Horse Transport FAQ: Travel sickness in horses

FAQ: Travel sickness in horses

LOC horse transport travel horses to more countries than ever before and we know just how important it is to keep a very close eye on the horse during transport but also once it arrives at your yard.  Liz O’Connor writes on the after care and importance of care after travelling horses for long distances.

Travelling horses is such a common part of the equestrians’ life these days that we often don’t stop and think about the ill effects that it may have on our horses.

The very young/old/unfit or field kept horse travelling a short distance within the UK could be more at risk to travel sickness than a fit horse travelling for a week to a competition.

What is travel sickness?

Travel sickness as it is commonly known or ‘Pleuropneumonia’ is inflammation and fluid build up both within the lung and pleura. The pleura is the space between the lungs and chest wall. Horses develop pleuropneumonia from contamination of the lower respiratory tract, their lungs, with bacteria that normally occur in the upper respiratory tract, upper throat and nose.

When your horse travels its natural environment is disrupted.  His head is raised for longer periods than is natural, he often eats with his head raised and standing in one place instead of the typical grazing behaviour with his head down. He has limited space to be able to lower its head to snort and cough and clear its throat and lungs.

Travel sickness is a respiratory disease, so it is essential to keep the environment dust free. Hay and feed must be of good quality and dampened to avoid dust and the vehicle must be kept as clean as possible to avoid a build up of dust particles.  Ventilation is essential at all times unless the weather is extremely cold. Clean fresh air is very important.

Most experts agree that horses are particularly at risk when they can not lower their heads over a long time to clear their throats by coughing or snorting, this also enables the throat and airways to remain moist by saliva flow.  Environmental changes and the stress of travelling a horse have proven to weaken the horses’ immune system leaving it more susceptible to illness and to triggering infections.

Monitor closely

Be vigilant and monitor your horse after a long journey by road, sea and or air.

Immediately before, during and after travelling, horses should be monitored closely.  A log should be made of the horses’ temperature and general well-being, whether he has had a drink before loading and the consistency of any droppings.  Once your horse has been unloaded at the destination, he should be left for an hour or so before checking his temperature.  This will give his body temperature time to recover and return to normal. Normally, the temperature of your horse is between 37.5 - 38.5 degrees C.  If it is higher than normal then you should consult your vet. Droppings, water intake, temperature and general well-being should be monitored for at least 24 hours after the journey.

Early signs

Early signs of travel sickness are not limited to and can include:

  • Dull eye
  • Raised temperature
  • Coughing fits
  • Dehydration
  • Lack of interest in food
  • Discharge from the nostrils
  • Change in dropping consistency
  • Rapid breathing
  • Pawing the ground
  • Unwillingness to move around.

Immediate veterinary advice should be sought if any signs of travel sickness are apparent as this disease can be quickly debilitating.

Preventative measures

Whilst travel sickness is not wholly preventable, we have included “Best Practices” for travelling your horse, as prevention is better than cure.

  • Do not over rug your horse whilst travelling, ideally no rug or a very light breathable type should be used.  When the horse is in transit there will be heat from other horses, from being in a confined space, from outside weather conditions and from the tarmac and road conditions.  Once your horse has been unloaded he may benefit from a lightweight breathable rug as the travelling conditions will always be warmer than the stable or field.  We recommend a microfibre or thermatex material rug should be used as this is breathable and will allow air to circulate, keeping the horse at the optimum temperature.
  • Allow your horse 24 hours of complete rest after the journey to recover from fatigue and dehydration.
  • Make sure that all his food and water are on the floor for at least 48-72 hours after the journey and not in feeders up off the ground.  This will encourage your horse to lower his head to ensure that mucus can be cleared.

Pre and Post Travel check list:

  • Take your horse’s temperature prior to travelling.
  • Take rest for the horse whilst travelling long distances to allow the horses head to lower to the ground.
  • Use good quality hay/haylage on the lorry.
  • Take temperature of the horse one hour after unloading.
  • Monitor the horse prior to transit, whilst in transit and after unloading for any of the above signs of travel sickness
  • Keep a record of droppings, regularity of passing droppings, and consistency.
  • Keep the local vets number saved on your mobile phone and pinned up in the tack room.
  • Allow the horse to rest and relax in a quiet place after transport.
  • Have a light weight breathable rug to hand. AND MOST IMPORTANTLY

FEED AND WATER  YOUR HORSE FROM THE GROUND ENCOURAGING THE HORSE TO LOWER HIS HEAD.

Recognising the signs that your horse may be tired or unwell from travelling is not always easy but good horse husbandry can go a long way to helping your horse bounce back to his usual self after a long trip. The symptoms of travel sickness can sometimes not emerge for 2 or 3 days so it is important the keep a vigilant eye on the horse and check for all the signs of travel sickness for up to 3-4 days.

Travel sickness can be dangerous as the symptoms are often ignored, if your horse has any signs of travel sickness at any stage throughout its journey or for 3-4 days after you should call the vet immediately as it is better to be cautious.

International horse transport by road, by sea, by air

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