Preventing Viral and Bacterial Respiratory Diseases

By Wendy Talbot on 17 April 2018

Viral and bacterial respiratory infection can easily be spread by direct ‘nose to nose’ contact with infected horses.  Spread may also occur through airborne particles and contamination of the horse’s direct environment, equipment and personnel. 

Equine viral and bacterial respiratory disease

These tips should help you keep your horses safe:


Quarantining new arrivals and making sure their vaccination status is up-to-date will help to reduce the chances of disease introduction and spread. This is especially true on yards where the population is younger and under pressure.

Good hygiene

Washing your hands, disinfecting boots, and changing your outer clothes after contact with horses suspected of infection is also important, just as it is in human hospitals. It also pays not to share rugs, grooming equipment and tack between horses, especially those who are new to the yard or whose health is in question.


Vaccination, as well as providing protective immunity, can reduce the amount of disease that an infected horse passes on, helping to reduce the spread of a disease outbreak. By reducing the length and severity of the illness, vaccinated horses are less likely to shed disease (a process known as ‘reduction of viral shedding’). If they do shed disease it is likely to be for a significantly shorter period of time.

Population immunity 

Undoubtedly one of the most helpful steps in preventing respiratory disease on yards is to create a critical mass of vaccinated horses, which will help to create population immunity. This is fundamental to protect our horses and a task we share responsibility for. This is particularly topical for diseases such as influenza where a significant proportion of our equine population remains unvaccinated leaving us open to future disease outbreaks.

Helping the immune system

Immunomodulators (substances that modify the immune system) can play a role in the management of some diseases. They are used to prime the horse’s immune system, stimulating it to function more effectively in anticipation of exposure to infection or stressful conditions.

If you think your horse may have any symptoms of respiratory disease it’s sensible to isolate them immediately, into a clean, well-ventilated, dust free area, check temperature, pulse and respiratory rates and contact your vet to discuss the next course of action. 





Wendy graduated from Bristol University in 1999. She then went on to complete a residency at Liverpool University and holds a European Diploma in Equine Internal Medicine. After working in practice for 13 years, she joined Zoetis in 2012 as the National Equine Veterinary Manager.

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