Shipping fever in horses!


Shipping fever is an infection that horses can get from traveling, in a trailer or an airplane. It’s typically seen in horses that have traveled over 4 hours or so, but as we all know horses don’t always fit the mold!


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Shipping fever is a bacterial infection of the lungs and pleural space around the lungs, aka pleuropneumonia.


  • How do horses catch shipping fever? Well, in the trailer or plane, a horse is typically tied with his head up, often for hours on end. Add to that dusty conditions, perhaps urine and/or manure in the box or trailer, poor ventilation, perhaps some extreme temps, dehydration and decreased hay intake, and of course travel stress, and you have a recipe for illness. For more on long-distance traveling – read this!


horses on a plane

Horses on a plane!


  • The high head position in a trailer or plane creates a situation in which the horse can’t clear mucus from his respiratory system. This makes a wonderful breeding ground for bacterial infections – especially if you have other stressors involved.


horse thermometer with attached string

Take your horse’s temp often – even for days after you arrive. But you do that anyway, right?


Help prevent shipping fever


  • You have a few options, and it’s best to attack from all angles to keep your horse healthy. Help to keep your horse hydrated. Use soaked hay in your hay nets, and offer water at every rest stop you take. You may also talk with your Veterinarian about giving IV fluids before a trip.


  • Have adequate ventilation in the trailer, but be sure it’s safe ventilation. If you have windows, please use screens so that your horse’s eyes are protected from debris and road dust.


  • Stop frequently and for longer periods of time if you can. If you can safely remove any manure and urine from the trailer, go for it. Consider lining your trailer with recycled cardboard or paper bedding, it’s much less dusty than shavings. It’s generally unsafe to go without shavings, manure and urine on mats or a wood floor can be slippery and can cause your horse to fall.


horses with their heads out of a horse trailer

Stops are helpful along the way – water and a stretch, and let them have a break from balancing in the rig for hours.


  • If you have options of how your horse will travel, a loose box is best if that is appropriate for your horse.


  • Slant loads and rigs where your horse faces backward are also the best alternatives for trailer positioning, but this doesn’t mean putting your horse in backward in a two-horse straight.


Signs of shipping fever


  • You will need to monitor your horse very closely for a few days after your travels.


  • Signs of shipping fever include depression, decreased appetite, cough, runny nose, shallow breath, and a fever.


  • I can’t stress this enough – many horses will appear to be totally healthy, even with a fever of 102 or more. Don’t wait for signs of shipping fever.


  • Check your horse’s TPR at least twice daily for a few days. Isolation procedures and a call to your Veterinarian are in order if you suspect shipping fever.

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05/08/2024 12:18 am GMT

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