Horses can go into bouts of depression and appetite loss, and when this occurs without any signs of equine colic, it could be flu. Horses with flu can have fever (while most colicky horses don’t), and they can also experience cough or runny nose.
Wherever horses congregate, the viruses are present as well; this makes the young horses particularly susceptible. Though colds or flu are rarely fatal, these health problems can result in loss of time and money in the equine industry.
How can you tell if your horse has the flu?
Upper respiratory infections usually start with poor appetite, depression, and appearance of clear nasal discharge. It may appear that your horse is suffering from colic, but accompanying colic signs such as fever and pain are absent. If at this point you try to take your horse’s temperature, it will probably read 105.5 degrees. As a response to the fever, heart and respiratory rate may be elevated.
Though your horse can develop a high fever or may become mildly depressed, he can be aroused easily and may even respond to treats. The fever usually diminishes in a few days but can recur in several days for another short period of time. Many days later, nasal discharge will become cloudy and cough may result. Not all horses experience these symptoms and the severity will depend on the individual horse.
How is the condition treated?
Once the virus infiltrates the horse’s system, no specific cures exist to eliminate the virus. The most important treatment approach is to lower the fever and allowing the horse to get plenty of rest. For fever, horses can take bute, which is not only effective in reducing body temperature but also helps in relieving body aches to make the feverish horse feel better. More importantly, horses need to have plenty of rest. The viruses are particular in attacking the respiratory lining making the horse more susceptible to bacterial infections. Rest can heal the horse without involving complications. Usually, allowing your horse to rest in his stall or paddock for 21 days is enough but if symptoms do not go away, especially the cough, rest period may need to be extended.
Prevention is still better than cure
There are various types of vaccines intended to prevent upper respiratory infections. You need to consult your veterinarian for the appropriate vaccination program for your horse. When your barn has young horses that are allowed to roam free, it may be required to give them boosters. The key to preventing the spread of infection is to contain it. Do not allow infected horses to mingle with the healthy ones.