Aqueos - When should you use a foot bath for your horse

Aqueos - When should you use a foot bath for your horse

When Should I Use a Foot Bath?

Article written by Dr Jessica Putnam BVMedSci(Hons) BVM BVS(Hons) MRCVS – 20th March 2022

Following the human coronavirus pandemic, we are increasingly aware of the risks and consequences of infectious diseases. Although we have focused on hand hygiene and mask-wearing in terms of Covid-19 prevention in people, in an equine setting, your feet are unfortunately a very good way of spreading germs around the yard or between equine premises.

Why is a foot bath of benefit?

Using a foot bath can help to prevent the spread of bacterial, viral, or fungal infections around your yard, and between yards, if you are visiting more than one equine establishment. Cross-contamination may also occur with external visitors to the yard – i.e. vets, farriers, riding instructors, or other paraprofessionals – so point out to them where the foot bath is and ask them to use it when necessary. 

What container should I use as a foot bath?

Choose a strong, non-slip container for your foot bath, ideally with a lid. The disinfectant solution in the foot bath needs to be deep enough to cover the whole sole and tread of your boots, so make sure the container is deep enough to achieve this – and ideally large enough to stand both feet in at the same time for ease. A lid is advised because rainwater can dilute the disinfectant solution you are using and may make it ineffective if the solution becomes too dilute. The lid will also prevent contamination from debris on the yard, which again could deactivate the solution. Animals such as dogs and cats who may be loose in the yard must not be able to drink the solution either. Young children who may be tempted to play in a foot bath should also be deterred if the foot bath is covered.

Footwear that is suitable for disinfection e.g. rubber boots should be worn by those working on or visiting the yard. Boots should be clean from debris before using a foot bath because organic matter (i.e. mud or faeces) can deactivate the disinfectant. You may therefore need means of cleaning dirt from your boots (paying particular attention to the tread) before using the foot bath, e.g. a bucket of water and/or a stiff boot brush adjacent to the foot bath.

What solution should I use in the foot bath?

There are various multi-purpose disinfectants available to use as a foot bath solution. It is important to choose a fast-acting disinfectant, as you do not want to have to stand in a foot bath for long periods to achieve a particular length of contact time. For example, chlorhexidine gluconate (Hibiscrub) would not be appropriate, as a five-minute contact time is required for it to be effective.

Make sure that the disinfectant solution is made up to an appropriate concentration – if it is too dilute it may not be effective. Foot baths should have the disinfectant solution changed regularly to ensure that it continues to do its job. Make sure that you check the labelling of your chosen disinfectant to see how long it will last before it becomes deactivated. Bleach is not an appropriate disinfectant for a foot bath, as it is readily inactivated in the presence of any organic matter.

What situations might you want to consider using a foot bath?

Young foals – although foals have some immunity provided through their mare’s colostrum, they are particularly susceptible to infections before their immune system has had time to develop and before they receive their vaccinations at 4-5 months of age onwards, so it is sensible to have a foot bath at the entrance to their stable or housing to reduce the risk of introducing unwanted infection into their surroundings

Suspected cases of respiratory illness – in particular, strangles, equine influenza, or equine herpes virus

Horses or ponies suffering from diarrhoea – even in non-infectious cases of diarrhoea, horses and ponies with diarrhoea are more likely to shed pathogenic bacteria (i.e. bacteria which can cause disease) in their faeces

Any ill or pyrexic horse or pony

What are the best locations for a foot bath in the yard?

Where you place your foot bath depends on what you are trying to achieve in terms of preventing disease spread. If you are trying to protect your yard from unwanted disease arriving on the yard, you will need to place the foot bath at the entrance to your premises, and potentially another foot bath at the entrance/exit of any isolation facilities in use on the yard where new arrivals are quarantining.

If you have an unwell horse in the yard, the foot bath will need to be immediately outside their stable, or if they have been placed into isolation/quarantine, at the entrance/exit to this part of the yard.

Remember, if you have chickens or other poultry in the yard, current advice is that there should be a foot bath at the entrance to your poultry enclosure to reduce the risk of avian influenza transmitting to your flock.

Is there anything else I should be doing alongside setting up a foot bath?

Do not forget that a foot bath is not the only precaution you should be taking to prevent disease transmission onto your yard, or between horses and ponies. Equally important measures include:

a robust new arrivals policy

ensuring vaccinations are up-to-date for equine influenza, strangles and equine herpes virus

encouraging the use of hand sanitiser between horses and ponies

separate mucking out equipment, buckets, grooming kit, haynets, etc. for any horse or pony in isolation

a contingency plan for disease outbreaks

ensuring that staff move from least infectious horses to most infectious horses, if they cannot avoid moving between groups

Take home message

Foot baths are an important part of biosecurity on and between yards, but must be located appropriately and maintained well to be effective. Foot baths are not the only biosecurity measure you should have in place on your yard, but when used properly will help to protect the horses and ponies in your yard from unwanted infections.