As a horse owner, you are well aware of the many responsibilities you have in order to ensure your horse’s health and happiness. Among these responsibilities including providing adequate shelter and bedding, a nutritious diet, plenty of exercise and good health care. One aspect of regular equine health care that you may not understand is the Coggins test. Named for its developer, Dr. Leroy Coggins, the Coggins test is actually one of the most critical components of proper equine health care, and it’s very important to understand why.
Equine Infectious Anemia, or EIA, is a dangerous, incurable viral disease that affects horses, donkeys and mules. EIA is transmitted via infected blood, which can be spread by biting insects like horse flies and deer flies as well as by the sharing of contaminated needles. It presents in two key and distinct stages. When a horse is initially exposed to EIA they enter an acute illness stage. The EIA virus actually replicates itself in the horse’s bloodstream and causes fever, depression, anorexia, bruising and fluid accumulation both under the belly and down the legs. In some cases the acute stage can be fatal to a horse. A horse that makes it through the acute stage of the illness will then enter into a chronic illness stage. They may have periods of apparent normal health and occasional periods of fever, anorexia, anemia and enlarged lymph nodes. There are also some instances when horses make it through the acute stage of the illness and then become silent carriers–showing no signs of the disease. Silent carriers are obviously dangerous in that they can infect other, healthy horses, which is why the Coggins test is required before any horse can travel.
Dr. Coggins, a veterinarian with a PhD in virology, studied the African Swine Fever in Kenya in the 1960s and was able to use his findings to develop a test for EIA. This test was approved by the USDA in 1973, and has proven incredibly useful ever since. Since there is no vaccine to protect against EIA and no cure, testing is the only effective way to control and limit the spread of the disease. Understandably, EIA that is undetected and spreads across the nation could be devastating to the equine population. The EIA test is inexpensive and quick; it is designed to detect the presence of EIA antibodies that develop after a horse has been exposed to the disease.
In a Coggins test, your veterinarian takes a blood sample from your horse and sends it, along with full documentation of your horse’s identification, including their registered name, age, gender, breed, color and distinctive markings, to a state-run laboratory for analyzing. The results are then shared with you and your veterinarian.
It’s absolutely understandable that horse owners are nervous about receiving the results of their horses’ Coggins tests, but there is one thing to keep in mind: according to the USDA, the percentage of EIA positive horses has dropped from 4% in 1972 to less than 0.002% in 2012. This is part of the reason that the Coggins test has been so invaluable since its inception–it has helped to prevent a further spread of EIA simply by providing important information to horse owners. That said, positive tests do sometimes occur, in which case further action must be taken.
Where a horse tests positive for EIA, their veterinarian will contact the state veterinarian, require the owner to quarantine the horse and perform another Coggins test in order to rule out the possibility of a false positive. In the case that a second test confirms that the horse is EIA positive, the owner has three options: euthanasia in order to eliminate the possibility of further disease transmission, permanent quarantine–with the horse being housed at least two hundred yards from any other horse in a mesh-covered barn that keeps out biting insects, and transportation to a recognized research facility so that researchers can collect more information about EIA and potentially provide EIA-positive horses with another, better option in the future.
A Coggins is required for many situations, including interstate and international travel, equine competitions, organized equestrian gatherings and boarding at stables and training barns. If your horse never participates in any of these things, you are not required to get a Coggins, however it can be useful to have one performed every twelve months just in case it becomes needed suddenly and just to make sure that your horse is in the clear.
For more information about the Coggins test or to schedule one for your horse, contact La Crosse today.