Treating the Common Cold and Flu in Horses

colds and flu in horses

Horses, like humans, can suffer from colds and flu. Equine colds are viral infections that primarily affect the respiratory system. They are also commonly referred to as equine influenza. The virus is airborne and very contagious, so it’s important to understand how your horse catches a cold, identify the symptoms and clinical signs, and know how to treat it appropriately.

How Does a Horse Catch a Cold?

Horses can contract equine influenza by coming into contact with other horses that are already infected, either through contact with the virus in the air or through contact with an infected horse (through nose-to-nose contact or shared water and food). Sharing tack and grooming supplies can also increase the risk of spreading the virus.

Symptoms and Clinical Signs

When a horse has contracted equine influenza, symptoms will typically appear quickly (the time between infection and symptom onset is anywhere from 1-3 days) and include:

  • Fever
  • Coughing 
  • Nasal discharge
  • Enlarged lymph nodes  
  • Lethargy
  • Lack of appetite 

The horse may also appear to have difficulty breathing and a swollen face or neck. 


In order to diagnose the presence of equine influenza in a horse, the vet will take a swab sample from the horse’s respiratory system and send it off for laboratory analysis. The veterinarian may also recommend blood tests and chest x-rays in order to rule out other potential causes of illness.


Once the horse has been diagnosed with equine influenza, there are a number of treatment options available.


The first step in treating a horse with the cold is to isolate it from other horses. This helps prevent the spread of the virus and also allows you to provide treatment without risk of contamination.

Rest and Supportive Care

Rest and supportive care are essential for recovery. Manage your horse’s environment to reduce stress, increase ventilation, and provide comfort. Monitor the horse’s temperature and make sure it is kept at a comfortable level. Provide plenty of fresh water and nutritious food that will help support the immune system.


Vaccination is the best way to protect your horse from colds and flu. Talk to your veterinarian about which vaccines are available for your area and what’s best for your horse’s specific needs. Vaccines will help reduce the severity of symptoms, as well as lessen the possibility of transmission among other horses in the herd.

AAEP (American Association of Equine Practitioners) recommends that all horses get an annual core vaccine, which would include protection against equine influenza (flu), rhinopneumonitis, and tetanus. Vaccines may need to be adjusted or supplemented depending on geographical location and the amount of time you spend traveling with your horse.

It is important to note that the flu is not the only type of respiratory infection horses may experience. Other common infections include equine rhinopneumonitis (EHV-1 and EHV-4), strangles, influenza A virus, equine herpesvirus (EHV-3) and adenovirus.


Preventative measures should always be taken to reduce the chances of a cold or flu in horses. As with all illnesses, good hygiene practices are essential; this includes regular cleaning and disinfection of any equipment used on the horse, regularly washing your hands before and after handling your horse, and avoiding contact between horses that may have been exposed to a contagious disease.

It is also important to ensure that your horse’s diet is balanced and appropriate for the season. An immune system that is properly nourished and functioning at a healthy level will be better equipped to fight off any potential infections or viruses. In addition, your horse should have adequate shelter from inclement weather, as exposure to cold weather can make it more susceptible to catching a cold.


How long is a horse contagious with a cold?

The length of time a horse is contagious with a cold can vary, but it is generally accepted that horses can be infectious for up to two weeks after symptoms have begun. During this period, it is important to take extra care when handling and caring for your horse, including washing your hands before and after contact as well as avoiding contact between horses and other animals. Additionally, it is important to thoroughly clean and disinfect any items that have come into contact with the affected horse.

What causes a horse to get a cold?

The most common cause of cold in horses is the transmission of airborne viruses. These viruses can be passed between animals in close contacts, such as those sharing a pasture or barn. Additionally, these viruses can also be transferred through contaminated items, such as feed and grooming tools.

What bacteria causes equine influenza?

Equine influenza is caused by the equine influenza A virus and is highly contagious. This virus can be spread through direct contact between horses and through aerosolized droplets from coughs or sneezes. The virus can also persist in the environment, such as on contaminated surfaces.

What happens if a horse gets a cold?

If a horse contracts the virus, it may experience symptoms such as fever, coughing and nasal discharge. The infected horse will also have difficulty breathing due to airway obstruction caused by swelling of the tissue lining in the respiratory passages. In severe cases, horses can develop pneumonia or other secondary infections that can be fatal if left untreated.

horse hoof
Laminitis is a painful, often debilitating condition that affects horses. It occurs when the laminae of the horse’s hoof become inflamed and cause lameness. Laminitis can be caused by a number of factors, including excessive dietary energy intake, trauma to the foot, or systemic health conditions. Regardless of the cause, it is important to recognize the signs and treat laminitis promptly, as it can lead to long-term lameness or even require euthanasia in severe cases.

What is Laminitis in Horses?
Laminitis is a painful inflammatory condition that affects the sensitive laminae of the horse’s hoof. The laminae are located between the hoof wall and coffin bone, and their job is to help attach the two together. When the laminae become inflamed they can stretch or tear, which causes pain and lameness.

