Have you had a horse with West Nile Virus? Please share your experience

Despite being previously vaccinated, my 8 yr old WB gelding contracted West Nile Virus.
I am having the hardest time finding any first-hand information/experiences from others whose horses contracted/survived WNV and what their experience was like in rehabilitating their horses.

He had a week off after a busy month of dressage shows/clinics and was on more pasture time than usual -
over the weekend, he began to show less interest in his hay/grain, which I attributed to how rich our grass is.

Tuesday we had our first lesson back to work, and I figured the exercise would create an appetite. That night when he hadn’t touched his grain, I took his temp and it was 104.5.

Wednesday AM our vet came, and suspecting a GI infection began a regimen of gentamicin, penicillin, banamine. My gelding was given IV fluids and tubed with mineral oil as he was exhibiting some signs of colic. Blood draws were mostly normal, other than one elevated level indicating “low grade infection”
Wednesday PM, his fever persisted and our vet returned to observe. Decided to continue the care regimen and see if his fever would come down.

Thursday AM, his fever persisted despite the meds and even after cold hosing.
Thursday PM, he temped at 106 per our vet’s recommendation was taken to our local equine hospital.

On Thursday and Friday, he exhibited muscle fasciculations, on Friday he became incredibly lethargic, was grinding his teeth, showing signs of incoordination particularly during urination.
Friday overnight the hospital administered DMSO IV. His fever broke, and since then he has been regaining his personality and acting more himself.

Today (Tuesday) - a week from becoming aware of his fever, we received test results confirming West Nile.

While I’m so incredibly grateful - now knowing how bad it could have been - that my gelding survived the worst parts of the acute illness, I’m aware that he is susceptible to secondary illness. Also, I understand that there is the possibility of lingering neurological complications. This is my heart horse, and while I have already come to terms with the idea of us scrapping the 2021 show season, I am heartsick at the thought that he may not return to training if he does have lingering issues.

Any insight into experience rehabbing a horse post West Nile would be incredibly helpful. I appreciate it. <3

Not my horse but I was a working student when one of the horses in our barn came down with West Nile (also vaccinated routinely…)
This was about 15 years ago and I remember the high fever and IV treatment- as well as sitting with her all hours of the night monitoring. Unfortunately I don’t remember the specifics of the treatment of the time. However, this mare was probably around 10 and doing the 1.10 jumpers- she eventually fully recovered and returned to her full job after her rehab and last I heard is still out there doing her thing (at a stepped down level)

Wishing you and your gelding a speedy and stress free healing process!


While no vaccine is 100% thank goodness he was routinely vaccinated. I wish you both a speedy recovery and hope he has zero issues moving forward. How scary for you.

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Thank you SO much for sharing this and for the well wishes. It’s super comforting to know that full recovery is possible, and I really appreciate you telling me about the mare’s successful come back!! <3

Very very scary, I so appreciate the well wishes - thank you!!! <3

It wasn’t my horse, but my vet treated the very first horse in NJ that came down with it - before it was on the radar. I gave lessons to the woman and her kids who owned the horse. I remember the first few days were pretty touch and go…and scary because they didn’t have a known diagnosis with it. I remember my vet talking about getting the state involved to try and figure it all out (she is a super sharp vet, and has an innate skill for tricky diagnostics). I think they just did a lot of supportive care. The horse did pull through (I think the first one to do so at that point…this was all before the vaccine was out). He did have a few months to fully recover…I remember when she first started to ride him again, his hind end was fairly week. Took awhile to get him conditioned again…but he did make a full recovery. Now he was only a trail horse/pleasure ride, so I don’t know how the recovery would have been with a more athletic job (upper level dressage/jumper/eventer). But, his case was really bad and it was pre-vaccines.

The only verified case of it I observed had to be euthanized. BUT, he was not immunized and he was pretty neurologic by the time anyone noticed. Sounds like the OP was way more on top of things in both regards.

