Friday, 6 May 2016

All About ... Equine Influenza (Flu)

What is it

It is a virus which affects the upper and lower respiratory tract of horses, donkeys and mules.  It is very contagious and is passed when the virus is inhaled from infected horses coughing etcetera.  However, it can also be spread via feed and/or water buckets or any object or person transferring the virus.  Luckily it cannot survive for long outside the horse. The virus cannot be passed to or from humans.   

The influenza virus has an incubation period of 5 days.  Affected horses usually recover in 2 - 3 weeks.  However, it can be fatal in young foals!


  • Dry cough 
  • Nasal discharge, initially clear and watery, later a thick mucus 
  • High temperature for 1 - 4 days 
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Enlarged glands under the lower jaw 
  • Watery and/or red eyes 
  • Lethargy 
  • Muscle weakness 


As mentioned above this is caused by a virus.  However, once inhaled it damages the lining of the airways and the mucous membranes allowing bacteria to invade and cause further infections. 


Call the vet if you suspect flu.  Isolate the horse, follow biosecurity guidelines and implement strict yard hygiene.  Any horses that have been in contact with the ill horse must be monitored and ideally isolated too. The vet will identify the clinical signs and can take nasal swabs.  Monitoring antibody levels in the blood will also help.


Rest in a well ventilated stable.  Limit dust and spores as these will irritate the airways further.  Steamed or soaked hay and dust free bedding.  Feeding from the floor helps the mucus to drain down the nasal passages. 
The vet may prescribe some non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs which will reduce the fever and help the horse feel better.


Vaccination with boosters every year.  These are widely used and should be part of your regular schedule with Tetanus and perhaps Strangles.

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Until next time!

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