Disease Control at Racetracks and Horse Events

The following guidelines may be implemented at equine facilities to prevent diseases from affecting an event and/or in the face of a disease outbreak. Disease control will be initiated at one of three levels; the federal government deals with reportable diseases; the provincial government, specifically the Ontario Racing Commission (or other provincial government agencies), and the track officials, will deal with non-reportable diseases.

Reportable Diseases

The reportable diseases are those diseases that are of significant importance to human or animal health or to the Canadian economy. They are controlled under the Health of Animals Act and regulations. The reportable diseases for horses include, but are not limited to, African horse sickness, anthrax, equine infectious anemia, piroplasmosis, rabies, Venezuelan equine encephalitis and vesicular stomatitis. When an animal owner, veterinarian and/or laboratory diagnose the presence of, or are suspicious of, one of these reportable diseases, they must report their findings/suspicion to a Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) district veterinarian. Control or eradication measures will be applied immediately. Prevention of infected animals from entering Canada as well as control at the farm level are possible. A negative Coggins test, taken within the last 60 days, and a health certificate testifying that the horse was healthy when examined by an accredited veterinarian are required prior to horses entering from outside Canada. Horses entering a race or event are required to have a negative Coggins test on file with Standardbred Canada (standardbreds), the Canadian Jockey Club (thoroughbreds), or event organizer (for other disciplines), prior to entering a racetrack or event. The test must be current as specified by the breed association or event organizers. For standardbred racehorses, the test must be current within the last two years. It must be current within the last year for thoroughbred racehorses and most other disciplines.

When a human is bitten by an animal, both the CFIA and the local public health unit must be notified and they will take charge of the incident.

Non-reportable Diseases

The non-reportable diseases include those diseases that are already endemic (present commonly in the horse population) in Canada, and include, but are not limited to, equine influenza, equine herpes and strangles. Currently, there is no provincial legislation that controls the movement of horses coming into, or within, Canada or Ontario when horses are infected with a non-reportable disease. The Ontario Racing Commission (ORC), under the Racing Commission Act 2000, however, can stipulate certain requirements for horses entering the grounds of racetracks. Racetrack owners, under private land ownership, can create rules that are more restrictive than provincial or federal authorities.

Prevention of Non-reportable Diseases Entering a Track or Equine Event

The following suggestions can be implemented either separately or in combination. The authority to make these suggestions mandatory will reside mainly with event organizers or racetrack owners in cooperation with the ORC.

  1. Postpone the event.
  2. Refuse entry of animals entering from a known infected area (includes state, province, track or barn).
  3. Examine and monitor the health status of all horses entering from an infected area. This may include a physical examination and/or the taking of rectal temperatures, conducted by a veterinarian or technician as designated by the ORC or event organizers. Non compliance is sufficient to refuse entry to the event.
  4. Require proof of current vaccination for a particular disease. Guidelines for defining acceptable vaccination status can be found in the information sheet, Guidelines for the Vaccination of Horses.
  5. Place all animals coming in from an infected area in a specified quarantine area. A quarantine area is one where resident horses (residents of the track, local area, etc.) can not come in direct or indirect contact with horses or infected material that has come from an area infected with the disease of concern.

Biosecurity

  1. Racetrack and event organizers should have a protocol and management plan for controlling wild birds, animals and insects at the facility.
    This will include the management of:
    • mosquitoes breeding in waste water and ponds on the facility;
    • the breeding of rats and mice;
    • the entrance of wild birds into stalls, barns and feeding areas; and
    • the breeding and roaming of feral dogs and cats, as well as privately owned pets.

  2. Sanitation of paddocks and stalls between horses and events

    Cement floors and stall walls made of, or covered with, a non-pervious material (e.g., PVC or marine grade varnish) are the easiest to clean and disinfect. All organic material, such as manure and bedding, should be removed. The floors and walls should be hosed and scrubbed down to remove all manure staining. High-pressure washers should be used only when the facility is going to be vacant for a number of days, since they may aerosolize viruses and bacteria. Cross ties and other objects should be washed and sanitized with spray disinfectants, which kill both bacteria and viruses and are non-toxic to animals, humans or the environment. Refer to the information sheet Preventing Disease Spread - Personal Hygiene and Disinfectants around Horse Barns.

  3. Maintain a current vaccination status for all pony horses for rabies, West Nile virus, tetanus, influenza, rhinopneumonitis and strangles.

Summary

It is much easier to prevent an infected horse from entering into a track or event than it is to treat the problem afterwards. Early detection of a disease and initiation of biosecurity measures will usually prevent its rapid spread throughout a group of horses.

Managing a Disease Outbreak

  1. Isolate all infected animals in a separate barn.
  2. Notify the ORC veterinarian, the racetrack officials and/or the event organizers of the suspicion or confirmation of the disease diagnosis.
  3. Prevent the disease from spreading by
    • Limiting the access of people to infected areas and horses.
    • All personnel entering these areas should change clothes (or coveralls) and boots, and use hand sanitizers.
    • Hand wash areas should be installed to permit the washing of hands with a disinfectant soap and water, or using an alcohol-gel sanitizer.
    • Footbaths containing a disinfectant should be placed in areas where people exit from an infected area. The footbaths should be maintained daily or sooner if they become ineffective.

Related Links


For more information:
Toll Free: 1-877-424-1300
E-mail: ag.info.omafra@ontario.ca
Author: Dr. Bob Wright - Lead Veterinarian, Equine/OMAFRA; Dr. Bruce Duncan - Commission Veterinarian, Ontario Racing Commission; Dr. Greg Taylor - Commission Veterinarian, Ontario Racing Commission; Dr. Scott Weese, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph
Creation Date: 01 May 2005
Last Reviewed: November 2008