Animals prosper in green, wild environments, and horses are no different, with open paddocks offering exercise and stimulation. However, according to the Journal of Preventative Veterinary Medicine, there are 53 animal-specific diseases in the USA, with 79% of these transmitted via wildlife. What’s more, 40% of wildlife diseases are zoonotic, meaning your animals can pass them onto you. These animals often act as carriers, and often, while it has no effect on them, these diseases can be dangerous to humans. For instance, encephalitis from a mosquito bite is relatively easily cured in horses, but there is no such treatment for humans.
The good news is that keeping your animal safe is a case of staying up to date with knowledge. Just like checking your animal for parasites as the seasons roll on, being aware of how and where malicious bugs will occur is a matter of knowledge. Planning, dedication, and thoroughness will allow you to enjoy spending time with your animal without getting sick.
The types of diseases
Many of the diseases that wildlife will pass onto your horse are common knowledge. Rabies, for example, is thankfully rare but still requires consideration. Varieties of encephalitis are common, too, as mosquito bites carry various strains across the world. Diseases often find a breeding ground in animals, however. According to a British Medical Journal study, West Nile virus threatened racehorses first, before humans. Other common infectious zoonotic conditions that first found headway in wildlife to animal transmission include ringworm and leptospirosis, as mentioned above. It can sometimes be difficult to preempt conditions affecting horses that are transmitted by wild animals, but awareness of how they come to be is often enough to keep your horse safe and healthy.
How are they transmitted?
Diseases are transmitted via air, blood, and occasionally water, though that should be less concerning in horses. A wild animal does not have to physically attack your horse to spread infection, as viruses and bacteria can exist in undergrowth and brush. Symptoms can be basic – for instance, salmonella could cause the same symptoms in horses as it does in humans, which can lead to horse illness and death, as tragically reported in Manhattan, IL. Alternatively, they could show no symptoms at all. However, the principles of making sure they can’t take hold always remain the same.
How do you stay clean?
Just like every other aspect of life, the key to staying healthy is staying clean. Wash your hands with warm, soapy water before and after any interaction with your animal – and especially where blood, feces or urine are concerned. If you’re eating at the stable, make sure your hands are clean then, too, before interacting with your horse – conditions that don’t affect you could affect your horse. When you take your horse out on a wilderness ride, do your research online. There are plenty of maps and reports available that outline exactly what creatures are active in an area, and you can use this to minimize the chance you have of encountering wild animals, their habitats or the frequency and density of mosquitoes.
Wildlife-to-horse transmission of diseases is a common but often overlooked area of pet ownership. With the risk of it spreading to you, too, and with a myriad of conditions out there, it’s important to stay safe. By maintaining hygiene and your animal’s health, you’ll have it covered and, in the worst case, be able to catch it early.