How to Set Up an Equine Disease Isolation Unit on Your Farm

An effective isolation area can help contain an infectious disease outbreak. Here’s what you need to know.
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horse isolation
An effective isolation area can help contain an infectious disease outbreak. | Photo: Courtesy Dr. Katie Flynn

If your horse contracts an infectious disease, it’s critical that you isolate him from other horses to prevent the spread of infection. It is also important to prevent indirect exposure, such as when people handling an infected horse spread the pathogen to other horses via physical contact and equipment sharing.

Isolation requirements vary based on the infectious agent. For controlling some infections isolation can be as simple as stall confinement, if the stall is secure and the horse is not able to reach horses that walk by or are housed next to him.   

But if a horse has a fever and neurologic signs consistent with equine herpesvirus-1 infection, for instance, he might be carrying high levels of the virus and become a primary source of spread. Work with your veterinarian to move the horse to an alternate facility or isolated area.  

Restrict the movement of (i.e., confine to a barn, part of a barn, or area) any horses that were kept adjacent to the infected and now isolated patient, and take their temperatures twice daily until a veterinarian determines the nature of the infection. Institute a quarantine of that focal area, and limit access to and from it. Exercise horses housed there only when uninfected horses are not in the area.

An effective isolation barn has these characteristics:

  • It is well-separated from other barns and horse traffic.
  • It can be cordoned off to control human traffic in and out of the area.
  • Horses stalled adjacent to each other cannot directly contact one another.
  • It has cleanable nonporous surfaces, including walls and flooring (mats). Use liquid laundry detergent mixed with water for cleaning stalls (this is also useful for cleaning trailers). A 10% bleach solution is a good general disinfectant. Keep in mind that organic material and direct sunlight inactivate bleach. Discuss safe disinfectant use, including dilution, with your veterinarian. The disinfectant choice and use might vary based on the infectious agent at hand.
  • It is reserved only for use by those horses suspected as infected and not by other horses at any time.
  • It has disinfectable water buckets and feeders and separate equipment (wheelbarrows, pitchforks, etc.) used only in the isolation barn and disinfected after use.
  • It has a sink for hand-washing and a treatment area. Reserve space for storing items needed for biosecurity, such as gloves, disposable coveralls, boots, disinfectant, footbath stations (plastic tubs), and separate garbage collection. Convert a stall into a storage area during an outbreak, if needed.

The length of the movement-restriction period depends on whether other horses on the property develop a fever during the next seven to 10 days. Quarantine can be lifted after the last horse to develop fever or clinical signs is disease-free, as confirmed by your veterinarian.

Equipment needed to set up an effective quarantine area includes:

RELATED CONTENT: Infographic: Managing a Horse Disease Outbreak
  • Treatment carts;
  • Painters’ disposable coveralls;
  • Disposable gloves;
  • Rubber boots;
  • Foot bath containers;
  • Garbage bags;
  • Garbage cans with secure lids;
  • Disposable plastic shoe covers;
  • Dedicated thermometer for each horse;
  • Dedicated equipment for each horse; and
  • Appropriate signage.  

Anyone entering the isolation barn should follow appropriate sanitation measures, including:

  • Wearing rubber boots dipped in a prescribed foot bath and/or disposable booties.
  • Using disposable or dedicated gowns or coveralls for each horse stall.
  • Changing disposable gloves between handling each horse.
  • Wearing a treatment coat over the reusable coveralls.
  • Showering or changing clothes before touching other horses if contaminated while treating an infected horse.
  • Washing hands for 60 seconds (or singing “Happy Birthday” twice at normal tempo) before entering or leaving the isolation area. Using disposable towels and depositing them in a covered waste container at the hand-washing site.
  • Setting up a perimeter around the stall area to limit entry and traffic. You can designate this perimeter with ropes, construction fencing, and so forth. Restrict random access to this area, and provide only one entry and exit.
  • Installing appropriate lighting for easier assessment and treatment.

Adopting this equipment and these methods can mean the difference between an extended outbreak with multiple cases and one that is brought to conclusion expediently.


Written by:

Claudia Sonder, DVM, is the director of the Center for Equine Health at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine.

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