Coronavirus: Can Horses be Affected?

March 26, 2020


As we all know, coronavirus (also known as COVID-19) is running rampant in what is now a worldwide pandemic, not to mention spurring global panic. The virus has galloped into the United States, which has left society fearful, wary and uncertain. Much of this uncertainty and fear has propagated concerns regarding if animals can also contract and spread coronavirus.


However, there is no evidence that COVID-19 can be transmitted from animals to people. While it is still too early to tell if animal-to-people spread should be a concern, so far, it seems unlikely. The main issue is prevalent people-to-people spread. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), “Transmission primarily occurs when there is contact with an infected person's bodily secretions, such as saliva or mucus droplets in a cough or sneeze. Transmission via touching a contaminated surface or object (i.e., a fomite) and then touching the mouth, nose, or possibly eyes is also possible, but appears to be a secondary route. Smooth (non-porous) surfaces (e.g., countertops, door knobs) transmit viruses better than porous materials (e.g., paper money, pet fur) because porous, especially fibrous, materials absorb and trap the pathogen (virus), making it harder to contract through simple touch.”


Even if you are not sick, maintaining good hygiene is crucial to ensuring your animals and you are healthy and happy. For extra cautionary measures, the AVMA recommends to “limit contact with animals until more information is known about the virus.”


It is important to know that coronaviruses affecting domestic pets such as dogs and cats is still up for debate, but horses and cows do have a history with equine coronavirus (ECoV) and bovine coronavirus (BCV), respectively. Equus Magazine wrote about a novel coronavirus outbreak affecting not just foals - which had previously been the virus’s main target - but adult horses as well. While some strains of coronavirus can wreak havoc on the entire body, “many strains tend to attack only epithelial cells lining the respiratory tract or the intestinal wall, creating localized infections in those places. In the intestine, the viruses tend to damage the villi - the fingerlike projections that line the tract - leading to malabsorption and diarrhea.” However, in most cases, horses completely recover. Like humans, old age and other health conditions can factor into how serious a horse’s case will be, but horses generally show symptoms within 48 to 72 hours, and most cases are not severe. 


There is no cure for coronavirus, but it can be diagnosed using polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which means creating numerous copies of a DNA segment. Usually, supportive care is given for horses that test positive for coronavirus. As of now, the best method to prevent its spread is to quarantine the sick horse. Equus Magazine advises to keep the sick horse separated from the healthy horses, have different people care for the healthy and sick horses, and use good hygiene to keep yourself healthy. This is especially important if you are the sole caretaker of your horses.


Be mindful, be safe, and most importantly, stay healthy and kind. If you suspect your horse may have coronavirus or if you have any questions or concerns regarding your horse’s health, contact your local veterinarian.


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