Pathogens foreign to the body cause diseases and should not exist within the body. It is a moment-by-moment process the horse and human work on from birth until death. They include viruses, bacteria, fungi, internal worms, and excessive and diminished chemicals essential to the body or detrimental to it. Overwhelming access to pathogens makes any disease more likely to occur as the immune system becomes overwhelmed.
Identifying sources of pathogens is an ever-vigilant chore for horse owners. Removing free-standing water will remove the source of flies that are common disease vectors. Removing manure where horses eat decreases the chance of getting an internal parasite infection. Removing overcrowding will reduce stress as well as skin contact with infected horses.
Bacteria live everywhere. Removing dangerous sharp objects reduces the chance of cuts and punctures that will become infected with these bacteria. Likewise, observing daily for cuts and punctures can prevent local bacterial infection.
Quarantining new horses for 14 days away from the rest of the herd is essential to stopping a disease, especially from transported animals. Transporting horses is stressful. Taking the body temperatures is a key measurement to determine if a brewing disease is about to take hold on your farm.
In 2008 I was asked to come to a farm in south Florida to float the teeth of some horses that had just arrived from Europe. I did not know they had just arrived, or I would never have made this appointment. They had come into a quarantine station in New York for a few days before being placed in a large horse transport truck and driven to FL. When I arrived, the new owner met me in the driveway to tell me that all the horses I was doing had a slight fever. We both agreed to hold off for two weeks until the temperatures had returned to normal for a few days.
Had this been the end of the story, it would have been OK. The nursed horses at their new home would have provided the rest they needed to overcome the virus. However, the local vet insisted they ship the fevered horses to the clinic for fluid administration and supportive care. The stressed horses were shipped again to a hospital where other sick horses came. All the horses became worse, with 3 of them dying. The contagious disease, Equine Herpes Virus (EHV-1), then spread to other horses at the hospital. The horses in the hospital, not part of the original infected group, went home before showing signs of the disease. This careless spread of the disease resulted in more deaths, many sick horses and the shutdown of the whole south Florida winter show season with huge economic devastation to many people depending on the show for a living.
Removing sources of diseases is essential to maintaining the health of horses. Sources come in a variety that challenges the horse owner, especially when cutting corners to achieve a better return on investment. However, identifying sources (water retention, poor sanitation, lack of quarantine, disrepair) is essential to helping horses thrive living in the human environment.
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