It's 6 o'clock on Saturday morning and you have packed all your fishing gear in the pickup. The saddlebags are packed with the necessary items to survive if you don't catch enough fish. You threw Mr. Ed same hay and oats earlier in the dark and you go out to load him in the trailer and you notice he hasn't cleaned up his grain as usual. On closer inspection you notice he has some mucous dripping from his nostrils and as he walks slowly across the corral he coughs a couple of times. The way he hangs his head you know he is sick so you get out the family thermometer and check his temperature you don't know the exact norm but 106 is definitely not right. You have worked hard all week and just when you need Mr. Ed to get away from it all, he is sick.
Why is Mr. Ed sick?
The possibilities are influenza or flu, rhinopneumonitis or rhino, distemper or strangles, and other less common viral or bacterial diseases. The most likely is flu. Flu is an extremely common viral respiratory infection which occurs in the warmer months of the year. March through October are the most common months for flu to occur in Colorado and like climates. Flu is extremely contagious. It spreads by direct and indirect contact, animals touching each other or using the same water buckets or feed buckets. It also can be carried by aerosol, through the air and can spread rapidly across vast areas of country side. Since opening a veterinary practice in Grand Junction, Colorado in 1966, I have seen flu outbreaks in the spring, summer and fall every year.
The symptoms can vary some, but usually include the following signs. Coughing which lasts from a few days to 2 weeks or more, mucous or watery discharge from the nostrils, (with the dust we have in the summer, the horse's nostrils look "dirty"), high fever, and depression the first few days.
Most mature horses in good physical condition will survive flu without any treatment as long as they are not used hard and have good dust free feed and plenty of fresh water. Young foals and yearlings should be carefully monitored. Foals especially can develop secondary bacterial pneumonia's which can require hospitalization and extensive treatment.
Antibodies such as penicillin are not effective against the flu virus. Modern medicine has yet to come up with drugs that are consistently effective and safe against viral diseases. This is true in humans as well as animals. When people get the flu there is not drug to kill the virus. You take drugs such as aspirin, tylenol, or benadryl to ease the symptoms and to make the discomfort more bearable. The virus still has to run it s course. Could you give Mr. Ed some drugs to get his fever down and still take him fishing? Not with a 106 temperature. He needs drugs to lower the fever and he need to rest for a least a week and maybe 2 weeks.
How could you prevent this from happening? Several companies manufacture flu vaccine. They are effective but not for a real long time. Most internal medicine experts consider that flu vaccine will only withstand a challenge for 2 months. One company says theirs is good for 6 months. The verdict is still out on that one. It is common practice for horse owners to give a 4 way shot in the springtime. It is good practice. The four way gives protection against tetanus, encephalitis or sleeping sickness, and influenza. The problem is that influenza should be given more often than yearly to give adequate protection when outbreaks of the disease are occurring; 2-4 times during the warmer months of the year.
Influenza vaccine can be given by itself or in a combination with rhino vaccine. Rhino is another viral disease which we will cover a different segment. Influenza is the most common respiratory disease and causes tremendous economic losses and inconvenience to horse owners.
If your horse gets the flu, treatment will not shorten the course of the disease. The saying "an ounce of prevention is work a pound of cure" is true with this disease. All the known strains of flu are not in the vaccines, but the most common ones are. Horses may still get a mild case of flu even though they are vaccinated every 2-3 months, but they may still be usable and the symptoms will be much less severe.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank HARRIS VETERINARY CLINIC, in Grand Junction, Colorado for providing us with this information.
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