How to Prevent Shipping Fever in Horses

shipping fever in horsesEvery time you gear up for a long road trip with your horse, ask yourself: am I prepared to prevent shipping fever?

Shipping fever in horses is a dangerous infection that can strike after long hours on the road. Unfortunately, there is no simple trick to preventing it—so it’s important to be aware of the many conditions that can invite shipping fever into your horse trailer.

We know how scary it can be to realize your four-legged best friend is sick. Today, we’d like to help our community learn more about shipping fever in horses, how to recognize it, and what steps you can take to prevent it.

What is shipping fever?

Shipping fever (also known as pleuropnemonia) is an infection in the horse’s lungs and “pleural cavity,” a fluid-filled space near the lungs.

Common symptoms of shipping fever in horses include:

  • Coughing
  • Lethargy
  • Foul-smelling nasal discharge
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Loss of appetite

Keep an eye out for symptoms in the days following your journey, as they don’t always appear immediately.

What causes shipping fever in horses?

Shipping fever can strike if a horse isn’t able to clear bacteria out of its lungs regularly. This can become a problem inside a trailer because when a horse is tied, its head can be held in an unnatural position, making it difficult to cough out irritants.

Meanwhile, dust from the road and irritants inside the trailer will necessarily be kicked up and inhaled by your horse as you drive. The stress of travel can further create a conducive environment for shipping fever.

These issues are less serious during short rides. But over the course of a long-distance journey, they can add up.

How can you prevent shipping fever in your horses?

1. Tie your horse’s head properly

Restricting your horse’s movement by tying its head too tight can prevent it from clearing its lungs properly. The key is to make sure your horse has room to drop its head and cough out any dust that has accumulated.

For longer trips, one option is to trailer horses in a box stall trailer, because they can ride loose without their heads needing to be tied.

2. Make frequent stops during your trip

Take breaks so your horse can unload, drop its head, and eat and drink water. You might even consider breaking up your journey over the course of a couple of days.

Not only will this allow your horse to clear out its lungs, it will prevent dehydration.

This principle remains true even if you’re using a box stall.

3. Clean your trailer before your trip

You can help protect your horse’s lungs by removing irritants that are already lingering in your trailer. Wash out your trailer to clear out dust and old hay, dried manure, and other sources of bacteria.

4. Ensure proper ventilation in your trailer

Inadequate ventilation can make your trailer much more inviting to shipping fever. Make sure there’s a stream of fresh air so your horse can breathe easier and keep cool.

5. Don’t travel with a horse that’s already sick

Just like with humans, sick and fatigued horses are more susceptible to additional illnesses. Any horse with a compromised immune system is at a greater risk for shipping fever during travel.

Make sure your horse is healthy and strong before you drive, so it can stay that way.


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