Let's review the Coggins Test and Equine Infectious Anemia.

Horse show season is right around the bend, and equine veterinarians are already performing this year’s Coggins Tests. Equestrian facilities, horse show venues, and animal transporters require proof of negative Coggins results. What is this annual diagnostic tool, and why do equine practitioners bother with it?

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What does a Coggins Test diagnose?

This blood test, performed annually, identifies exposure to equine infectious anemia (EIA). EIA is a dangerous retrovirus that is often spread by affected insects (such as mosquitoes and flies) that bite equines in barns, pastures, riding rings, or the wild. The blood-borne virus may also be transmitted through the use of shared hypodermic needles or syringes. Pregnant mares may pass EIA to their unborn foals as well, particularly if the dams display clinical signs of EIA during their pregnancies.

This disease affects various equids – such as burros, donkeys, mules, ponies, and horses.

EIA, also known as swamp fever or horse malaria, tends to cause such symptoms as:

  • anemia
  • arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat)
  • depression
  • diminished appetite
  • enlarged spleen
  • excessive sweating (without exercise)
  • fever
  • loss of energy
  • nasal bleeding
  • rapid breathing
  • swelling (usually of the abdomen, chest and legs)
  • weak pulse
  • weight loss

Abortion and colic are additional possibilities with EIA.

There is no vaccination or cure for EIA at this point. Full-blown EIA infections generally prove fatal to equines within a matter of weeks. However, these animals may contract milder cases, causing them to become lifelong carriers of the virus and potentially experience multiple flare-ups of the disease.

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The Coggins Test, named for the veterinary scientist who developed it, identifies the presence of EIA antibodies in the blood of affected equines. When this is found, it indicates an equine is EIA-positive, meaning that animal is a viral carrier and a potential transmitter of infection to other horses.

The official Coggins Test result documentation includes a detailed equine description and several photographs (including certain equine head and full-body shots) taken by the veterinarian taking the blood sample and submitting it to an approved laboratory. Coggins tests formerly included vet-drawn sketches of horses’ markings, marked directly on equine head and equine body outlines on multi-layered (carbon copy) forms. Historically, the equine owner received a yellow copy.

Traditional Coggins Test form - fair use

What happens to Coggins Test results?

Coggins Test results, which take about two weeks after equine blood draws, are routinely filed with state agricultural department authorities. Equine owners must carry originals (and often photocopies) of current year Coggins Test results, usually accompanied by recent veterinary certificates, when transporting their animals to equestrian facilities, events, sales, or even veterinary locations.

In recent years, Coggins tests have become available online (see sample here). Veterinarians provide equine owners with web links to their own animals’ reports, so owners can print copies as needed.

The vast majority of Coggins Test results are negative, largely because equines are routinely tested. However, an equine may be infected soon after receiving a negative Coggins Test. Because such tests are generally administered once (or perhaps twice) annually, the risk is present throughout much of the year.

Equines testing positive for EIA are often euthanized. Otherwise, they are generally quarantined in bug-proof enclosures (and perhaps freeze-branded or tattooed by official USDA representatives), if they survive even a few weeks. If one equine tests positive at a given location, others in the herd or facility must also be tested.

The USDA mandates reporting of all positive IA diagnoses.

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