Travel Papers: Nuisance or Necessity?

Horse and Rider|Summer 2020

Travel Papers: Nuisance or Necessity?
Learn how equine-travel documents protect your horse and get answers to commonly asked questions for equine-travel requirements.
BARB CRABBE, DVM

Health papers serve a much bigger purpose than granting you permission to travel with your horse. They help prevent and eradicate equine diseases, along with tracking and controlling outbreaks.

I was digging through a box of papers the other day and came across a report I’d written in sixth grade: “EIA: Is Test and Slaughter the Answer?” I still remember writing the report, pondering the dilemma, and looking for solutions. I somehow grasped the importance of controlling the spread of a terrible, fatal disease in horses. That was 1972.

Fast-forward to today. I’ve been a practicing veterinarian for 30 years. And in that 30 years, I’ve never seen a positive Coggins test, the blood test that detects a horse’s antibodies to equine infectious anemia (EIA).

How can that be? Because, in fact, testing and “lifetime quarantine” did prove to be the answer. Does that mean EIA has been eradicated completely? No. But that does mean it’s been pretty well controlled—largely because of mandatory testing required for horses transported across state lines.

Considering the low risk of your horse contracting EIA, you might find yourself frustrated by the requirements for Coggins testing and a veterinary inspection to travel to horse shows, equine events, and trail-riding destinations. It might seem like a waste of time and money to pursue an already-expensive hobby. After all, there’s nothing to prevent your horse from getting sick after the inspection and before you hit the road. And half the time, no one checks your papers anyway.

You might not realize that those health papers serve a bigger purpose than simply “granting you permission” to travel with your horse. In fact, they’re one of the most important tools officials have for eradicating equine diseases, preventing new diseases from gaining a foothold in the country, and tracking and controlling outbreaks.

Here, I’ll answer common questions about equine-travel requirements—not only what they are but also why they matter. In the end, you’ll begin to understand the essential role those requirements play in protecting not only your own horse but also horses everywhere.

Q: What is a Coggins test, and why is it required for travel? I’ve had my horse tested every year since I’ve owned him, and it always comes back negative.

A: The Coggins test looks for antibodies in your horse’s bloodstream against EIA, a potentially fatal viral disease that’s passed from horse to horse by bloodsucking insects. This virus can cause an acute form of the disease with severe signs—including high fever, weakness, depression, and even death—or a chronic form with milder signs that come and go for years. There’s no available treatment, and an infected horse harbors the virus for life. To complicate matters, an infected horse can become an inapparent carrier—meaning that he harbors the virus in his bloodstream, but never shows clinical signs. It’s this invisible carrier state that makes this disease so difficult to control; hence, the testing requirements.

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Summer 2020