DEAR DR. WELDY’S: We will be trailering our horses to many local and not-so-local shows this summer. What are some good ways to prevent shipping fever?
DEAR READER: Transporting horses is usually a routine affair, as far as the horse is concerned. But some trailer rides, lasting as short as two hours, can lead to respiratory disease in the days immediately following. The common name for this is “shipping fever.” It is characterized by clear to thick nasal discharge, coughing and fever leading to a lack of appetite. Clinical cases range from mild to severe, with the worst ending in pneumonia or deep lung infection. It is typically contagious to other horses in the vicinity. Isolation with adequate biosecurity measures and prompt veterinary care are essential to rapid recovery.
Some of the best preventative measures can be done before you even leave the farm. The first rule is to never ship a sick horse. If your horse is running a fever, has a snotty nose or is feeling poorly in any way, contact your veterinarian for help in determining if he or she can safely travel.
Upper respiratory infections in particular can interfere with the horse’s ability to clear mucus and debris from his lungs and trachea. Make sure you have vaccinated for the common respiratory viruses such as rhinopneumonitis and influenza adequately. All horses should receive these at least annually and show horses several times in a show season.
Adequate ventilation without drafts in the trailer is essential. Exhaust fumes, dust and ammonia from urine and carbon dioxide from respiration can build up in a tight enclosure. Thick bedding in the form of shavings will help mitigate the urine odors. If the trip will be several hours, stop for a few minutes and clean out the manure and urine soaked material.