Many horse owners do not know the purpose of a Coggins test, let alone the importance of of getting one done on your horse. A Coggins test is a blood test administered by your vet that detects antibodies to the disease, Equine Infectious Anemia (EIA). The layman's term for EIA is known as Swamp Fever. This name traditionally comes from the high incidence of biting insects (the disease’s vector) surrounding swamps. Horses affected with EIA can have fevers, edema, anemia, muscle wasting, weight loss and depending on the sub-type of the disease, sudden death may occur. Certain infected horses can recover in as little as a day but will remain carriers of the disease for the rest of their life. Horses that are carriers of EIA can often show no signs of disease and appear healthy. Carriers like these serve as a source of disease transmission to other horses.
EIA’s vectors (method of transmission) include mainly deer flies and horse flies which means that your horse doesn’t have to travel or even come into contact with an infected horse to catch the disease. It’s transmission is through blood, milk and body secretions. Flies have free access to your horses wherever you live, short of your horse living in a screened stall. EIA has no treatment and no vaccine, the coggins test is simply a diagnostic method to determine if the horse is infected or not. Currently, the US and other countries continue research and vaccine tests with unclear results on the efficiency of proposed vaccines.
Coggins tests are generally required only if you travel out of state with your horse but many breeding farms and large horse shows also require negative tests to use their services. In certain cases, horse owners may be fined for not having a current coggins test accompanying their horse while traveling. A coggins test will have your horse’s description, the test results and is usually good for 12 months. In areas of high incidence, every 6 months may be a more realistic testing period. A veterinarian may charge anywhere from $20 all the way up to $100 to perform a coggins test, depending on the distance to the lab and other factors. If a horse receives a positive coggins test, the horse owner must choose to euthanize or to quarantine their horse. The quarantined horse must be legally branded as a carrier and be kept in a screened and carefully monitored stall, a minimum distance away from all other horses, for the rest of it’s life. Governing bodies keep very strict regulations regarding the kind of environment that the horse can be kept in. There are a limited amount of non-profit sanctuaries that specialize in EIA quarantine and attempt to help the horse live out a full lifespan. Though, in the face of such a limiting life, many horse owners choose euthanasia.
The Coggins test itself was developed in 1973 by Dr. Leroy Coggins, a veterinarian with a PhD in virology. This test serves as a tool in helping to limit the incidence of Equine Infectious Anemia. You are probably wondering if you should be testing your own horses for this frightening disease. Or maybe your neighbors do not routinely test their horses. Help to limit the reach of this disease and spread the word. Is your horse’s coggins test current?
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