Shipping Fever In Horses

Shipping fever, also known as pleuropneumonia, is a common respiratory condition that affects horses, particularly during transportation. The condition can be distressing for both the horse and the owner, as it can lead to a range of symptoms including fever, coughing, nasal discharge, and difficulty breathing.

In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of shipping fever in horses. Understanding these aspects is crucial for all horse owners and handlers to ensure the well-being and health of their equine companions. So, let’s explore the ins and outs of shipping fever and equip ourselves with the knowledge to address and prevent this condition effectively.

Key Takeaways:

  • Shipping fever is a respiratory illness that commonly affects horses during transportation.
  • Caused by a combination of stress, respiratory viruses, and bacteria, it can lead to serious complications if left untreated.
  • Early recognition of symptoms, prompt treatment with antibiotics and supportive care, and prevention measures such as proper ventilation and minimizing stress during transport are crucial in managing and preventing shipping fever in horses.

What Is Shipping Fever?

Shipping Fever, also known as equine pleuropneumonia, is a respiratory condition that commonly affects horses during transportation or changes in environment.

Shipping Fever is primarily caused by stress, overcrowding, poor ventilation, and exposure to viral or bacterial pathogens, such as infected nasal discharge from other horses. The symptoms include fever, coughing, nasal discharge, and labored breathing, and can progress to severe respiratory distress and even death if left untreated. This condition can have a significant impact on the affected horse’s performance and overall well-being, and prompt veterinary care is crucial for successful management and recovery.

What Causes Shipping Fever In Horses?

What Causes Shipping Fever In Horses? - Shipping Fever In Horses

Credits: Horselife.Org – Bruce Williams

Shipping Fever in horses can be caused by a combination of factors, including transportation stress, exposure to respiratory pathogens, and compromised immunity.

Transportation stress is a major factor in the development of Shipping Fever. Long journeys can lead to respiratory compromise due to the inhalation of dust, endotoxins, and ammonia. The stress of travel can weaken the horse’s immune system, making it more susceptible to infections. Exposure to respiratory pathogens, such as equine influenza virus and Streptococcus equi, further increases the risk. Environmental triggers, like poor ventilation and overcrowding during transport, also play a significant role in the onset of Shipping Fever.

What Are The Symptoms Of Shipping Fever In Horses?

What Are The Symptoms Of Shipping Fever In Horses? - Shipping Fever In Horses

Credits: Horselife.Org – Gary Ramirez

The symptoms of Shipping Fever in horses can manifest as fever, persistent coughing, nasal discharge, and difficulty breathing, indicating respiratory distress and compromised health.

Shipping Fever, also known as Equine Pleuropneumonia, is a common respiratory condition that affects horses, especially during transportation or when introduced to new environments. The fever associated with Shipping Fever often exceeds 103°F and may persist for several days. Horses suffering from this condition may exhibit lethargy and have a decreased appetite.

Along with coughing and nasal discharge, affected horses may experience increased respiratory rate and labored breathing. These symptoms can be distressing to observe, as the horse may appear anxious and uncomfortable.

It is important to address these symptoms promptly as Shipping Fever can lead to more severe respiratory complications if left untreated.


Fever is a prevalent symptom of Shipping Fever in horses, often presenting as an elevated temperature indicating the presence of an underlying health issue.

When a horse experiences fever, it typically signifies that their immune system is responding to an infection or inflammation. Elevated body temperature can range from mild to severe, causing discomfort and triggering a chain of physiological responses in the equine body. A fever can serve as an alert for horse owners and caretakers, prompting them to swiftly seek veterinary attention and undertake measures to address the root cause of the elevated temperature, safeguarding the overall health and well-being of the equine companion.


Persistent coughing is a prominent sign of respiratory distress in horses affected by Shipping Fever, indicating compromised lung function and potential airway inflammation.

Shipping Fever, also known as pleuropneumonia, can cause a variety of respiratory issues in horses, with coughing being a primary indicator of the condition’s impact on equine health. While the occasional cough is normal, persistent coughing is a cause for concern as it points to deeper respiratory issues.

When horses experience Shipping Fever, the coughing serves as a warning sign of lung irritation and inflammation, which can lead to reduced oxygen intake and impede the horse’s overall respiratory function, affecting their performance and well-being. It’s essential to promptly address persistent coughing in horses to prevent further deterioration of their respiratory health and minimize the risk of complications.

Nasal Discharge

Nasal discharge in horses affected by Shipping Fever can indicate the presence of respiratory mucus, potentially signaling an immune response to respiratory pathogens or environmental irritants.

When a horse experiences nasal discharge, it may be an indication of the body’s attempt to expel irritants or pathogens from the respiratory system, serving as a protective mechanism to maintain equine respiratory health. The consistency, color, and quantity of the discharge can provide insights into the underlying cause, aiding in swift identification and treatment of the issue.

Difficulty Breathing

Difficulty breathing, characterized by labored respiration and visible signs of respiratory distress, is a critical symptom of Shipping Fever in horses, indicating compromised lung function and oxygen exchange.

