Venereal Disease in Horses

Venereal diseases are those that can be sexually transmitted. "Vener" is the Latin term for sexual intercourse and, hence, the origin of the term "venereal." The outcome of sexually transmitted diseases in horses can vary

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Venereal diseases are those that can be sexually transmitted. "Vener" is the Latin term for sexual intercourse and, hence, the origin of the term "venereal." The outcome of sexually transmitted diseases in horses can vary depending on the gender of the animal exposed to infection and the causal agent. Infections can give rise to infertility due to endometritis (inflammation within the uterus), the death of a young embryo after conception, the death of a more mature fetus (abortion), or the birth of a sick foal. Some of the infections involved can cause overt systemic illness in both mares and stallions, while others lay quiet in the mare and the stallion, creating a "carrier" state. The response to infection with some of these disease agents can be either "clinical" (readily apparent) or "subclinical" (not readily apparent).

Sexually transmitted diseases include bacterial, viral, or protozoal infections. The true sexually transmitted diseases in horses are not nearly as common as infections of other systems. Some of the diseases that will be discussed have not been reported in the United States for significant periods of time, but are endemic (persistent in the population) in other countries. This is important, as it can greatly affect the importation/exportation of both horses and semen. (There is a good review of venereal diseases of horses by Marcelo Couto, DVM, PhD, and John Hughes, DVM, Professor, from the Department of Reproduction, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis, in the textbook Equine Reproduction.)

Bacterial Infections

The more common species of bacteria that can be sexually transmitted are: Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Streptococcus zooepidemicus, and possibly Escherichia coli. (Taylorella equigenitalis is a true bacterial venereal disease and will be discussed later in this article.) All of these bacteria are very common in the environment of the horse. Pseudomonas is a common inhabitant of the soil, as well as often being a component of the normal flora of the skin, mucous membranes, and intestine of healthy animals. Klebsiella is a component of the normal flora of the intestine, as well as living in the general environment. It can commonly be isolated out of wood shavings

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Michael A. Ball, DVM, completed an internship in medicine and surgery and an internship in anesthesia at the University of Georgia in 1994, a residency in internal medicine, and graduate work in pharmacology at Cornell University in 1997, and was on staff at Cornell before starting Early Winter Equine Medicine & Surgery located in Ithaca, New York. He was an FEI veterinarian and worked internationally with the United States Equestrian Team. He died in 2014.

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