Preventing Disease Spread: Don’t Forget About Farriers

Most horse owners are familiar with practical ways to reduce the risk of equine contagious diseases such as vaccination and avoiding contact with sick horses. However, diseases can be spread by many routes including insects, contact with contaminated surfaces, aerosols or droplets from saliva or nasal secretions of a horse with respiratory disease, and ingestion of fecal material from a horse with intestinal disease. People can become contaminated by these bacteria and viruses too, most often on skin, clothing, footwear and equipment. The person could then unwittingly carry the organism to other horses, not just within a barn but to other barns as well.

Your veterinarian is trained to work on sick horses but your farrier may not be. Both need to take precautions to avoid becoming the source of infection for horses that they will work on next. A farrier routinely travels from farm to farm handling horses, walking through barn aisles, and using the same tools to tend to all his or her clients’ horses. The farrier, the farrier tools, and the farrier’s vehicle have the potential to become contaminated if the farrier works on a horse that is shedding a contagious bacteria or virus.

How can the risk of accidental transmission of contagious diseases by a farrier be minimized? The first step is to establish barn policies regarding stable entry and human handling of horses in the event of a suspected or confirmed contagious disease. These should be based on the recommendations of the barn’s veterinarian. Open communication between the barn manager or horse owner and the farrier should occur before a farrier appointment if there is a suspected or known contagious disease in the barn or in the area. This communication provides the opportunity to either reschedule the appointment or prepare precautions before arrival. It also allows the farrier to plan ahead, bringing a change of clothes, a separate pair of boots, and perhaps extra tools. He or she might also elect to make your farm the last appointment of the day.

The precautions can be modified to best suit the specific disease, barn layout, location of the sick or exposed horses, foals, and ease of implementation. Attention to hygiene becomes critically important if there is a confirmed contagious disease outbreak such as strangles, rhinopneumonitis, influenza, or rotavirus – either at your barn or in the surrounding area. State quarantine regulations may also come into play.

Commonly used preventive precautions include mandatory use of a boot brush and disinfectant foot bath, hand washing, and choosing an easily cleaned site for farrier work. An impermeable surface like concrete or rubber is best. Be sure you have an effective veterinarian-recommended disinfectant available to the farrier for disinfecting equipment and for the footbath. If none are available, dilute bleach can be used for the footbath. Even if the farrier only handles an affected or exposed horse’s lower limbs, that individual and his or her clothing and equipment could easily become contaminated with viruses or bacteria from a horse’s nasal secretions, saliva, or manure on the hooves. When the farrier is finished with the potentially contagious horse, the farrier needs to carefully clean all organic material off the equipment and footwear that are potentially contaminated with nasal secretions, saliva, pus, or manure. The equipment and footwear can then be disinfected according to the label directions of the product. His or her hands, arms and other exposed skin surfaces should be washed well and disinfected with an appropriate product for skin. Contaminated clothes should be placed in a large trash bag for later machine washing separated from other laundry.

Even when there is not an active disease outbreak, it’s important to be vigilant. If there is any possibility that a horse may have been exposed to or is coming down with a contagious disease, inform the farrier before he or she begins work. Then either reschedule the horse to be trimmed and shod after he recovers or, at the very least, have the farrier work on him after all other horses he or she has scheduled that day (on the farm or along the route). This will help reduce potential spread of these organisms and allow the farrier time to clean and disinfect before beginning anew the following day.

By Julia Wilson, DVM, DACVIM
Courtesy of AAEP