What Is Rhino Virus In Horses And How Is It Treated?

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Last Updated on June 25, 2022

An outbreak of infectious disease such as rhino virus in horses can be a worrying time for a horse owner. There are many respiratory viruses that can affect horses, and it is easy to get confused about the different types. Let’s find out everything we need to know about rhino virus in horses!

What Is Rhino Virus In Horses?

Unfortunately, the question of what is rhinovirus in horses is not a straightforward one. This is because there are two diseases in horses with very similar names, and sometimes both of them are referred to as ‘rhino’!

But why is the word rhino used – what do these huge mammals with their characteristic horned snouts have to do with horses? The word rhino is commonly used to refer to anything relating to the nose of a mammal. So, diseases that affect the nose, or muzzle, of a horse or other mammal are often called rhinitis.

This even applies to humans too – we use the term rhinoplasty to refer to plastic surgery on the nose, and the common cold can be caused by a rhinovirus.

What Is Rhino Virus In Horses

So, let’s take a look at the two different diseases of horses that involve the word ‘rhino’!

  • Equine Herpes Virus (EHV) & Rhinopneumonitis

Equine Herpes Virus (EHV) is a widespread disease of horses that is caused by two different strains of the virus – EHV-1 and EHV-4. Both of these can infect the respiratory tract, but EHV-1 can also cause neurological disease, abortions, and early death in foals.

When EHV causes respiratory infection, this is often referred to as rhinopneumonitis, or rhino.

EHV in horses is highly contagious and will rapidly spread through a population of horses. This can be through direct contact, or by aerosol spread over a distance of up to 5 meters. Strict quarantine management in the face of an EHV outbreak is the best way to prevent the spread of this virus.

Vaccinations against EHV are available, and are recommended for susceptible horses such as broodmares and young stock. Adult horses develop some resistance to EHV over time, and show less clinical symptoms when they do contract the virus.

  • Equine Rhinitis

Equine rhinitis, or rhino virus, is caused by two strains of a virus – equine rhinitis virus A (ERAV) & equine rhinitis virus B (ERBV). This disease should not be confused with rhinopneumonitis, or ‘rhino’, which is caused by equine herpesvirus (EHV).

Equine rhinitis is widespread in the equine population and causes respiratory disease that affects both the upper and lower respiratory tract. It is spread through direct contact or aerosol droplets when an infected horse coughs, sneezes, or snorts. It is thought that ERAV can also be shed in the urine of infected horses, and this is a major source of infection.

Most horses make a full recover from equine rhinitis without any treatment required. In severe cases, anti-inflammatory medication can be used to reduce inflammation of the respiratory tract. Antibiotics may also be given to treat any secondary bacterial infections.

One of the most important aspects of treating rhino virus in horses, or any other type of respiratory tract infection, is a long period of rest. When inflammation of the respiratory tract occurs, it can take up for 3 weeks for any damage to be repaired. This means that any horse that has suffered from a cough should be rested from work for 3 weeks, and exposure to dust or other airborne particles should be kept to a minimum during this period.

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If a horse does not receive this critical rest period, the lung capacity may be permanently compromised. This can affect the performance of the horse for the rest of its life, as well as making it more susceptible to respiratory tract infections in the future. Ideally, the rest period should take place in a paddock rather than confining the horse to a dusty stall or barn.

Vaccinations are available to protect against equine rhinitis. In the event of an outbreak of this disease, good biosecurity measures such as quarantining infected horses will help to prevent the spread of infection. Most horses with equine rhinitis make a full recovery, as long as the three-week rest period is adhered to.

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So, as we have learned, the term rhino virus in horses can be used to describe two different viral infections that both affect the respiratory system of the horse. The first of these is Equine Herpes Virus (EHV) which can lead to rhinopneumonitis. The second disease referred to as rhino virus is equine rhinitis, a highly contagious respiratory disease that is similar to the common cold in humans.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on rhino virus in horses! Have you ever encountered a serious outbreak of rhinovirus in a barn of horses? Or maybe you’ve got some questions about the best vaccination program for rhino virus in horses? Leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you!


How Is Rhinovirus Treated In Horses?

Most horses recover completely from rhinovirus within a couple of weeks, and do not require any specific treatment. Horses that become very ill with rhinovirus, such as those with compromised immune systems, may require supportive treatment such as anti-inflammatory and antibiotic drugs.

How Long Is Rhinovirus Contagious In Horses?

The virus that causes rhinopneumonitis in horses, EHV, is spread easily between horses via nose-to-nose contact and also from contact with infected surface and airborne droplet. After a horse has been infected with EHV, the virus can remain dormant in the body for a long period of time. At times of stress, the virus is reactivated and the horse can infect other horses.

What Can You Give A Horse For Upper Respiratory Infection?

Most upper respiratory infections in horses are caused by viruses, and there are no effective antiviral medications available to treat them. If the horse has a secondary bacterial infection then antibiotics may be given. Inflammation can be reduced with the administration of anti-inflammatory medication.

Can A Horse Recover From EHV?

Whether a horse recovers from EHV depends on the strain of EHV infection and how it manifests in the horse.

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