Contagious Equine Metritis

There are at least 25 countries in the world where contagious equine metritis (CEM) exists, or has been known to exist sometime in the past, in the native equid population (meaning horses, mules, donkeys, etc.). These countries include

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There are at least 25 countries in the world where contagious equine metritis (CEM) exists, or has been known to exist sometime in the past, in the native equid population (meaning horses, mules, donkeys, etc.). These countries include England, Ireland, France, Germany, and other member states of the European Union. The United States is considered “free” of CEM, meaning the disease does not occur in the native equid population. However, some instances of CEM in what is considered “native” stock, as well as imported Warmblood stallions, have raised questions on whether we are doing enough to protect our animals from importing this highly contagious disease (see Viewpoint).


CEM is a highly contagious venereal infection of all equids caused by the bacterium Taylorella equigenitalis. It was first recognized as a previously undescribed disease in horses in 1977. That year, there was an outbreak of venereal disease in Thoroughbred breeding animals in the United Kingdom and Ireland. According to research published by Peter J. Timoney, FRCVS, PhD, former head of the Gluck Equine Research Center in Kentucky, since that first report in 1977, CEM has been recorded in various horse populations throughout the world, including those in many European countries, plus Japan, Australia, and North and South America.



“Contagious equine metritis continues to be the focus of considerable international concern, not only because of its potential to cause widespread, short-term infertility in broodmares, but also because of the ease with which the carrier state can be established in stallions and mares.”
–Dr. Peter Timoney
“Contagious equine metritis continues to be the focus of considerable international concern, not only because of its potential to cause widespread, short-term infertility in broodmares, but also because of the ease with which the carrier state can be established in stallions and mares,” reported Timoney.


CEM can cause short-term infertility in mares, frequently, but not always, associated with an endometritis and vaginal discharge. The infection rarely results in abortion. Foals born to mares infected with CEM can become infected while in the uterus (which is uncommon), and thus be contaminated with the bacterium at birth or at the time of parturition. Mares can become inapparent carriers of the bacterium, meaning they look and behave normally, but they harbor the organism in their reproductive tracts and can shed it into their environment and through breeding (naturally or by artificial insemination)

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Written by:

Kimberly S. Brown is the editor of EquiManagement/EquiManagement.com and the group publisher of the Equine Health Network at Equine Network LLC.

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