Skip to main content

Equine Immune System Dysfunction

How can I protect my horse’s immune system?

When ingested, pathogens in the environment or feed will first meet the equine gastrointestinal tract. If the gut is strong, with a diverse group of good bacteria, the microbiome will be better equipped to handle this invasion of bad bacteria. Providing prebiotics, which help to feed good bacteria, and probiotics (more good bacteria) is an important first step.

What causes immune system dysfunctions in horses?

Each day, your horse is exposed to thousands of constantly evolving bacteria, viruses and parasites. Horses that travel or that live with other traveling animals are particularly vulnerable. Any type of stress — whether related to training, travel or changes in environment — can increase a horse’s risk for contracting disease.

How does nutrition support equine immune system health?

Developing a strong immune system relies on a variety of factors, but a solid nutrition program is a major contributor. The micronutrients available to your horse can help lay the foundation for good immune health, and antioxidants like selenium and vitamin E support cell function to help fight off immune health threats.

What impact does immune health have on other health systems?

Each system in the body works together for optimal health. The immune system has been extensively linked to gastrointestinal health, so choosing nutrients that support both will help increase your horse’s overall health and wellness throughout its lifetime.

Signs of an impaired or dysfunctional immune system in horses:

  • Fever
  • Skin lesions
  • Failure to thrive
  • Weight loss
  • Dull hair coat
  • Lethargy

Supporting the equine immune system

Equip your horse’s immune and gastrointestinal systems to fight off disease by:

  • Prioritizing routine health care. Work with your veterinarian to implement an annual or bi-annual vaccination schedule and follow deworming recommendations for the region where you and your horse live.
  • Practicing barn biosecurity. New horses arriving at your barn should be housed in a separate area for a minimum of two weeks before socializing with other residents. It is also wise to require a negative equine infectious anemia (or “Coggins”) test and valid health certificate on each new horse entering the barn.   
  • Protecting the GI tract. The gut microbiome has been said to account for at least 80% of immune health! Choose feeds and supplements that have been specially designed to support gut health and nutrient absorption.