This respiratory distress can greatly impact a horse’s overall well-being, causing decreased performance, lethargy, and reduced appetite. Labored respiration is often associated with increased respiratory rate, flared nostrils, and a heaving chest, all of which signal the struggle for adequate oxygen exchange in the lungs. It is crucial to address respiratory issues promptly in horses to prevent further complications and maintain their health and performance.

Loss Of Appetite

Loss of appetite, reflected in reduced food intake or aversion to feeding, can be an indicative symptom of Shipping Fever in horses, signaling potential discomfort and compromised health.

When horses suffer from Shipping Fever, the reduction in food consumption may lead to weight loss and nutrient deficiencies, impacting their overall health and well-being. The implications of decreased food intake can be severe, causing a decline in energy levels, weakening of the immune system, and compromising the horse’s ability to recover from the illness. In addition, it can also affect the digestive system and disrupt the balance of essential nutrients required for proper functioning. Understanding the significance of appetite loss in equine health is crucial to address the potential effects on the horse’s nutrition, performance, and recovery from Shipping Fever.


Lethargy, characterized by reduced activity, energy levels, and overall alertness, can be observed in horses affected by Shipping Fever, indicating potential systemic effects and compromised vitality.

Shipping Fever, also known as pleuropneumonia, is a common respiratory disease in horses, often linked to stress and transportation. The manifestation of lethargy in affected horses is associated with a range of concerning implications. Reduced activity and energy levels not only affect the overall well-being of the horse but also impact its immune response. The compromised vitality due to Shipping Fever can prolong the recovery period and hinder the horse’s ability to combat the illness effectively.

How Is Shipping Fever Diagnosed?

The diagnosis of Shipping Fever in horses typically involves a thorough veterinary examination, including physical assessment, respiratory evaluations, and potentially diagnostic imaging.

Upon suspected Shipping Fever, the veterinarian will first conduct a comprehensive physical assessment to evaluate the horse’s overall health, paying close attention to respiratory signs such as coughing, nasal discharge, and abnormal breathing patterns.

Respiratory evaluations may include auscultation of the lungs, checking for abnormal lung sounds, and a thorough examination of nasal passages. Diagnostic imaging such as radiography or ultrasound may be recommended to visualize the lungs and identify any abnormalities.

The veterinarian may also collect samples for laboratory tests, including complete blood count (CBC), bacterial culture, and respiratory PCR testing to confirm the presence of pathogens associated with Shipping Fever.

What Is The Treatment For Shipping Fever In Horses?

The treatment for Shipping Fever in horses typically involves a combination of antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medications, and supportive care to address respiratory and systemic complications.

Antibiotic therapy plays a crucial role in managing Shipping Fever. It targets the bacterial infections commonly associated with the condition, such as Mannheimia haemolytica and Pasteurella multocida. Commonly used antibiotics include oxytetracycline, ceftiofur, and enrofloxacin.

Along with antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medications can help alleviate the inflammation and discomfort in the respiratory tract. Drugs like flunixin meglumine and dexamethasone may be used to reduce fever and combat lung inflammation.

Supportive care measures, such as providing proper ventilation, rest, and good-quality forage, are essential in the overall management of Shipping Fever. Ensuring a stress-free environment also promotes recovery and reduces the risk of recurrence.


Antibiotics play a crucial role in the treatment of Shipping Fever in horses, targeting bacterial infections and aiding in the resolution of respiratory complications.

By effectively combating the bacteria responsible for causing Shipping Fever, antibiotics contribute significantly to improving the overall health and well-being of affected horses.

Antimicrobial therapies serve as a cornerstone in managing this condition, helping to alleviate inflammation in the lungs and respiratory system, thereby promoting the recovery of equine patients. It is essential to administer antibiotics under the guidance of a veterinary professional to ensure the appropriate selection and dosing, taking into account the specific bacterial strain and potential resistance concerns.

Anti-inflammatory Medications

The administration of anti-inflammatory medications is vital for managing the respiratory inflammation and systemic effects associated with Shipping Fever in horses, aiding in alleviating discomfort and promoting healing.

These medications help to reduce the inflammatory response within the respiratory tract, minimizing airway constriction and improving lung function. By targeting the underlying inflammation, anti-inflammatory medications play a crucial role in mitigating the severity of Shipping Fever and preventing further complications. They can support the overall well-being of horses by alleviating pain and enabling a faster recovery.

Supportive Care

Supportive care measures, including respiratory support, nutritional management, and stress reduction, are essential components of the treatment plan for Shipping Fever in horses, aiding in the overall recovery and well-being of the affected animals.

Respiratory support is crucial in managing Shipping Fever as it helps to maintain proper oxygenation and ventilation of the lungs, often involving the use of nebulization, bronchodilators, and sometimes oxygen therapy.

Nutritional management plays a key role in supporting the immune system and restoring the energy levels of horses affected by Shipping Fever. It often includes feeding easily digestible food and encouraging increased water intake to prevent dehydration.