What Causes Laminitis?
There are a variety of potential causes of laminitis in horses. The most common cause is overfeeding on a diet high in carbohydrates or sugars, such as grain and sweet feed. Other contributing factors can include sudden changes in exercise intensity, extreme stress, metabolic disease, infection (such as septicemia or colic), trauma to the feet, prolonged standing on hard surfaces, or hormonal imbalances. In some cases, the cause of laminitis is unknown.

The most obvious symptom of laminitis is lameness or an unwillingness to bear weight on one or more feet. Other signs can include increased digital pulses (the hoof pulse felt on the back of the foot), heat in the affected hooves, and a shifting stance (moving from one foot to the other or rocking back and forth).

Chronic symptoms
The effects of laminitis, which is an inflammation of the sensitive tissue that connects the hoof wall to the bone within the hoof, can linger after treatment. Horses may suffer from chronic pain and discomfort due to chronic symptoms associated with laminitis. These include:

Hoof deformities such as rotation of the coffin bone and separation of the wall from the sole due to low blood supply
Heat, pain, and discomfort in the feet, especially when pressure is applied
Chronic lameness that can be worse after exercise or following periods of rest
Difficulty standing for long periods or bearing weight on affected legs
Digital pulses that may be present in the affected limb
Due to the complexity of laminitis, it is important to consult a veterinarian immediately if you suspect your horse may be suffering from this condition. Your vet will perform a physical exam and look at the hoofs for signs of laminitis such as heat or pulsation in the feet. They may also take X-rays to check for any abnormalities in the hoofs and observe your horse’s stance and gait to determine any areas of lameness.

The vet may also take blood samples for testing or recommend imaging tests such as MRI or CT scans if needed.

Once laminitis has been diagnosed, the horse’s treatment plan will depend on the cause of the condition. Treatment involves rest and prevention of pain and inflammation. This may include one or more of the following:

Pain relief medication such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) and/or systemic corticosteroids
Supportive farriery – trimming or shoeing the horse’s hoof to reduce the strain on the laminae
Rest – the horse should be confined to a small area on soft footings, such as deep sawdust or shavings
Improved nutrition – providing a balanced diet and avoiding large amounts of grain
Special treatments such as therapeutic ultrasound, magnetic therapy, and hyperbaric oxygen therapy may also be used to reduce inflammation
With appropriate treatment and care, the majority of horses with laminitis can go on to lead a normal life. It is important to note, however, that laminitis can be a very serious condition, especially if it is left untreated.

Prevention of laminitis is a key way to protect your horse’s feet and overall health. There are a number of things you can do to keep your horse from developing laminitis.

Maintain a Proper Diet – Feeding the right amount and type of food to your horse is important. Eating too much sugar and starch-rich grains can contribute to laminitis, so avoiding these types of food is key.
Limit Access to Pasture – Horses allowed full access to lush green grass can be at risk for overeating and developing laminitis. Limiting the amount of time your horse spends in the pasture is essential for preventing this condition.
Watch Out for Cushing’s Disease – Horses with Cushing’s disease often develop laminitis, so it’s important to have your horse checked regularly for any signs of the disease.
Monitor Your Horse’s Weight – Horses that are overweight tend to be at greater risk for laminitis, so keeping your horse’s weight in check is important.
Seek Veterinary Treatment – If you suspect your horse may be suffering from laminitis, seek veterinary treatment as soon as possible. A vet can provide advice on how best to treat the condition, as well as any additional dietary or exercise measures that may be needed to help prevent a recurrence.
Provide Proper Hoof Care – Caring for your horse’s hooves is crucial in preventing laminitis. Have your horseshoes checked regularly and make sure your horse is never going too long between trims.
Reduce Stress – Reducing stress in your horse is also important, as stress can be a contributing factor in the development of laminitis. Make sure that you are providing your horse with plenty of exercise and stimulation to help keep them motivated and relaxed.
What is the best diet for laminitis?
The best diet for a laminitis horse is one that provides adequate calories and nutrition without being too rich. It’s important to limit the amount of sugar, starches and other nonstructural carbohydrates (NSC) in your horse’s diet as this can increase the risk of laminitis. Your veterinarian can recommend a diet and feed that is specific to your horse’s individual needs. It is also important to monitor the weight of your horse to ensure they are not gaining too much or losing too much, both of which can increase the risk of laminitis.

What months are worse for laminitis?
Summer months typically have a higher risk for laminitis due to the increase in grass growth which can lead to an excessive intake of sugar and NSC. However, any season can potentially cause a horse to suffer from laminitis depending on their individual circumstance. Horses that are overweight or those with a pre-existing metabolic condition are more likely to be at risk of laminitis year-round. It is important to monitor your horse’s body condition and dietary intake throughout the year in order to reduce the risk of laminitis.

Is it good to walk a horse with laminitis?
It is recommended to limit the activity of a horse with laminitis, as any increase in workload can put further strain on its hoof structure.

How to ease laminitis pain?
Pain relief and anti-inflammatory drugs can help to reduce the pain associated with laminitis. Your veterinarian may also suggest a heel wedge pad, which helps to redistribute the weight away from the affected area. In severe cases, your vet may recommend surgery or hoof trimming in order to relieve inflammation and improve comfort.


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