What equestrians need to know about Equine Flu

I’m sure that we’ve all noticed a recent increase in cancelled events, not to mention the ramping up of passport checks at horse shows. It’s definitely had a noticeable effect, but why is there such alarm? Well, the answer is Equine Flu.

It has an impact on all of us equestrians, whether we’re out competing, be it show jumping, dressage, eventing and the like, or if we’re simply travelling to a pole clinic held at a local facility. We’ve put together this guide to help you know the facts about the virus affecting the equestrian community in the UK.

What exactly is Equine Flu?

To use its full name, Equine Influenza is a respiratory infection that affects horses, donkeys and mules. Though there are reported cases of the flu passing to dogs, there’s no record of it ever being passed from horse to rider.

How do horses catch Equine Flu?

The virus is highly contagious and spreads through any contact with contaminated surfaces. This might be at a yard, show ground, in a field, or through air exhaled by an infected horse. It’s more likely to impact young, weak or older horses.

Is Equine Flu fatal?

The virus can be fatal, but it’s rare. Usually, the initial infection subsides after 1–3 days, though while the damaged airways heal, your horse will still be vulnerable to secondary bacterial infections. The virus can also lead to pneumonia and lung or heart disease, which can be fatal.

Equine Flu prevention ideas

There are two key ways to prevent Equine Flu:

Equine Vaccinations

The first and most obvious way to prevent Equine Flu is to ensure that your horse is vaccinated!
To provide effective immunity against influenza, your horse should be given a primary course of 3 vaccinations, supplemented by boosters. Following the first dose of the initial course, the second needs to be given 21 to 92 days later, and the third 150 to 215 days after that. Annual boosters should then be administered.

Your vet should notify you ahead of schedule to let you know your horse is due a vaccination. However, it may be best to check your horse’s passport to make sure you aren’t close to missing a dose. If this does happen, then you’ll have to start the course all over again.

Are vaccinations effective?

Some equestrians have been questioning the effectiveness of vaccination against Equine Flu, given the number of recorded infections in horses who have had their jabs.
As a response, one of the leading equine hospitals in the UK, Liphook, released a statement:

“Horse owners shouldn’t lose confidence in vaccination as it will make the situation worse, and is not simply a case of vaccine failure.”

Check out the full article here to see what else Liphook had to say.

Reduce the chance of exposure from affected zones

This may sound easy, but it’s just as important as getting your horse vaccinated.
It can include simple measures like making sure you wash your hands when in contact with multiple horses, as well as keeping equipment and surfaces clean.

But let’s take it further! Tackle that yard deep clean that you’ve been talking about since the start of spring when the weather started to improve. Clean the feed and water buckets, tack, rugs, and stables. Why not give the rusty old tractor a wash while you’re at it?

The final way to reduce exposure to avoid infected yards. If you know of a yard that has a case of Equine Flu, only pay a visit if you absolutely have to, and then upon your return make sure you disinfect everything.

Equine Flu symptoms

  • A high temperature of 39–41 C (103–106 F)
  • A harsh, dry cough
  • A clear, watery nasal discharge that may become thick and yellow or green
  • Enlarged nymph nodes under the lower jaw
  • Clear discharge from the eyes and redness around eyes
  • Tiredness
  • Loss or lack of appetite
  • Filling of the lower limbs
  • If your horse is suffering from any of the above symptoms, contact your vet as soon as possible.

Treatment & recovery

Unfortunately, there are no ‘wonder-drugs’ that can cure horses with Equine Flu, so treatment is about support and rest.

Anti-inflammatory drugs may be prescribed by your vet to bring temperatures back down to normal, as well as to reduce muscle soreness, improve your horse’s mood and encourage eating and drinking.

If a secondary bacterial infection occurs due to airway damage, antibiotics may be required. It’s worthwhile noting that some vets give them early in severe cases of Equine Flu in order to pre-empt and prevent any secondary infections.

Following the flu, it can take between 1–2 months to fully recover and it’s really important that your horse rests throughout this time. It’s been suggested that for every day a horse suffered a temperature due to the virus, a week-off should be given to recover. That’s the best way to reduce the risk of long-term lung damage, heart disease or pneumonia.


Though not necessarily fatal, Equine Flu can lead to serious secondary infections. However, caught early enough, and with the correct treatment, most horses make a speedy recovery back to full health.

We hope you found this blog helpful. If you have any comments or questions, we would love to hear from you.

To find out more about Equine Flu and stay up to date with the latest reported outbreaks, we think the Animal Health Trust’s website is a really useful tool.

Let us know if you have any other tips or advice in the comments!