Biosecurity: Protect and Detect for Best Defense

AUTHOR: Kevin Hankins, DVM, MBA, Senior Managing Equine Technical Services Veterinarian, Zoetis

Horses and their caretakers depend on you to do everything possible to minimize the impact of respiratory illness outbreaks. When one horse shows signs of sickness, not only are they affected, but there is a risk to every other horse in the barn.

You can help your clients take both preventative and proactive measures to identify sick horses quickly and contain the spread of disease to others in the barn with biosecurity and quarantine measures.

As you know, influenza and herpes virus are common respiratory viruses in horses. The incidence can be increased in horses that travel, due to the stress of transportation and showing, and can potentially be spread to horses back on the farm with horses coming and going off the property.

Preventative actions

Ultimately, everyone’s goal is to keep their horse happy and healthy.

This can start by vaccinating horses with Core EQ Innovator® vaccine for the five core diseases (WNV, EEE, WEE, tetanus and rabies) that every horse, everywhere may be exposed to regardless of their location, age, breed or discipline.

Spring and fall, ask clients about travel plans for their horse and encourage vaccination against the most common respiratory viruses in horses—influenza (flu) and herpes virus (rhino). Administering Fluvac Innovator® EHV-4/1 at least two to three weeks before a horse leaves the property gives horse owners confidence knowing their horses are protected.

Routine vaccines are only the first step. Prevention also includes taking precautions to limit the spread of disease before leaving home, on-site and upon the client’s return. Talking to clients about a biosecurity plan can help reduce the risks of infectious diseases.

Here’s a sample checklist that can serve as an outline.

Before the trip

  • Ensure the horse’s vaccinations are up to date based on AAEP guidelines.
  • Confirm any upcoming travel/show health requirements (vaccination records, Coggins test, health certificate, passport).
  • Discuss with the client the value of running a Stablelab® SAA stall-side test to ensure there are no early indicators of infection prior to leaving.
  • Packing list for individual water/feed buckets, tack and equipment for travel.
  • Digital rectal thermometer and emergency kit.

At the show

  • Clean and disinfect stalls before unloading.
  • Limit nose-to-nose and any close contact with other horses.
  • Ensure each horse has their own individual tack, equipment and gear.
  • Avoid shared water sources or buckets on-site.
  • Watch the horse’s behavior, eating/drinking and manure production daily.
  • Take the horse’s rectal temperature at least once daily (or as per venue requirements).
  • Discuss running a Stablelab SAA stall-side test to give peace of mind that there are no signs of infection prior to competition and leaving for home.
  • Watch for any signs of coughing, sneezing or nasal discharge of any color and, if present, ensure the on-site veterinarian is contacted right away.

Back home

  • Avoid comingling/turning the horse out with others who stayed home for 14 days.
  • Continue to take daily rectal temperature for 14 days.
  • Watch for signs of illness, behavior change, fever, runny nose, coughing or sneezing and separate from others immediately if symptoms appear.
  • Consider a Stablelab SAA within that 14-day time frame of returning home to help detect any underlying infection.
  • Clean and disinfect the trailer and any tack, equipment or other items that went to the show.

Identifying which horses are sick, which have been exposed and which may potentially get sick is critical for herd management and potential isolation.

Proactive measures

Knowing a horse is sick before registering a fever provides critical time to implement a plan of action for monitoring, isolating and ultimately treating infected horses faster.

Did you know that serum amyloid A (SAA) has been shown to be more accurate and a better indicator of infection when compared to traditional blood markers (CBC, fibrinogen, A/G, IgG) in several equine studies?1-3

You can detect and measure infection in 10 minutes using Stablelab, a hand-held diagnostic blood test that measures and quantifies SAA. SAA is a major, acute-phase protein produced by the liver that is a reliable biomarker for inflammation due to infection.4 The SAA levels quickly and significantly increase in response to an infection.

SAA has been shown to be 30 times more sensitive than a thermometer in identifying subclinical infection before a horse even starts showing signs5, giving you a head start on diagnosis and treatment.

Managing for success

Don’t let respiratory diseases derail the season for your traveling and competing horses or be a nidus of infection for those at home. Talk with your Zoetis equine specialist today about preventive and proactive steps you and your clients can take to protect horses and detect a problem before it gets out of hand with preventative vaccines like Fluvac Innovator EHV-4/1 and stall-side diagnostic tools like Stablelab. Learn more by visiting

1Belgrave, R. et al. Assessment of Serum Amyloid A testing of horses and its clinical application in a specialized equine practice. JAVMA, Vol 243, No 1, July 1, 2013. Pages 113-119.

2Barr, B. and Nieman N. M. Serum amyloid A as an aid in diagnosing sepsis in equine neonates. Equine Vet J. 2021;00:1-5. DOI: 10.1111/evj.13540.

3Nieman, N. M. and Chan, D. S. Comparison of the diagnostic predictability of serum amyloid A, white blood cell count, and immunoglobulin G tests as indicators of early-onset, acute-phase infection in newborn foals. Equine Veterinary Education, 2021. Pages 1-7. DOI: 10.1111/eve.13557.

4Jacobsen, Stine. Review of equine Acute-Phase proteins. AAEP Proceedings, Vol 53, 2007. Pages 230-235.

5Oertly. et al. The accuracy of Serum Amyloid A in determining early inflammation in horses following long-distance transportation by air. AAEP Proceedings, 2017. Pages 460-461.

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