Travel Sickness in Horses

Many of us have heard of Travel sickness, but what is it and how can we spot it early so our horses have optimum recovery

Most of us at some time or another will have to transport our horses over a long distance whether its moving to a new house, for competition or sending your horse to its new forever home. Regardless of whether you transport them yourself or get a professional you should still be aware of the signs of travel sickness and what you can do to help.

Firstly, what is travel sickness, the proper name is pleuropneumonia, it is a respiratory infection that affects the lungs and pleural (chest) cavity of horses, a bacterial pneumonia that if not treated quickly can become serious if not fatal. The stress of travel combined with changes in the horse’s environment can leave them susceptible to the disease. Your horse is designed to be grazing in a paddock with its head lowered nearly 24 hours a day, when floating, your horse is keeping its head elevated and for long periods of time not allowing normal clearance of their airways. A horse normally secretes mucosal discharge from its nose, if for whatever reason a horse cannot lower their head to expel this discharge it can drain backwards down the trachea and into their lungs. This combined with the stress of travel, increased temperature, dust etc can leave them open to developing travel sickness.

Things you can do to help avoid travel sickness:

  • Place feed and water at a safe low height during travel, give plenty of lead rope so they can lower their head
  • Take breaks every 3-4 hours even if it’s just to offer your horse a drink and a pick of grass this will allow them to get their heads down even for a short period of time.
  • Keep them hydrated as best as possible during travel and on arrival
  • Soak hay or dampen feed to avoid dusk
  • During breaks remove manure or urine from float to reduce ammonia smell
  • Make sure they have plenty of air ventilation
  • Restrict travel distance to a maximum of 12 hours
  • Allow recovery time on arrival and reduce strenuous exercise after a long trip
  • If your horse is showing any signs of not being well prior to departure DO NOT TRAVEL
  • Do not administer any unnecessary medications before travel
  • And most important of all MONITOR take the horses temperature prior to transport, during transport and soon after arrival

The symptoms of travel sickness may not appear for 2-3 days after transport so it’s extremely important to continue to monitor your horse after arrival, take temperatures daily and if possible, twice daily. The disease can progress at a rapid rate so keeping a close eye on your horse is key to early detection and treatment.

Below are some early signs of travel sickness all of which can appear within 24 hours of travel:

  • High temperature
  • Cough
  • Lethargy/dullness
  • Increased heart and respiratory rates
  • Loss of appetite/thirst
  • Dehydration
  • Nasal discharge
  • Hot/sore feet

If you suspect your horse is developing symptoms of travel sickness call you veterinarian immediately early intervention is key to optimum recovery. If undetected or you might just say to yourself “he’s not too bad I will see what he’s like tomorrow”, travel sickness has the potential to worsen quickly, don’t take the wait and see option with the hope your horse will get better, the disease is harder to treat the more advanced it becomes. Travel sickness is generally treated with broad-spectrum antibiotics with additional use of anti-inflammatories to make the horse more comfortable. Be prepared to give your horse a holiday they will need a rest to recover, how long depends on how sick they become your veterinarian will advise you on this. Remember preparation is key so plan your trip and monitor your horse closely early detection is paramount for a successful recovery, we all love our horses and want to see them get to their destinations in a healthy happy condition.


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