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What is Shipping Fever?



Shipping fever (pleuropneumonia) is a combined infection of the lung and pleural cavity. Horses can succumb to this illness when being transported for long distances. The illness can be fatal and so it is something that all owners should be aware of.


You might think that it is enough to bandage your horse’s legs, to supply them with a hay net and to secure then safely when travelling but there is more that you should do.

Long journeys are becoming increasingly common. Competition horses are now being flown across the globe and horses are transported long distances by road within the UK and across Europe. The risk of shipping fever increases with the length of the journey but the distance travelled is not the only risk factor.

Increased Risks on the Road


When on the road horses can consume less feed and water and this can mean that they easily become dehydrated. Dehydration will impact the lung’s defence mechanisms which help to clear infectious material. This will leave a horse more vulnerable to infection.

Inadequate ventilation in the horse box or trailer can mean that there is a higher concentration of irritants in the environment. The ammonia in urine is an irritant as are extreme temperatures.

When horses are in transit the fact that they are tied up means that they are standing in an unnatural, head high position. This makes it difficult for their bodies to clear mucus from the airway and then bacteria can spread to the lower airway causing an infection.

If horses become stressed during their journey, this makes the situation even worse. When the body is under stress the hormone cortisol is produced and this decreases immunity.

What You Can Do


So how should you prepare your horse for a long journey? It might help if you drain mucus from your horse’s airways by encouraging them to lower their heads during breaks in the journey. Give them access to tubs of feed or treats which are at floor level when you stop for a break. Talking of breaks, make sure that you take them regularly and that when you do, you unload your horse and allow them to move about.

Air quality is extremely important. It is easy to improve this when on the road as you can open windows and clear out dirty bedding. Things are more complicated on an aeroplane. Here it is essential to provide low-dust bedding such as rubber matting and to feed well-soaked hay.

Don’t travel if your horse shows any signs of being under the weather. Take their temperature before you set off to ensure that there are no health issues brewing.

The Symptoms of Shipping Fever


• Lethargy, depression and loss of appetite
• Cough
• A nasal discharge
• A high temperature
• In severe cases, shallow breaths and a sore chest

An infected horse may never return to normal function but their prognosis will depend on the severity of the infection. Early diagnosis improves horses’ chances of recovery. The majority of cases of pleuropneumonia are related to long distance travel but the disease can also occur after strenuous exercise, surgery and following other infections.

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