Encephalomyelitis in Horses: Causes, Signs and Prevention

Horses are graceful animals. Watching a healthy horse galloping is an experience in itself. Horses have served human beings with great loyalty for thousands of years. Horse owners should look after their horses with great love, care and attention, as they are prone to many diseases. Equine Encephalomyelitis (EE) is a dangerous disease which can kill a horse.


Equine Encephalomyelitis affects the brain of the horse. This disease is also known as sleeping sickness. There are three strains: Eastern Equine Encephalomyelitis (EEE), Western Equine Encephalomyelitis (WEE) and Venezuelan Equine Encephalomyelitis (VEE). This disease can be fatal. The mortality is moderate to high. Eastern strain occurs more frequently and has the highest mortality rate among the three. This infectious disease is caused by a virus. Reptiles, rodents and birds act as reservoir hosts. Mosquito transmits the virus from the reservoir host to the horse. This disease can also spread from one horse to another while rubbing noses or while sharing feed or water containers. But generally viral count is low in horses. This disease can also affect human beings, donkeys and mules.


Horses affected by Equine Encephalomyelitis suffer from diarrhea, fever, depression, drowsiness, irritability, self-mutilation, hyper-excitability, lack of coordination, lack of appetite, nervousness, head pressing, paralysis, circling, convulsions and coma. They also refuse to drink water. Affected horse dies two to three days after the first signs of the disease appear, if it is not treated appropriately.

Equine Encephalomyelitis has to be prevented. Because once a horse is infected with this disease, the damage is done. Even if the horse survives the disease, it will never be the same again. There will be some damage to the brain. Vaccines for Equine Encephalomyelitis are available in the market. First dose of the vaccine should be administered in the spring season. Second dose should be administered after a month. Vaccine should be administered annually. Preventing mosquitoes goes a long way in preventing this disease in horses. Infected horses should be isolated as soon as possible.


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Horses suffering with Equine Encephalomyelitis should be treated with love and care in a shaded, well padded area. There is no specific treatment for the disease. Veterinarians generally administer medicines and vitamins.

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God forbid that I should go to any heaven in which there are no horses.

— Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham

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