When It Comes To Precautions During Disease Outbreaks, Don’t Forget The Farrier

by | 02.06.2017 | 2:52pm

As EHV-1 outbreaks continue to dominate the horse care news cycle, managers and horsemen are asking what they can do to minimize the risk of this and other communicable diseases. Most farms have a protocol that visitors and personnel must follow, but sometimes a farm overlooks its farrier when it comes to biosecurity.

Working on a horse's feet exposes the farrier, his tools, and his clothing to manure and urine that may contain disease. Failing to follow disinfection guidelines could mean spreading disease to the next farm he visits.

On a typical day, a farrier usually travels to several farms. He may not be aware that a farm has a sick horse. Even if the horses he works on don't appear ill, they could have come in contact with a sick horse or they may be silently shedding an infectious disease.

“Farriers should always keep biosecurity in mind,” said Dr. Lucas Pantaleon, veterinary advisor at Pantaleon PLLC in Versailles, Ky.

He said both the farrier and his clients should be open and honest; the farrier should tell clients if he has come from a premises where there is illness, and clients should disclose if any of their horses are sick. If spreading disease is a concern, it may be wise to postpone the farrier work until the situation is resolved. In the alternative, the farrier should schedule the work at the “sick” farm as the last stop of the day.

Pantaleon said horses should be considered at risk for transmitting disease if they have any of these symptoms: fever, nasal discharge, swelling under the neck, or a wound that is draining and not healing. Horses that have returned to the farm after being hospitalized and new horses coming to the farm should be isolated for at least two weeks as a precaution.

Even when all the premises a farrier visits on a particular day appear to be “healthy,” Pantaleon said the farrier should observe some basic precautions.

“Ideally, in between farms, farriers should wash and sanitize their hands as a routine practice, and wash their shoes so they don't carry manure from farm to farm,” he said. “Wash them with a bucket of water, some soap, and a brush and spray disinfectant on the shoes.”

Equine Vet Examining HorseHe suggested using accelerated hydrogen peroxide (AHP) wipes to clean and disinfect hoof knives, nippers, and other tools. These wipes also work well to clean spots of blood, manure, or dirt off the farrier's apron. Finally, the farrier should wipe the steering wheel of his vehicle and his cell phone before leaving the farm.

“Maybe have two separate sets of aprons — one for sick horses and one for healthy horses,” Pantaleon said. “Then if the farrier has to go to a hospital or a farm where there is a sick horse, he would wear a different apron than the one he uses for healthy animals.

“They need to try to do the animals with a high risk [of spreading disease] at the end of the day and then go home, wash everything, wash their clothes, and then start fresh the next day.”

For farriers who spend the entire day on a single farm, Pantaleon suggested the farrier begin his day working on pregnant mares and foals, which can be more endangered by disease than other categories of horses on the farm. Then he can proceed through the other categories according to age — weanlings, then yearlings, and then adults — using basic biosecurity between those categories, unless the farm is dealing with sick horses.

Farriers during outbreaks

For horses in a quarantine area, a farrier should only be permitted access if he is needed to do emergency work on a foot. Dr. Kent Fowler, chief of the Animal Health Branch of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, follows a prescribed protocol for such circumstances, which include:

►Should be the last appointment of the day;

►Must disinfect all tools between horses and after the last horse;

►Must spray hat and shoeing apron with disinfectant, then wash hands and arms, and then change to a clean shirt before working on a new horse and after the last horse;

►Disinfect the cross-ties before, between, and after each horse;

►Wash hands and arms, and dip boots in disinfectant before getting back in their truck; and

►Clean and disinfect tires thoroughly when leaving a quarantined barn.

►Examples of approved disinfectants: 10 percent bleach (1/10), Lysol, or Noble Outfitters Stall Disinfectant.

Pantaleon said curbing the spread of disease is every horseman's responsibility.

“We humans are sometimes the ones who carry these pathogens from place to place, on our hands or shoes or clothes,” he said. “I think honesty is important, especially here in Central Kentucky's small community where we need to take care of each other. We can't go around spreading disease; it's not in anybody's best interest.”

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