It was a series of very unfortunate events. Owner recollected that horse had been immunized bc her others had, but she forgot he’d been out of her care and custody during the time the others had been immunized. She remembered this only after the fact. Horse was neurologic before anyone noticed anything (if was actually my farrier and I walking by who noticed as we walked by). Once vet was summoned, she did not test for WNV (maybe bc owner was convinced that the horse had been immunized?). Instead she tested for EPM which was apparently a longer turnaround to get the results back and far less rapidly fatal. By the time they had an accurate diagnosis, it was too late.

This was the first summer that WNV really hit California. Many people had been immunizing for at least a few years. Others, not so much so. We were in Chino Hills which had only the one case as far as I know. In relatively nearby Norco, where far fewer horses had apparently been immunized, there were far more cases. Not hundreds, but way more than one or two.

Thanks so much for sharing this Critter - again it’s been nearly impossible to find any first-hand accounts online and I appreciate you taking the time to share. How remarkable that this was the first case, from what I’ve read it was super perplexing at first, and pre-vaccine the symptoms were very severe. So glad to hear he pulled through and made a full recovery, and thank you again for sharing. <3

Thank you Peggy - I’m actually originally from just over the hill in OC and had my other gelding boarded in Norco for a while. I miss the Hitchin’ Post desperately. :wink: Sorry to hear about the other horse not surviving the infection - from my internet scouring I have seen accounts of folks confusing some symptoms for EPM and I’m sorry to hear that was the case for this poor pony. Thank you for taking the time to share, I appreciate it greatly <3

Back in 2002 a 15 year old gelding I owned at the time was vaccinated against WNV that spring. I believe it was the first year a vaccine was available. He contracted WNV in late September. It presented like an abscess at first (to my eye) then went neurological. He spent 3 days at the clinic on IV fluids, I didn’t ride him over the winter and he fully recovered with no permanent damage.

The worst part was the new vet, 4 months out of vet school, assisted the owner vet. Owner vet asked new guy to give my horse an IV shot of banamine. Well, new vet put 10cc of banamine into the artery which caused my horse to fall over and tremble about a minute after the shot. :grimacing:

OMGosh, how terrifying. What did they do to remedy that? So sorry you had to see that. Must have been awful. I have no personal experience with WNV, but wanted to send you both healing thoughts and prayers.

The first year WNV hit our area and the vets were vaccinating for it, we had all our horses vaccinated in the spring, along with all else, checkups, deworming, other vaccines, sheet cleaning, teeth floating.

A week later this one fellow wanted to buy one of our horses, a ten year old ranch and rodeo horse (roping and steer wrestling).
We hauled him to some friends in town so he could try him there.
He did, liked him and was going to come pick him up next Saturday.
Something came up and he had to put that off a couple days, would be Monday.
That Saturday at evening feeding, friend noticed horse was not eating, put him in the pen by the office window so she could watch him while vet was coming in a bit.
Horse started staggering falling down, then getting up and falling into the office wall, then struggling on the ground and died.
It had been two weeks since the WNV vaccine, but when vet came, horse had just died, he pulled blood and was positive for WNV, is what the vet thought he died from, said it takes three weeks for full immunity from the vaccine and that if it hits the brain they go in a hurry.

You bet all our horses are properly vaccinated since then, it can be scary.

Most horses do fine once they are over it, especially if they are caught in time, as the OPs horse will do.

There is nothing to counteract the shot given (in error) to the artery. My horse fell down, trembled, almost like having a seizure with legs thrashing so we stood back to avoid getting hurt. Within a couple minutes he was quiet so I sat and talked to him until he was steady enough to stand again. Thank you for the well wishes and I said, this was a long time ago, back in 2002.

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My vaccinated horse was very sick and neurological. He went down and was having seizure like symptoms. I thought he was going to die on the spot before a vet could come.

He survived but was never quite the same and ultimately retired a few years later. He’s still kicking 17 years after he got sick. I did try to bring him back after the acute incident and he was never quite right. He had some other physical issues that predated the WNV and his condition could have really been any one or all of them.

Now he looks pretty sound and good in the field but I’m not sure he’d stay that way if he was put back in work and I don’t care to risk my neck finding out. After the WNV he was never the same personality wise in work. He because a terrible worrier with no confidence and as a result really spooky and hard to ride. That plus the weird physical issues that lingered made it an easy decision to retire him.

