What is a Coggins?
Most of us sort of know what a Coggins is…sort of…but it’s more than just blood test. It’s also a way to help prevent a horrible disease without a cure from spreading to other horses. The Coggins test detects antibodies to Equine Infectious Anemia (EIA). There is also no vaccine, there is no cure.
The virus that causes EIA is spread by horseflies and other biting insects. The flies bite one horse, then bite another. The virus only lives with the insect for less than an hour, so the horse to horse transmission must happen when horses live in close proximity.
EIA causes fever, anemia, swelling of the abdomen, stocking up, weight loss, and muscle wasting. This can lead to organ damage and secondary infections, and eventually death.
There are three stages of EIA - the acute, the chronic, and the carriers. Acute cases are often vague, with a fever, depression, and no appetite. This looks like a lot of other diseases, and a Coggins test will only come positive after 6 weeks. Most acute cases die within a month.
Chronic EIA also has a fever and weight loss, along with small hemorrhages of the mucus membranes. Chronic horses may have acute episodes that come and go. They will test positive as the expected lifespan is about a year. The horse’s underside and legs often swell also.
The carrier horses are largely asymptomatic. They also carry the disease for life, and can transmit it to other horses. You will likely not see any signs, but the test will be positive.
The results. Previously, your Vet had to draw your horse and his markings. Now, it's digital.
What do you do as a horse owner?
You must be aware of the overall health of your horse. Take your horse’s temp every day.
You must also be smart about where you bring your horse. Shows, new boarding facilities, even group trail rides are all places where a horse could be infected. Some shows (not all) require a negative Coggins test within 6 months or a year. Some boarding barns do, as well.
You should also know the regulations about a Coggins test if you take your horse across state lines.
As there is no cure, and the options for a horse with a positive Coggins are tragic. Euthanasia is often the solution. In some areas, you might be able to have your horse enter a lifelong quarantine, which requires him to be branded and come no closer than 200 yards to another horse. This option is devastating for any creature that is, by nature, a herd animal.
It's a simple blood test!
Be smart about transporting your horse, and be diligent about monitoring his health!