You hear the raspy cough coming from the third stall, and you wince. Even if you’ve been careful about preventing infectious diseases on your farm, you know you can’t stop them all. Unfortunately, disease outbreaks do happen. But what you do next is what can make the difference in the outcome of that outbreak.

First things first: consider the risk of the symptom. Certain clinical signs should always raise red flags with owners and barn managers, as they could be early indicators of infectious disease, said Roberta M. Dwyer, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVPM, professor in the University of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environment and director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Veterinary Science.

“Coughing, diarrhea, fever, and neurologic symptoms including behavior changes should all be considered seriously,” Dwyer said. “My rule of thumb is that you should consider diseases (especially with these symptoms) to be contagious until proven otherwise.”

Certain skin lesions such as round patches of hair loss could also be signs of something contagious (ringworm, for example), but these diseases are not usually as medically serious, she says. If you suspect an infectious disease, don’t panic, but do keep your horse in an isolated area and call your veterinarian immediately.

In the meantime, take the horse’s temperature, pulse, and respiration rates, and look at his gums. If you don’t know how to do these things yourself, it could be a good idea to get training for these basic care tasks, Dwyer said. “This is the sort of information you could relay to your veterinarian