Infectious Diseases

Horse diseases of any kind are, of course, a major concern of most owners. Owners are often even more concerned when the disease can be spread from one horse to another. Because infectious diseases can spread so quickly, knowing what you”re dealing with is important. What are infectious horse diseases? How do horses catch them? These are important questions on the minds of many horse owners.

Types of Infectious Diseases

Influenza is one of many infectious diseases. It”s an infection of the blood and usually affects both the mucous membranes and lungs. Horses around four or five years old are the most likely to get it.

Another threat to horse heath is contagious pneumonia, an acute disease with sometimes serious complications. The main cause is often the horse”s stable. Cold, damp or dirty stables can not only cause the disease but can help to spread it around.

Strangles is yet another of the many infectious diseases out there. It”s also been known as distemper and catarrhal fever. It”s usually seen in younger horses and, like influenza, once a horse has had it, they often become immune to it. It can be caused not only by a horse”s surroundings but also by exposure to infected horses and their discharges. Like many other horse diseases out there, symptoms don”t start showing themselves until several days after a horse has been exposed.

Purpura hemorrhagica is yet another contagious disease. It”s actually been linked to another of the infectious diseases, influenza. A horse that has suffered influenza and recovered quickly is more likely to get this than one that recovered slowly. Purpura hemorrhagica is a bacterial disease and causes tissue swelling and hemorrhaging.

Horsepox, also known as equine variola, is like human chicken pox in that it causes fever and breakouts on the skin. It sometimes caused by strangles. Like the infectious diseases mentioned before (and chicken pox), getting it means being immune in the future. This is another disease that mainly affects young horses.

Another horse disease, sporotrichosis, is a chronic and infectious condition. It”s caused by an organism called the Sporotrichum schenckii and causes problems with the lymph nodes. It was first found in the United States in 1907, although it was described many years before. Horses have mainly been known to get it because of different wounds, although there are other ways. Bandages and other objects, as well as insects, can spread it.

Rabies is the most serious of the infectious diseases and is one of the most feared by animal owners. It”s usually spread by the bite and saliva of an infected animal. It”s pretty much always fatal and causes lesions and different nervous system problems. Symptoms can sometimes take several months to show themselves, but usually it only takes between eight days and a month. It causes the horse to become irritable and mean and to see things that are not there. The skin of a horse with rabies is also very sensitive, especially where the horse was first bitten.

Signs of Horse Infectious Diseases

There are many signs your horse might be suffering from one of the many infectious diseases out there. Signs of rabies include skin irritation, a fear of water and a change in behavior.

Fevers and breakouts are also a sign of infectious diseases. Horses will sometimes hang their heads. Other signs of trouble might be sluggishness, little to no appetite, a dry coat, coughs, chills and swelling. It”s best to report these and any other symptoms to a vet as quickly as possible.

Preventing Horse Diseases

The best way to maintain horse health is by doing what you can to stop a problem before it starts. One of the best ways to prevent these diseases is to spot them early. If you notice symptoms in a horse, it”s a good idea to move the horse so that it can”t infect any others.

It”s also recommended that all surfaces be cleaned. This includes walls, ceilings and floors. Vets also say that replacing any decaying woodwork can protect a horse from getting sick.

Other ways to prevents infectious diseases are adding windows and a good drainage system. Windows help by keeping a supply of fresh, clean air in the stable. Drainage helps be prevented dampness, another cause of disease. A visit to the vet to learn about the vaccines available and when they can be given can also be helpful.


Huidekoper, R.S., M.D, Vet.; et al (2007). Infectious Diseases. Retrieved March 8, 2008, from from the Project Gutenberg Web site: