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Encephalomyelitis in Horses: Causes, Signs and Prevention

Updated on June 23, 2017

Equine Encephalomyelitis in Horses

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.

Health Of Your Horse Is Your Responsibility

Horse owners should look after their horses with great love, care and attention, as they are prone to many diseases. As a horse owner, while calculating the annual cost of veterinary care for your horse, the cost of vaccinations do appear overwhelming.

Horse Is Life; Life Is Precious

It is expensive to have a veterinarian come out for vaccinations. Also some vaccinations require multiple boosters that are administered over several weeks. Many horse owners begin to wonder if vaccinations are needed, and may cut some out of their vaccination program. By doing so, they are putting their horse's life at risk.

Life Is More Important Than Money

Money should not be the driving factor while taking these decisions. Horse owners must also consider their farm’s location and general management practices of the farm, and make these healthcare decisions after consulting their veterinarian.

Equine Encephalomyelitis (EE) is a dangerous disease which can kill a horse.

Equine Encephalomyelitis (EE) Can Kill Your Horse.


Types of Equine Encephalomyelitis

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).

Equine Encephalomyelitis Causes

Equine encephalomyelitis can be fatal. The mortality is moderate to high. Eastern strain occurs more frequently and has the highest mortality rate among the three.

What causes encephalomyelitis in horses? 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.

Equine Encephalomyelitis Can Spread From One Horse to Another

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.

Your horse cannot infect you with the disease. Although eastern equine encephalomyelitis is classified as a zoonotic disease, horses are a dead-end host. You can get the disease if you are bitten by an infected mosquito.


Equine Encephalomyelitis Symptoms

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.

Core vaccines are vaccines your horse must receive, according to the American Association to Equine Practitioners. There are also non-core vaccines that you may decide upon based on your horse’s potential risks.

One disease that is considered a core vaccine is eastern equine encephalomyelitis, which is difficult to treat but prevented efficiently through vaccination.

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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