Since horses normally are confined in closer proximity to each other in stalls or barns for extended periods of time during the winter (often in poorly-ventilated enclosures), the opportunities for disease-causing organisms are greater, according to Dr. Gary Heusner, University of Georgia Extension Service equine specialist.
"We often receive questions on how to sanitize or disinfect horse facilities such as stalls, paddocks or pastures after a disease outbreak has occurred," Heusner said. "It is almost impossible whenever dirt and organic matter (wood, feces, feed) are involved to disinfect a typical horse barn and facilities." He added that disinfecting means to free from pathogenic (disease-causing) organisms or to render them inert.
"In most cases, the best we can to do in barns is to sanitize," he said. "Sanitation will reduce the levels of pathogens and improve conditions for the horses to remain healthy."
Of the known common equine pathogens, clostridial organisms are the most difficult to kill, Heusner said, because they are spore-forming bacteria, found in feces and soil. Clostridial diseases such as tetanus and botulism are individual animal diseases and outbreaks are not common.
The contagious disease-causing pathogens of most concern in horses are the bacteria Salmonella spp (disease=salmonella); Streptococcus equi (disease=strangles); and Rhodococcus equi (diseases=pneumonia and diarrhea). Viral diseases that are contagious and of concern in horses are the rotavirus (diseases=foal diarrhea); and influenza virus, (disease=respiratory disease).
How can you sanitize paddocks or pastures? According to Hesuner, there is no safe way to kill equine pathogens in soil. "If chemical disinfectants are used to sanitize soil, normal flora that keeps the paddock and pasture soil healthy also will be destroyed," he said. "The best thing to do is to remove feces from dirt paddocks. Proper pasture maintenance such as dragging during dry periods to dry out manure, reseeding bare spots, and not overgrazing will help to reduce the potential spread of equine pathogens."
Checking soil ph of pastures also will tell whether you may need to lime. If the ph is low, adding lime will improve the fertility of the pastures and at the same time help to reduce pathogenic organisms.
To sanitize or attempt to disinfect a stall or paddock, as much organic matter should be removed from the stall as possible, Heusner said. This means taking all the bedding out of the stall and sweeping the walls. He added that it's then best to use a pressure washer and a strong detergent to wash all surfaces.
Some areas that are heavily stained may have to be scrubbed by hand. After all surfaces are cleaned and rinsed, remove as much water or moisture as possible. The only types of disinfectants that have any effect in the presence of organic matter are phenolic compounds. Two phenolic compounds with greater than 20 percent active ingredients are Tek-Trol and 1-Stroke-Environ. However, there are other phenolic compounds on the market.
"Use the phenolic compound in a sprayer and spray all surfaces of the stall including the floor and allow to dry; do not rinse," Heusner said. "If an outbreak of infectious disease is ongoing, repeat the spraying and drying of the disinfectant. Buckets and any other portable feeding or drinking vessels should be scrubbed, disinfected and rinsed." He added that anything a horse will eat or drink from should be rinsed of the disinfectant once it has dried.
"It is difficult, if not impossible, to disinfect typical horse facilities," he said. "However, with enough elbow grease, the use of proper disinfectants, and the proper preventative measures such as a routine, complete vaccination schedule, isolation of newly-arrived horses for 10-14 days, and isolation of sick horses, disease outbreaks can be held in check."
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