If you are in the horse world, you have heard the term “Coggins“. What exactly is “Coggins”, and what is a Coggins test in horses used for? Despite the frequently incorrectly used term, “Coggins” is not a disease. A Coggins test is a highly specific blood test used for the detection of antibodies to Equine Infectious Anemia, or EIA. EIA is a highly contagious virus that has no cure.
Coggins and Equine Infectious Anemia (EIA)
EIA, also known to some as swamp fever, is a blood-borne infectious disease found worldwide. In the mid-1970s, there were over 10,000 cases of EIA in the United States alone.
EIA spreads rapidly, typically from biting flies or blood-feeding insects. Many horses are not symptomatic until the disease is in its chronic form, with high fever, anemia, swelling, and loss of weight or muscle. EIA frequently results in owners utilizing humane euthanasia.
A positive horse must remain in quarantine for the remainder of its life, a minimum of 200 yards away from all other horses.
The Dangers of EIA
Once a horse has EIA, it remains permanently infectious to other equines as a lifelong carrier. Unfortunately, there is no vaccine for EIA. Not only is there no vaccine available, but there is no treatment or cure for the disease. Transmission can occur through contaminated blood from one horse to another, or semen of an infected stallion. Blood-feeding insects such as horse and deer flies can also spread the disease.
So, what exactly is a Coggins test for horses? A Coggins test checks for EIA antibodies through blood samples sent to a state-approved lab. Although it’s a simple blood draw, the actual paperwork will reflect vital information for your horse’s identification, including age, color, breed, and markings or scars on each side. This identification method helps prevent fraudulent tests.
A Coggins test is typically good for one year, but some states only honor the test for 6 months. Coggins tests are so important, each state has its own testing requirements and legal mandates. Many require an up-to-date Coggins for travel within or into their state, along with a health certificate. A health certificate is different from a negative Coggins test, but owners frequently opt for both at the same time.
Because of the Coggins test and human effort, EIA has nearly been eradicated in many areas. Positive EIA cases drastically decreased over the last thirty years, despite spikes seen in some areas of the United States in 2018 and 2019.
In most areas, state law requires a recent Coggins for sales of any horses. Events and host facilities such as rodeos and horse shows will also require proof of negative Coggins before allowing horses to enter the premises.
Things to Remember
Because there is no vaccine or cure for EIA, it is important to understand what a Coggins test is and keep your horse up to date. Veterinarians typically recommend horses have a Coggins test performed annually.
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