It's flu season and you feel a little under the weather. Did you know that your horse can get the flu too? That's right! Just as the flu spreads quickly through groups of people, equine influenza spreads quickly through groups of horses as well! But don't worry, while your horse may need to lay low for a few days, most horses recover without complications, and very few die. So how do you know if your horse is dealing with a bout of the flu? A fever in the range of 101 to 106 degrees Fahrenheit is usually the first sign. When your horse gets the characteristic cough, however, you can be pretty sure (but don't bet the farm quite yet!) that he has the flu. The cough usually comes on following the fever, and is dry and hacking at first.
Within a few days the cough will become less frequent and moister, and will last a few weeks. That being said, it's not a good idea to diagnose your horse yourself. Why? Because the symptoms for flu can mirror other, more dangerous conditions, like viral rhinopneumonitis and viral arteritis. Call your veterinarian, who will run blood tests and take nasal discharge in order to conclusively diagnose equine influenza.
How long will symptoms last? While the temperature should subside within three days or so, other symptoms your horse might exhibit if he has the flu include nasal discharge, weakness, stiffness, loss of appetite, and lack of energy. Do these symptoms sound familiar? They are usually what humans get when they have the flu! It is normal for these symptoms to persist between two and seven days. If they persist much longer than this, a repeat call to your vet is definitely in order. How does the flu spread? It is basically spread through the air, and passes from horse to horse when they inhale the infective material.
A horse with the flu who coughs easily passes his infection to surrounding horses, which is why the equine flu spreads so quickly in areas where there are lots of horses! While there is no medicine that will "cure" the flu, horses with the flu need to rested until the cough has fully subsided to allow the respiratory epithelium to completely heal. Rest your horse in a well-ventilated, clean stall and be sure that exercise is strictly limited. A horse will need at least three weeks, and sometimes as long as several months, to get better. Keep in mind that older and younger horses get hit by the flu harder than other horses, and should be given special consideration.
If you have a very young or very old horse, ask your vet about giving the horse antibiotics to prevent secondary bacterial infections. There are basically two types of viral flu, and there are vaccines that can protect your horses against both of them. Ask your veterinarian, especially if your horse is one of many horses kept together in close quarters, if an equine influenza shot should be used.
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