Salmonella in horses

Quick facts

  • Salmonella can upset the gut in horses and foals.

  • Common signs include fever, diarrhea and lethargy in horses.

  • Humans and horses can get salmonella from eating contaminated feces.

  • Wash your hands, separate ill horses and don’t share equipment between horses to prevent the spread of salmonella if your horse is infected.

What is salmonella?

Salmonella is a bacterial infection that affects the following.

  • Most mammals, including horses and humans

  • Birds

  • Reptiles

Salmonella usually affects the gut and may cause severe diarrhea in adult horses. In some cases, usually foals, the bacteria can travel around the body (systemic disease).

Signs of illness

In adult horses:

  • Fever

  • Severe watery, foul smelling diarrhea, which can be bloody

  • Weakness

  • Tiredness

  • Loss of appetite

In foals with systemic salmonella:

  • Dullness

  • Depression

  • High fever

  • Possible lameness and joint swelling

How do horses get salmonella?

Horses can get salmonella one of the following ways.

  • Eating contaminated feces

    • The bacteria are present in the manure of infected horses.

  • Eating contaminated grass, hay or other feed

  • Contaminated boots, water buckets, tack, grooming tools and unwashed hands can transfer bacteria from an infected horse to a healthy one

Infected horses shed more bacteria when showing signs of diarrhea. A horse is more likely to become ill if:

  • It ingests a lot of salmonella bacteria at once

  • It’s already sick

  • It’s stressed

Some horses shed salmonella without showing signs of illness. This usually occurs when they have a small amount of salmonella in their gut and are then stressed. Stress may occur from trailering, moving to a new barn, illness or surgery.

Shedding decreases over time and many horses will stop shedding altogether.

Prevalence

Many horses may have salmonella in their body, but they don’t shed it and often they aren’t ill.

A United States Department of Agriculture study found that only 1 percent of U.S. horses were shedding salmonella on farm. The University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine sees only 1 to 5 cases of salmonella in horses each year.

Can people get salmonella from horses? 

Salmonella can move between animals and humans. Thus, people can and do become infected with salmonella from horses. Ingesting contaminated feces causes salmonella in people.

Signs of salmonella in humans

  • Diarrhea

  • Abdominal cramps

  • Fever

Practice good hygiene. Always wash your hands before eating and don’t touch objects with manure-contaminated hands.

Reviewed in 2018

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