Equine influenza - a variable virus burdens the respiratory tract

Coughs in horses can have many triggers. But the influenza virus is at the forefront as the primary carrier in our hoofed animals. In fact, not only horses can catch the flu viruses quickly. Donkeys, mules, mules and zebras are also very susceptible to this equine disease.

The high level of infection makes it possible for the disease to spread quickly and causes many a stable owner to be short of space. If there is an influenza horse in the herd, immediate action must be taken to protect the other animals from contracting the disease.


Even if your horse has received a horse influenza vaccination, this does not mean permanent protection! Constantly changing viruses can find a way to the horse's respiratory organs, despite the horse having been vaccinated. This is what makes equine influenza so insidious. Nevertheless, there are good treatment successes with this equine disease.

Interesting topic? We would like to tell you some interesting facts about the disease.

Equine influenza - clearly defined

This equine disease is also called equine influenza, equine influenza virus (EIV), Hoppegarten cough or simply contagious equine cough. Transmission occurs through direct contact or through the air (e.g. sputum during coughing/sneezing). You are certainly familiar with droplet infection, aren't you?

The upper and lower respiratory tract organs are infected by the virus. Similar to a severe flu in humans, this leads to a strong cough in horses. Unfortunately, consequential damage to the respiratory tract in horses is not uncommon. If action is taken too late or not at all, pneumonia or myocarditis, and in the worst case death, can be expected.

Typical symptoms of equine influenza

- nasal discharge

- Intermittent, high fever (up to 42° C) that can last for days

- Strong, sudden attack of coughing right at the beginning of the equine disease (up to 10x/hour)

- Coughing in the horse first dry and painful, later wet sputum

- Clearly strained breathing

- reluctance to eat

- Apathetic behaviour

- loss of weight

- Swollen lymph nodes (difficulty swallowing)

Causes of the disease

In the case of equine influenza, as already mentioned above, even the slightest contact with a neighbouring stall or a body secretion (a cough) from an infected horse is enough.

Whether in one's own stable, at a workshop, on a trail ride or at a tournament - the infection occurs from animal to animal or comes from contaminated areas (shared paddock/meadow) or equipment (e.g. grooming utensils). The incubation period is relatively short. The first symptoms are already noticeable after 24 - 48 hours.

Brief description Trigger:

- Contact with influenza horse

- Spreeding of the viruses through the air

- Infected areas e.g. bedding/equipment/clothing/skin of owner or caregiver

Diagnosis and treatment

If your horse becomes ill, the veterinarian should examine the horse promptly. Based on the characteristics of the equine disease, he will probably order a rapid test to be sure. This can easily be done by coughing up secretions or by taking a swab from the horse's throat. The exact virus strain can then be determined in the laboratory. A blood test with the detection of certain antibodies also reveals the presence of influenza in the horse.

As with any virus, the treatment is rather decimating. Only symptoms are treated, long-term protection of the animal is recommended and antibiotics are only used if necessary for secondary infections (bacteria). Biological veterinary medicines are always beneficial. If possible, the sick animal should be isolated from the rest of the herd. Plenty of fresh air, rest and soft, warmed feed (mash) can positively support convalescence. Inhalation would also be a helpful contribution. Depending on the severity of the condition, the veterinarian may prescribe light exercise for the horse, e.g. walking at a pace, or absolute rest.


Under no circumstances should the animal be taken back into training too soon!

If the horse flu is not completely cured, considerable consequential damage such as inflammation of the throat, chronic coughing or even laminitis can occur. Therefore, always follow the advice of the veterinarian for the horse!

Can you take preventive measures?

As you may know, influenza vaccination is compulsory for sport horses. The intervals for the booster should always be observed, especially for competition riders, as they have contact with many other horses. If you travel a lot with your treasure, it makes sense to have your horse vaccinated.

But vaccinating a horse alone does not provide 100% protection against infection. The viruses "mutate" rapidly and the influenza structure that occurs varies from horse to horse. It is therefore even more important to meet all the hoofed animal's basic needs in order to strengthen its health (especially its immune system) in the long term.

If you yourself own a stable with boarders, you can order a "before horse vaccination" or a presentation of the vaccination certificate or a health check as a prerequisite for taking in a new animal. In addition, a precautionary quarantine of about 10 days makes sense.

Influenza in the stable - what now?

Of course, the likelihood of an influenza outbreak is higher in large stables with a lot of changing horses. Especially if competition horses are housed there or even if competitions are held. If there really is an outbreak, the horse should be separated, all the stable owners should be informed and special attention should be paid to a hygiene concept.

This includes: Anyone who has contact with the animal (owner, staff...) must clean themselves thoroughly, disinfect themselves and may no longer share the equipment of the sick horse (grooming utensils, manure tools, feed utensils) with others. Likewise, runs must be cleared several times. The horse's veterinarian will instruct the farm to be closed to visitors/guest horses etc... because of the equine influenza. If the influenza horse has survived the disease and all other animals are well, the stable will be opened again.