Diseases, Vaccines

West Nile Virus in Horses

West Nile Virus (WNV) is a small virus that can affect both humans and horses. The virus is a mosquito-borne disease that can cause Encephalitis. Most of us are familiar with the Eastern and Western Encephalitis viruses in horses, but don’t think about West Nile Virus Encephalitis. West Nile Encephalitis is described as an inflammation of the central nervous system. Younger and older individuals are the most susceptible to the virus.

Transmission of West Nile Virus in Horses

Mosquitoes bite, or take a blood meal, from wild birds that are infected with West Nile and pick up the virus. These mosquitoes can then transmit the virus to people and other animals, including horses, when biting. Infections occur primarily in the late summer or early fall, but can happen any time during the mosquito season. Migratory birds are thought to spread the disease, and accounts in the late summer to fall increase near migration areas. Recently, the incident has increased in many states; this is alarming as treatment is not easy and not always successful.

Symptoms of West Nile in Horses

West Nile Virus exposure does not always lead to signs of illness in people or animals. Some common signs of West Nile in horses include:

  • Fever
  • Weakness of hind limbs
  • Paralysis of hind limbs
  • Impaired vision
  • Ataxia (weakness)
  • Head pressing
  • Aimless wandering
  • Convulsions (seizures)
  • Inability to swallow
  • Walking in circles
  • Hyperexcitability
  • Coma

West Nile can cause any or all of the above signs. Your horse should be examined immediately by a veterinarian if he starts exhibiting them. Many other diseases, including Eastern and Western Encephalitis, can mimic WNV. From clinical signs, it is hard to tell what Encephalitis causes without spinal fluid testing.

West Nile Treatment in Horses

West Nile treatment in horses is difficult and involves supporting the horse until they can fend off the virus. It is important to note there is no specific treatment for WNV. That makes prevention even more vital to your horse’s health.

Prevention with the West Nile Vaccine for Horses

The Equine Nile vaccine is the only protection available for horses. We recommend Prestige V + WNV, a killed version of West Nile. Mosquito control is also important to protect animals and humans. Eliminate standing water and containers that hold standing water. Discourage birds from living around your stable. Use sprays that are safe for the environment to control the mosquito population. Cedarcide™ YardSafe, Country Vet® Mosquito & Fly Spray, or Permethrin 10% work to kill mosquitoes and are long-lasting.

There is no way to prevent mosquitoes from biting your horse, but you can prevent the virus from becoming an issue. There is a equine vaccine that can help protect horses from getting West Nile Virus disease. If you have not vaccinated for WNV, order the West Nile vaccine for horses today. You and your horse will be glad you did!

If you more questions on West Nile in horses, call us at 800.786.4751.

Written by: Donald Bramlage, DVM

Donald Bramlage, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, practiced veterinary medicine for 30+ years and is known for his work in managing parvovirus. He received his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Kansas State University in 1985. He served as Revival’s Director of Veterinary Services from 2011 until his retirement in 2019.

If you need help, call us at 800.786.4751.