With all the talk about coronavirus, I find myself wondering if it’s something that can affect equines. Since I am responsible for so many horses daily, I need the facts to ensure we always keep them safe. While we have never had an issue of these sorts at Oak Haven Acres, I was shocked to learn that there are reports of equine-based coronaviruses that date back to 2013.
I want to maintain a levelhead and not buy into the hype and panic of the situation. However, I need to be informed so that I can watch for signs and symptoms that our horses are affected. My first question was can a person and horse transfer the virus to each other. Thankfully, we cannot transfer the infection back and forth, but I did find out some information worth sharing.
What is Coronavirus?
Coronavirus is a broad term that references a group of RNA infections. t is common for these types of infections to cause both intestinal and respiratory issues. When an equine is involved, it’s called ECoV. These viruses are most active from December through May. Sadly, a horse can suffer for up to three weeks with this illness, but it will go away with proper care.
Elimination of this kind of virus occurs via fecal matter. So to identify a positive infection, a stool sample is necessary. Though most of these animals won’t have any severe complications, there is a possibility. The virus can break through the barrier and enter the intestinal tract, which causes toxins to enter their bloodstream. Once it’s in the blood, it will transfer to organs and lymph nodes. When this occurs, the situation is dire. Thankfully, having a severe complication is unlikely, and treating it can almost always be successful.
Symptoms of Coronavirus in Horses
It’s often challenging to identify coronavirus from other illnesses as the symptoms are much the same. We must look for things such as:
High Fevers of 104 degrees F or Above
Loss of Appetite
Low Protein in the Blood
Low White Blood Cell Count
While these are the most seen indications, more severe symptoms can develop quickly. If the virus can break through the intestinal wall, a horse can become septic. They can also have swelling on the brain, or encephalopathy. Sadly, once it enters the bloodstream, it’s a serious matter as the brain, kidneys, heart, and lungs will likely also become affected as well.
How Do Horses Contract This Illness?
Researchers have not been able to determine the cause of coronaviruses in horses. However, they have discovered that they can transfer the illness from one to another through both fecal and oral contact. Since the virus leaves the body through waste, the infected fecal matter can be toxic for other horses to be near. There are numerous cases of horses shedding the virus through their stool without even showing any symptoms of having the illness. Researchers classify these equines as asymptomatic shedders.
Diagnosing Equine Coronavirus
Here at Oak Haven Acres, we have a veterinarian that we can quickly call should we have any concerns about any health matters. If the coronavirus is suspected, then the horse will be evaluated. There are specific tests that are necessary to ensure that we can accurately identify what is going on. Our veterinarian will take a fecal sample, a PCR or polymerase chain reaction test, and look for a specific RNA genomic in the blood tests. The blood work is very forth-telling as it will show high levels of ammonia, albumin, and leukopenia.
Treating the Coronavirus Affected Horse
Since the virus is eliminated naturally, there usually isn’t anything that needs to be done. Most commonly, the symptoms will go away in 1-4 days. Fever reducing medications could likely be necessary, and certainly we will administer them if the need arises. Reducing the fever helps to protect the gastrointestinal tract from ulcers. Dehydration is also common with this illness, so frequently it is also necessary to offer the course intravenous fluids to prevent dehydration.
When dealing with older horses, the immune system compromises are always a concern. One of the main reasons to consider a boarding facility for your equines is to ensure that they get proper care, and their health needs are attended to as they age. Just like humans, as animals age, they are often more susceptible to illness and disease. However, you can rest easy knowing that we are continuously monitoring for changes and anything that needs immediate attention.
While the coronavirus or COVID-19 is affecting much of the world, it’s not a specific strain that you need to be worried about a horse contracting. Many people are shocked to learn that they will contract the coronavirus infection at least once in their lifetime, but many will never know. As for horses, they are in good hands here at this facility, and you don’t need to worry.