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Information and education on the contagious cough in horses

27. september 2010 kl. 16:22

Information and education on the contagious cough in horses

The Food Institute posts a great deal of educational and informative material on the disease in horses and all these columns are gathered under a special selection button at the top of the web page www.mast.is and these columns have already been collected together here at www.eidfaxi.is under a link at the top of the web page. Here is one of these columns.

The horses, the cough and fall
Autumn is here and days are getting colder. All over the country, most horses have accumulated some fat after rich pastures and little exercise because of the contagious cough which has been hurtful to both horses and their owners. Clearly the so called strep disease that is causing the illness and the possibility of the disease reoccurring is possible. As the weather gets colder the general wellbeing and good health of the horses needs to be tended to.

Thankfully, the explanation for the cough has been diagnosed, and the germ is called Streptococcus zooepidemicus which until now has not been harmful in the normal flora of horse germs, but has now transformed itself and has become more dangerous. In the beginning of the infection, it is difficult to detect, but when the rheum from the horses’ nose becomes white or greenish in color, this means that the germ has managed to spread considerably. The ideal conditions for the germ to spread is in the mucus membrane in the respiratory tract, therefore the usefulness of antibiotics is limited unless the infection has managed to intensify enough so that the glands are enlarged and the body temperature is raised. In this case, of course a vet should be called.

For a long time virus infection was suspected as the possible cause for the cough but it is a well known fact that streptococcus infection often follows the common virus infection, both in case of people as well as animals. At this time virus has been excluded as a cause for this disease. Also, similar symptoms have been described where the Streptococcus zooepidemicus is the cause, and some variants from this germ seem to project different developments.

Therefore it is correct to attract attention from the viral theory and the treatment recourses which have been pointed towards in connection with that. It is also important to forward to the buyers abroad, both professional and correct information. Export of horses has started after many months of pause and unsubstantiated discussions on viruses can have very harmful affect on the foreign market.
Some discussions have been on the possibility of the disease reoccurring, because the body usually does not create a long term immunity against Streptococcus,  and those who have had repeated infection in their throats because of Streptococcus are aware of this. The most common reason for the infection reoccurring is that a sick horse is added into a heard of horses and the infection will be seen in the local horses about 2-4 weeks later.  

Naturally, horse owners are worried about colder weather and the health of their horses this coming winter. It is best for the horses to be outside, and that they have enough fat supply, because the fat is necessary for them to help withstand the cold weather. They need to have shelter, good pastures, water and minerals. Cleansing the horses of worms is a necessity in order to maintain general health. Foals should be monitored especially, because they seem to be very susceptive to the infection. When the mares stop feeding their foals this winter they need special attention. It is important not to add new horses to the heard unless it is necessary and then the whole herd needs to be watched closely for the coming months.

At last it should be mentioned that at Keldur Research Institute, they are doing autopsy on horses, at no extra cost for their owners, should the cough be the cause for the horses’ death.  Therefore horse owners are encouraged to inform their vet about suspicious incidences, this way they are supporting added knowledge about the disease.