OP I hope you have a better outcome.

That’s awful how ill your horse became from the virus - with how severe his symptoms were in the accute onset, it sounds like it was a miracle he survived. And I’m so so glad to hear he’s still kicking at 17. What a trooper!!! You are a good horse owner to let him retire, love on him, and not push him past his limits. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your experience, and for the well wishes. It really is mindblowing how severe the impacts of WNV can be. Sending hugs to your survivor and thank you again for sharing.

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OH NO! First of all thank you so much for taking the time to share. May I ask what the neurological symptoms were? I am so glad to hear he recovered with no permanent damage.

And ironically enough, our vet was attempting to show me how to give IV shots at the onset of my gelding presenting symptoms - he needed IV meds 4x a day and apparently my vet has WAY TOO MUCH confidence in me… I promptly told him thanks but no thanks, please stick in a port because I DO NOT WANT TO HIT THE ARTERY and have that exact thing happen. POOR horse!!!

Glad there was a happy ending to his story, and thank you thank you again for sharing <3

Oh gosh I am so sorry to hear about the horse not surviving his bout with west nile. It blows my mind hearing that horses with partial and even full immunization still can succumb to it. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your experience, and I really appreciate the confidence :slight_smile: Haha with how strong my horse was unloading from the trailer and DRAGGING me to his stall yesterday, I have a good feeling about his recovery!! :wink:

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We, unfortunately, have had two cases.

The first was right when it became prevalent. Our horses had gotten the first vaccine, but had not gotten the booster yet. We came out to one of the geldings in obvious distress. His knees were all banged up from him falling in the stall overnight. Vet came out and did some neuro tests and was fairly certain we were dealing with West Nile. Treatment was started immediately with an IV Anti-Inflammatory and DMSO. We couldn’t haul him anywhere, so he stayed on the property and was treated daily by our vet. Blood tests confirmed later that it was in fact WNV. Horse somehow survived, and lived a long healthy life.

Second case was a sh*tshow. Horse had been vaccinated twice a year since the virus became prevalent. That year we had to delay his vaccine because he had just been diagnosed with Cushings and his meds were not stable yet. In the confusion of the Cushings related issues, Horse was misdiagnosed by a new-to-the-area vet with EPM. She never even tested for West Nile. Something didn’t sit well with me, so I took him for a second opinion and as soon as we walked in the vet said ‘this horse has West Nile’. This was a week and a half-ish into symptoms that had been treated fairly non-aggressively, so he was still somewhat hanging on. The vet had us doing daily IM Dex, not nearly as aggressively treated as our gelding before. Horse showed signs of improvement, but the moment we dropped the dex down he crashed and we lost him. He fought for about 3 weeks. That was a devastating loss. Truly crushing.

Hugs to you. West Nile is no joke and I am so sorry you are having to deal with it. I truly hope you get our first experience outcome.

Oh my goodness, I am so sorry to hear that you had to deal with this TWICE, and my heart breaks for the loss of your pony in the second case. It truthfully sounds like DMSO administration in a timely manner is a lifesaver - it absolutely turned the tides for my boy. Very glad to hear that the first case went on to live a full, healthy life. That is certainly so reassuring.

Our vet who was treating us at home before going to the hospital let me know yesterday (once we were in the clear) that this was the first WNV case that he’s seen survive, and that early intervention and anti-inflammatory help is a lifesaver.

I so sincerely appreciate you taking the time to share both experiences, and for the well-wishes for my boy. Sending hugs right back. <3


Thank you. The second was my childhood/young adult life heart horse. I don’t wish that experience on anyone and I’m so happy to hear your guy seems to be coming out of it.

The first one was also the only case our (old) vet saved that year. Early treatment is absolutely key.

Again, SO HAPPY to hear yours is coming out on the other side. The horse we had make it got it in 2001 as a 10 year old, and passed in January of 2020, just shy of 29 :slight_smile: He was sound and ridable up to the day he passed.

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