - it identifies DNA in white blood cells or manure tests. Vaccinations are available but the exact level protection is unknown, however, they are still safe and with few side effects. Read more about PHF (which peaks in spring and through fall) here.
Tick Borne Diseases
Tick Borne Diseases are transmitted through blood parasites that have bacteria and viruses attached to them. There are over 900 species of ticks, and at least three of the diseases can affect horses and humans alike. Due to the changing climate, ticks are coming out in droves and love to hide in tall grass and dark wooded areas.
The three types of human/horse diseases are Lyme Disease, Equine Piroplasmosis and Anaplasmosis. Diagnosis can be difficult but symptoms may include: stiffness, lameness in more than one leg, muscle tenderness, lethargy, behavioral changes, dullness in coat, sensitivity of skin and weight loss. Blood work may be required to identify which, if any, diseases are present in your horse. At this time there isn't a vaccine that is being used for horses, but if your horse does contract Lyme Disease or any other tick borne disease your vet may prescribe Doxycycline, Minocycline or Oxytetracycline. Learn more about tick borne diseases here.
West Nile Virus (WNV)
West Nile Virus was first reported in Uganda in 1937. WNV is transmitted by various species of mosquitoes and causes inflammations of the brain and spinal cord and is seen in birds, horses, humans. Prior to its discovery in 1999 in the northeastern United States, WNV was found in such places as Africa, the Middle East, southwest Asia and parts of Europe. Horse infections in North America are largely kept quite low, due to a widespread vaccine (consult your vet). However, the effects of West Nile can be dire, so it pays to both vaccinate and to reduce the mosquito population by eliminating standing water. Learn more about West Nile Virus here.
The virus infects the central nervous system, with some horses never showing symptoms, while others have symptoms of encephalitis that can lead to coma and death. Symptoms can include: fever, ataxia, hind limb weakness/paralysis, muscle twitching, convulsions/seizures, depression, stumbling, walking in circles, impaired vision, toe dragging, heightened sensitivity, excitability, inability to swallow, leaning to one side. There is no antiviral at this time, so controlling symptoms like pain and inflammation is the best way to manage the virus for your horse.
Being more familiar with these diseases can help to protect your horse's health.