Stress reduction techniques such as providing a quiet, comfortable environment and minimizing disruptions can help horses recover from Shipping Fever by reducing the impact of stress on their immune system and overall well-being.

How Can Shipping Fever Be Prevented?

Preventing Shipping Fever in horses involves implementing transportation guidelines, stress reduction strategies, and proactive management practices to minimize the risk of respiratory complications during travel.

Transportation guidelines for preventing Shipping Fever include:

  • Ensuring proper ventilation.
  • Frequent rest stops.
  • Providing ample water and hay.

Stress reduction strategies involve:

  • Acclimating horses to trailers.
  • Using calming supplements.
  • Maintaining a consistent feeding schedule.

Proactive management practices entail:

  • Monitoring for early signs of illness.
  • Vaccinating against respiratory pathogens.
  • Maintaining optimal stable conditions.

Proper Ventilation

Ensuring proper ventilation in horse transportation vehicles and stables is crucial for minimizing the risk of Shipping Fever, promoting respiratory health, and reducing the impact of environmental stressors.

Proper ventilation plays a vital role in preventing Shipping Fever, a common respiratory condition in horses associated with transportation stress and exposure to airborne pathogens. Adequate airflow helps in reducing the buildup of harmful dust, ammonia, and other respiratory irritants, thereby safeguarding equine respiratory health.

In addition, well-ventilated transport vehicles and stables contribute to minimizing the impact of environmental stressors such as heat, humidity, and poor air quality, which can exacerbate respiratory issues and compromise the overall well-being of horses. By prioritizing proper ventilation, horse owners and caretakers can enhance the comfort and health of equine companions during transport and stable confinement.


Maintaining adequate hydration levels in horses during transportation and environmental changes is essential for supporting their immune function, reducing the risk of Shipping Fever, and promoting overall health.

Hydration plays a crucial role in preventing Shipping Fever, a respiratory disease caused by stress and dehydration during transportation. Dehydration can weaken the immune system, making horses more susceptible to respiratory infections. Proper hydration helps to keep the mucous membranes in the respiratory tract moist and functional, reducing the risk of infection and inflammation. Adequate water intake is vital for overall health, as it supports digestion, thermoregulation, and nutrient transport within the body.

Quarantine New Horses

Implementing quarantine protocols for new horses is an effective strategy for preventing the introduction of respiratory pathogens and minimizing the risk of Shipping Fever within equine populations.

This approach is crucial in maintaining equine biosecurity and protecting the health of existing horses. By isolating new arrivals, potential transmission of diseases like Equine Influenza and Strangles can be significantly reduced. Proper pathogen control measures, such as disinfection of equipment, and adherence to strict hygiene practices, are essential during the quarantine period. Monitoring the health status of new horses closely and observing any signs of infectious diseases ensures early detection and prompt management, ultimately enhancing the overall biocontainment on the premises.

Minimize Stress During Transport

Minimizing stress levels during horse transport is essential for preventing the onset of Shipping Fever, involving the implementation of calm and controlled travel environments, and the reduction of environmental stressors.

Strategies for minimizing stress during equine transport include providing adequate space and ventilation in trailers to ensure proper air circulation. Ensuring that the horse is accustomed to the trailer before transport can significantly reduce anxiety. It is also important to schedule regular breaks to allow horses to rest and relieve muscle tension. Maintaining a consistent feeding and watering schedule can help alleviate travel-related stress. Environmental management, such as avoiding drastic temperature changes, and minimizing exposure to unfamiliar noises and odors can also contribute to reducing stress levels during transport.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is shipping fever in horses and what causes it?

Shipping fever, also known as equine respiratory disease, is a common illness in horses that occurs after exposure to new or stressful environments. It can be caused by a combination of factors such as long-distance travel, changes in weather, or contact with other sick horses.

What are the symptoms of shipping fever in horses?

Symptoms of shipping fever in horses may include fever, coughing, nasal discharge, difficulty breathing, and loss of appetite. In severe cases, it can also lead to pneumonia, which can be life-threatening.

How can I prevent my horse from getting shipping fever?

To prevent shipping fever in horses, it is important to minimize stress during transportation and ensure proper ventilation and hygiene in the trailer. You can also boost your horse’s immune system by providing a balanced diet and regular exercise.

Can shipping fever be treated?

Yes, shipping fever can be treated with the help of a veterinarian. Treatment may include antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medication, and supportive care such as IV fluids and rest. It is important to seek medical attention as soon as symptoms appear to prevent complications.

Is shipping fever contagious to other horses?

Yes, shipping fever can be highly contagious and easily spread to other horses through close contact or sharing of equipment. It is important to isolate sick horses and disinfect any areas or items they have come in contact with to prevent the spread of the disease.

Can I still transport my horse if it has had shipping fever before?

It is not recommended to transport a horse that has had shipping fever before, as they may be more susceptible to developing it again. It is important to give them enough time to fully recover and strengthen their immune system before subjecting them to long-distance travel again.

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