What is Shipping Fever?
When fluid is present in both the lungs and the pleural cavity, your horse is in extreme pain and will most likely be reluctant to move. Symptoms of shipping fever can begin to present during traveling or immediately after traveling up, to about one week after traveling.
There are ways to help your horse travel better and prevent shipping fever from occurring. Frequent breaks during the trip are important to allow your horse the opportunity to move out of the travel trailer and stretch their legs. This gives them a chance to expand their lungs and keep fluid from building up.
Shipping fever, or pleuropneumonia, involves the lungs and the pleural cavity. The pleural cavity is the space located between the chest wall and the lungs. Shipping fever is a severe infection that is many times caused by the stress of traveling.
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Symptoms of Shipping Fever in Horses
When you are traveling with your horse, be sure to watch them carefully for any of these symptoms and seek immediate treatment. Upon reaching your destination, continue to keep a close eye on your horse for up to a week to ensure that shipping fever is not developing. Contact a veterinarian immediately if you notice any of these symptoms.
- Foul nasal discharge
- Deep cough
- Refusal to eat
- Elevated temperature
- Shallow breathing
- Reluctance to move or lie down
- Anxious facial expressions
- Standing with elbows abducted
- Stiff gait
Causes of Shipping Fever in Horses
Shipping fever is a viral respiratory infection that is generally associated with long distance travel, strenuous exercise programs, and general anesthesia. These can impair lung functions and allow a secondary bacterial infection to begin.
Head restraints can contribute to bacterial contamination and the multiplication of the bacteria within the lower respiratory tract. This can lead to a massive infection within a very short time.
Most horses diagnosed with shipping fever are racing or sport horses that are under five years of age. These horses are not used to inactivity and long distance traveling can cause severe problems for them.
Diagnosis of Shipping Fever in Horses
Most veterinarians will be able to diagnose shipping fever in horses based on the clinical signs that have presented. Be sure to tell your veterinarian if your horse has recently had to travel. If you are on the road and your horse falls ill, locate your nearest large animal emergency clinic for immediate care.
An ultrasound may be used to verify that there is fluid built up within the lungs and the pleural cavity. If there is only fluid in the lungs then your horse has developed pneumonia. If there is a large amount of fluid within the lungs and the pleural cavity, some of the fluid may be drawn and then analyzed so the treatments can be tailored to the infection.
Treatment of Shipping Fever in Horses
Once your veterinarian has diagnosed shipping fever in your horse, a treatment plan will be put in place and will need to be followed as directed. Any questions or concerns regarding your horse’s treatment for shipping fever should be directed to your veterinarian.
Chest drains may need to be inserted into the pleural cavity and a pleural lavage may need to be performed to flush the cavity. A sterile solution will be used to flush out the bacterial infection.
Antibiotics will need to be given for several weeks. Most likely your veterinarian will prescribe a broad spectrum antibiotic to ensure that the infection has been completely cleared. Anti-inflammatory medication may also be used to reduce any swelling caused by the fluid build up.
Supportive care, including IV fluids, may be necessary while your horse is in a weakened state. Once your horse begins recovering and gaining strength, IV fluids will be discontinued. Daily ultrasounds will also be part of the supportive care to monitor the fluids within the lungs and pleural cavity and ensure that the fluid is draining.
Recovery of Shipping Fever in Horses
Your veterinarian will discuss the expected prognosis for your horse. Depending on the severity of the shipping fever and how quickly treatments are started, your horse may fully recover but only after months of aggressive treatments. There have been cases where shipping fever has been fatal; immediate medical attention is vital for your horse.
The best thing for your horse is to take precautions when traveling. Be sure to give your horse plenty of room in the travel trailer to reach and to put their head down; do not tightly restrain their head. Allowing their head to be down encourages the nasal passages to drain. Give food and water during the trip, preferably during scheduled breaks. Be sure to schedule long enough breaks so your horse can stretch and have plenty of time out of the travel trailer. Low dust bedding should be used in the travel trailer and all urine and manure should be removed regularly.
Shipping Fever Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
I may probably have the right answer but will ask question anyways. Can shipping fever be contagious . I have 2 mini foals who travelled 24 hours to my destination. Shorty nose tired still eating and drinking and nursing well. One a colt has a bit of liquid stool but after 48 hrs is starting to solidify. Presently on long acting penicillin and omega alpha air waves .
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