An ounce of prevention – Equine Quarantine

Clover, Sunrise, Shadow, Pops, Rosie, Shawnee, Duchess, Coco, Lovee, Sunny, Wy, Tex, Colonel, Doc, and the shaggy grey one who’s name always eludes me.  This is the herd where I board my horses. Of these 15 animals, perhaps 6 leave the herd several times throughout the summer.  Maybe one or two more.

All of these horses are vaccinated annually.  They are all dewormed several times per year.  Individual owners may vaccinate for a larger spectrum of diseases than others do.  Personally, I choose to vaccinate mine for WEE, EEE, Tetanus (one needle), Flu and Rhino virus (another needle), and West Nile Virus (yet another needle) and Strangles by intranasal spray.  While many people come up with many arguments for “why not” to vaccinate for various diseases, I can come up with several reasons, including the 15 names in the first line of this article, to vaccinate.

This article, however, is not about vaccinating.  Vaccination is a discussion to be had with your large animal veterinarian.  What this article is about is quarantine.  What is quarantine?  When to quarantine?  How long to quarantine?  When is quarantine not warranted?

Definition of quarantine


[mass noun]

  • a state, period, or place of isolation in which people or animals that have arrived from elsewhere or been exposed to infectious or contagious disease are placed:many animals die in quarantine

Simply put, quarantine is the placement of newcomer animals, sick animals, or animals requiring healing time, away from other animals in pens not accessible to the rest of the herd.  There is so much more to quarantine than simply isolating an animal.  When an animal is in quarantine as a newcomer or diseased animal, it is imperative any disease carried by the animal is isolated as well.  This may mean taking such steps as wearing gloves, coveralls, quarantine boots, or at least boot covers when working around or touching the animal.  Many equine diseases are NOT transferable to humans.  This is fine, except, if you touch the snotty nose of an animal with equine infectious anemia, then you rub the nose of a healthy horse, while you won’t catch the disease, you have potentially passed it on to the previously uninfected horse.  The same holds true for diseases such as strangles and any of the many influenzas.  While only a few diseases horses may contract are zoonotic in nature, contractable by humans, we can very easily carry disease between horses while remaining immune.

coloneljohnwebWhen handling an animal in quarantine, it is not always necessary to wear coveralls and special boots.  If the animal is in quarantine while recovering from an injury, like a cut leg, or something where quarantine is simply to keep the animal less active and avoid further injury, transmission control measures are unnecessary.  On the other hand, a horse may be arriving due to your having purchased it.  While most of these animals will come with vaccination records and veterinarian reports, we can never know for sure they are not infected with any of the many equine diseases.  It is wise in these cases to at least wear different boots and rubber gloves.  If you don’t want to go the rubber glove route, at least do your horses a favour and wash your hands after touching newcomers and before touching herd horses.

Quarantine for an incoming horse shouldn’t require more than 3 weeks in isolation.  Remember, even if your horses are vaccinated, no one vaccinates against all possible equine diseases, and not all diseases present obvious symptoms, many do not present symptoms.  Quarantine for horses known to be sick can be much longer, or even shorter, depending on the lifespan of the disease.  There are some diseases, such as West Nile Virus where quarantine is probably not required.  West Nile Virus and diseases like it are dead end diseases in horses and humans.  This means the animal with West Nile Virus will not transmit the disease to other animals or humans.  The disease is only transmitted through certain types of mosquitos and other blood sucking insects.  It is not transmitted by touch, nasal fluids or saliva.  There is actually so little of the disease in the blood, it is most unlikely a horse can even infect a mosquito that bites it after it is infected. 70% of horses that catch WNV will recover with little or no side affects.  Leaving them with the herd is completely safe and would probably aid in their recovery.  Unless the horse is down or requiring IV fluids, I wouldn’t separate them. ((American Association of Equine Practitioners: West Nile Virus))

When to quarantine is common sense.  When a new horse comes to your facility or farm it must be quarantined for at least 21 days.  Horses leaving the herd for shows, trail rides, or breeding should, upon return to the farm, be quarantined for the standard 21 days.  Any animal diagnosed with a contagious disease MUST MUST MUST be quarantined immediately, as should any animal showing signs of being infected.  Any animal coming in contact with an infected animal is considered to be infected until such time as testing or lack of symptoms proves otherwise.  Sick animals must be isolated, while it is your responsibility to ensure any possible contagion is contained.  In the case of EIA or Strangles no animals should be permitted to leave your facility/farm and certainly no animals should be brought in until such time as a veterinarian has declared your facility disease free. Veterinarians will inform you when your entire facility is considered to be in quarantine.

In the case of EIA, an infected horse may never show symptoms of the disease.  Unfortunately, the horse will forever be a carrier and will infect other horses.  In the case of EIA the only options are permanent quarantine or euthanasia of infected animals.  I will deal with EIA in its own blog entry as there is no vaccination.  The only guard against EIA is prevention.  Prevention begins with a good biosecurity plan. ((American Association of Equine Practitioners: Equine Infectious Anemia))

Anyone coming into contact with infected, or potentially infected animals MUST wear personal protective equipment (PPE) such as disposable coveralls, rubber gloves, and non porous rubber boots.  There should be a boot wash station located outside the quarantine enclosure, but boots should be removed and not worn around uninfected animals.  The practice of sharing breath with any animals at the facility should cease until all animals are declared disease free.  When removing PPE worn around infected animals, take care you don’t touch potentially exposed surfaces with your clean hands. This video explains the proper procedure for removing rubber gloves.  Used disposable gloves and disposable coveralls should be placed in plastic garbage bags and sealed or burned.  Even after wearing rubber gloves it is always wise to wash your hands with antibacterial soap and or use an antibacterial lotion before touching healthy animals.

It should also be pointed out, farm pets like dogs and cats must be unable to enter a quarantine stall or pen and must be kept away from the fecal matter of sick animals, lest they take the disease back to the main herd.

As stated, above, there are certain illnesses and conditions for which there is no need to quarantine your horses.  When in doubt, remove an ill animal to an isolation stall or pen.  Your veterinarian will tell you whether or not keeping them quarantined is necessary or recommended.

Quarantine is quite possibly the most vital step in preventing disease in your herd.  Used diligently with all incoming horses and any sick horses requiring it, quarantine is the best method of ensuring disease doesn’t spread to your herd.  It is imperative all steps of quarantine are followed, including PPE and good hand-washing practices.

It’s All About The Horses!!

Suggested Reading:

Biosecurity For Horse Owners – Information Sheet



  1. […] facility.  This means no animals may leave or enter the premises.  The infected animal must be quarantined and all susceptible animals are tested.  Infected animals are ordered to be euthanized or put into […]