Maintaining the health and well-being of your horse is paramount to living a long and productive life. In addition, you want your buddy to be around for a long time and have the ability to enjoy experiences together.
There are some preventative measures you can take; but, some active steps are also necessary (and often required).
A Coggins test is one of them.
What is a Coggins Test?
A "Coggins" test is the commonly used name for a blood test given to horses to detect the presence of Equine Infectious Anemia (or EIA). This test screens horses, mules, and donkeys.
How do you perform a Coggins Test?
A licensed veterinarian must perform a Coggins test. They will either come to your horse, or you will bring your animal to them. They will then draw blood and send it to an accredited lab for analysis.
Once the blood arrives, the lab will run a test to detect the EIA antibody. This antibody is a protein used by your horse's body to identify the virus and is only present if the horse is infected. If the test results are negative, the protein will not be found.
Once the test is complete, the results are sent back to the veterinarian, and you (the owner) will be given the results, known as the "Coggins papers."
The test results are only valid for one year. So, you must have a Coggins test performed yearly (often at the same time as you administer annual vaccines).
What is Equine Infectious Anemia?
EIA is a virus that affects the immune system of horses, mules, and donkeys (and potentially other related species).
In infected, your horse can show signs of various symptoms.
Some symptoms of EIA include:
While the disease is highly infectious and potentially deadly, some animals that test positive could go their entire lives without showing outward signs of the disease.
How is EIA Transmitted?
EIA transmits from horse to horse, but only by blood. Therefore, the most common vectors for transmission of the disease are blood-sucking insects (i.e., horseflies, deer flies, and others).
Another potential cause for the spread of the disease amongst animals is using dirty needles. Using improperly cleaned needles in a surgical environment or when administering medication sub dermally and sharing the needle through the herd, the presence of blood from one infected animal could affect others that come in contact.
How do you reduce the spread of EIA?
Having your horse tested every year, and making sure they test negative, confirms that your horse doesn't have the antibodies for the virus.
That is the first step.
Additionally, there are steps you can take to implement some "biosecurity" measures to limit the potential exposure to EIA-positive blood.
An additional step you can take is being vigilant. Always pay attention to your horses and keep your eyes out for any signs of potential disease symptoms.
What Do You Do If Your Coggins Test is Positive?
Since Equine Infectious Anemia is a virus, there is no targeted cure for the disease. You can administer some medicines to try and support their condition (fluids, anti-inflammatory drugs, etc.), but nothing will eradicate the illness.
If your horse tests positive on a test, order a second test right away (avoiding the chance of a false positive). If your horse is positive on the second test, you have three options in front of you:
None of the options are fun or easy.
Coggins Test Requirements For the Western United States and Canada
You must meet some requirements to transport your horses across state and province lines.
These requirements include Coggins testing, Health Certificates, and Brand inspection/identification.
When it comes to a negative Coggins test, these states and provinces require a negative Coggins test result every six months:
These western states require a negative Coggins test annually, except for nursing foals. Nursing foals under six months of age (accompanied by an EIA-negative mother) do not need a negative test result.
If you don't have the necessary documentation and get stopped, it could drastically affect your trip, timeline, and pocketbook.
Make sure to verify all requirements and exemptions for the state you plan to enter before embarking on your journey.
In the end...
I am not a doctor, and this is not medical advice. However, this topic was brought to my attention the first time I considered bringing Dart to a local clinic. I have seen the word "Coggins" included in online horse listings but never really knew what it meant. When I inquired about registering for the clinic, they informed me that up-to-date annual vaccine and Coggins paperwork would be required (obviously).
Was Dart up to date?
I had no idea.
Until then, I hadn't been involved in his veterinary care. So when I inquired if Dart was up-to-date, the answer was "most likely not."
He probably hadn't had any shots since he first left Montana Reins of Hope.
So, the vet got a call, and getting everything up to date was ordered.
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About David Didier
After growing up working on his family's farm in the Midwest, life brought him to Missoula, MT. There, he connected with a mustang named Dart and was called to a lifelong journey of learning about horses and horsemanship. It is his hope to share the knowledge, experiences, and resources he has come across along the way.
Want to learn horsemanship?
Hey, I'm David Didier. I started from scratch barely knowing anything about horsemanship, and I would love to help you along your journey.