Summer may mean beaches and vacation, but it also means something else: mosquitoes. While mosquitoes are continuously bothersome to humans, they also pose a threat to horses.
In a recent interview, Dr. Katy Byrd from Clovis Pet Hospital gave some insight on why mosquitoes, specifically West Nile Virus, are a danger to horses and things horse owners can do to reduce the threat level.
“Mosquitoes are the most pathogenic to people and horses,” Byrd explained. “There have been documented [West Nile Virus] cases in dogs, but it’s incredibly rare.”
Byrd estimated that only four cases of WNV have been documented for dogs.
WNV, as defined by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, is “the leading cause of mosquito-borne disease in the continental United States.” Cases of WNV typically occur during mosquito season: in the summer and through late fall.
According to Byrd, it’s critical that horse owners watch for anything that looks like flu-like symptoms or any kind of brain-related symptoms like dizziness, the inability to stand, or stumbling. If horse owners spot these symptoms in their animal, then the horse may need a check up for WNV. It’s also possible, though, that horses may not show any symptoms of WNV at all.
The American Association of Equine Practitioners states, “WNV infection in mammals does not result in large amounts of the virus in the bloodstream … Because there is only a very small amount of the virus in the blood of infected horses, mosquitoes are unable to transmit the virus from horse to horse or from horse to human.”
The Association further elaborates: “The virus is transmitted when a mosquito takes a blood meal from an infected bird, then feeds on a horse. During the process of taking a blood meal from the horse, the virus is transmitted by the infected mosquito.”
“It’s safe to get horses preemptively vaccinated,” Byrd suggested. “Shots can be purchased. Vets don’t necessarily need to be present. The shots are widely available in the same stores where horse owners buy large animal feed.”
Byrd recognized the difficulty of completely preventing mosquitoes from biting a horse. She pointed out that humans are able to wear protective clothing and spray mosquito repellent. But, the doctor also shared that mosquito repellent spray is available for horses.
“Keeping horses indoors during the most active times of the day –– dusk and dawn –– is very important,” Byrd emphasized. “But, vaccination is the best way to go.”