Veterinary alert: sudden horse deaths

18 Jul 2023

Agriculture Victoria is working to investigate the cause of multiple sudden deaths in horses which have occurred on separate properties since Tuesday 4 July. To date, there have been ten confirmed horse deaths on three separate properties. The properties are located on the Mornington Peninsula, south-east Melbourne and southwest Victoria, with no common links immediately evident. The affected horses reportedly died quickly with short-term non-specific signs of illness or no observed illness.

The investigation involves owners, private veterinarians, and a range of experts, including the Australian Centre of Disease Preparedness and the University of Melbourne. While the investigation is in early stages, testing for a number of infectious diseases has to date been negative. Potential toxicities are also being explored. Unfortunately, the investigators currently have access to limited suitable diagnostic samples.

Several informal reports of further affected properties are being investigated, with a number of instances of false information identified to date. Anyone aware of speculated further cases is asked to encourage official notification. Please do not share unconfirmed information online or on social media.

Agriculture Victoria is asking for notification of any sudden horse deaths in Victoria since 1 July 2023. Notifications can be made via EAD Hotline on 1800 675 888 for new cases or via for past cases (since 1 July) that have not yet been reported.

Timely engagement is critical for obtaining good quality diagnostic samples.

Although samples to date have tested negative for Hendra, each call-out should be considered on case-by-case basis and may not be connected to this incident, therefore Hendra precautions should be taken. Practitioners should consider rushed testing for Hendra (facilitated by Agriculture Victoria) in acutely ill or dead horses and prior to any invasive investigations or treatment. When contact is unavoidable, use of full PPE, including impervious boots (for example, gumboots), overalls and gloves, safety eyewear and P2 respirator mask is of critical importance in case of Hendra or other zoonotic diseases.

Horse owners are reminded to make sure their Property Identification Code (PIC) details are up to date. PICs are free and easy to get on the Agriculture Victoria website.

More information

Please see the Agriculture Victoria website for situation overview

Advice on investigation procedures including sample collection can be found via on the Agriculture Victoria Website

See Reducing the risk of Hendra virus infection prepared by DAFF Queensland for comprehensive Hendra risk management advice.

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