Katie Hennessy

Zoonotic Diseases: Horses and Humans

A zoonotic disease is a disease that can be spread from animals to people. It is rare for horses to transmit diseases to humans, but it does happen. Most cases occur when an immune-compromised person comes into contact with a sick horse. If you or a member of your family are immune-compromised, consult with your family physician about added precautions to take when working with horses.


Some basic precautionary strategies include:

  • Thoroughly wash hands after contact with horses and before eating.
  • Use disposable gloves when handling sick horses.
  • Have separate “barn” clothes and shoes.


Rabies is probably the most well-known disease that can be transmitted from horses to humans.


Some other zoonotic diseases include:

  • Salmonellosis

This bacterial disease tends to cause diarrhea, abdominal cramps and fever. Special care should be taken around any horse with diarrhea with strict hygiene and disinfection measures in place to prevent transmission.

    1. Dermatophilosis (rain rot)
      Rarely seen in healthy people, this bacterial disease causes sores and is transmitted through direct contact with oozing lesions.
  • Dermatophytosis (ringworm)

Caused by fungal infection with Trichophyton equinum, this disease is spread through direct contact with lesions or indirect contact through contaminated equipment. More commonly seen in immune-compromised people, the main symptom is itchiness often accompanied by a red, scaly, circular lesion.

  1. Cryptosporidiosis
    The protozoan parasite is spread via fecal-oral route. Symptoms include abdominal cramps and watery diarrhea in humans. 


It is always a good idea to wash your hands after working with horses to minimize any potential spread of diseases or bacteria. 

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