Vets are warning owners to vaccinate competition horses that travel abroad against the lethal West Nile virus.

The disease isn’t in the UK, but Paul Jepson, president of the British Equine Veterinary Association, warns that it is becoming “increasingly widespread” in Europe.

Valuable horses travelling to Europe to compete should absolutely be vaccinated, as they are most susceptible,” he told H&H. “It’s not mandatory to vaccinate, but it should be.”

He added that the uptake for the vaccine is “disappointingly low”.

“The threat is very real,” he cautioned.

West Nile virus is transmitted by mosquitoes and is a bird disease that affects horses and humans. It attacks the nervous system and causes weakness, loss of balance, paralysis and death.

Roly Owers of World Horse Welfare agreed that owners should be more vigilant.

“One result of the changing climate is the spread of vector [biting insects] borne diseases that are edging their way northwards. West Nile virus is now quite widespread on the Continent, including Spain and Portugal.

“We would strongly recommend that any horse travelling to affected areas is appropriately vaccinated. There are currently two licensed vaccines in the UK, so ask your vet before you travel.”