HORSE owners in North Yorkshire have been urged to be on red alert after an outbreak of equine influenza.

There have been four reported cases of horse flu in the UK since January 2, among unvaccinated horses, and Minster Veterinary Equine Clinic in York has urged owners to ensure their horses or ponies are vaccinated.

The British horse racing industry is currently on red alert over the outbreak, as the airborne infection can spread easily, making it hard to contain,with symptoms including nasal discharge, a dry cough, high temperature and a loss of appetite.

The four cases so far have occurred in Lincolnshire, Cheshire, Derbyshire and Essex, but to help tackle the outbreak, Minster Equine Clinic's practices in Poppleton and Ripon are offering owners who have lapsed in their vaccination regime one of the three necessary vaccinations for free.

Gemma Dransfield, clinical director, said: "Horses that are not vaccinated are at serious risk if they come into direct contact with a horse suffering from the condition.

"However, there is also an indirect risk. Many owners say they don’t have their horse vaccinated because they don’t take it away to shows or competition, but if a horse shares a stable yard with other horses that are taken away, then there is a risk. The condition is airborne and can travel up to 50 metres and horses with underlying condition like immune problems or respiratory issues are more susceptible. We don’t want to panic people, but owners should protect their horses by vaccinating against flu, keeping vaccinations up to date and ensuring their horses have their annual booster. Racehorse trainers are being advised to give a twice-yearly booster."

Horse owners are also urged to contact their vet if they suspect their horse is suffering from flu or there is a suspected outbreak on their yard.