With spring just around the corner it’s time for horse owners to start thinking about vaccinations.
Early spring is often the preferred time for vaccinations, especially for those of us in the north with true winters. What I mean by this is our bugs and parasites die off for the winter. We vaccinate before the pests begin to return; that way our horses’ immune systems have time to create the antibodies that will fight off the diseases we’re vaccinating for.
This weekend I had a visit from my wonderful vet. She administered springtime vaccinations to both Nahe and Tiger. Nahe additionally had his teeth done and Tiger had coggins done.
For our first appointment, we opted to administer the standard vaccinations….rabies, flu/rhino, and EEE/WEE/Tetanus. In a couple of months, they will return for Potomac and West Nile.
So let’s talk…what is all of this about?
Some of you might be for vaccines, some of you against.
This is for you who are on the fence or simply want to know more about vaccines.
The following vaccines (Rabies, EEE/WEE, Tetanus, and West Nile) are considered to be the “core” vaccines recommended by the American Association of Equine Practitioners.
Core vaccines are the very basic vaccines that every horse should be getting on a regular basis. They are selected due to either their mortality rate or their high rate of contagiousness. The vaccines have generally shown to be safe and effective.
You might be the most familiar with rabies. Infected animals like skunks, racoons, coyote, act strangely. Foaming at the mouth can occur through the paralysis of the throat and jaw. Rabid animals may seem uncoordinated and disoriented. If a rabid animal wanders into a paddock and bites a horse the horse will then become infected if not vaccinated. This is rare, but if it were to happen it would certainly be fatal for the horse. The toxin will attack the horse’s nervous system and elicit several neurological behaviors. Vaccination is a simply intramuscular injection and should be done annually.
Eastern and Western Equine Encephalomyelitis is a virus that also causes neurological dysfunction. Rodents and birds naturally carry the virus and mosquitos can infect horses by carrying it from one species to the other. The eastern variant is said to be the more worrisome as mortality rates approach 90%. Since I live in New York (northeast) we are particularly at risk of infection so I make sure this is added to the schedule yearly. In warmer areas, vet’s might recommend vaccinating every 4-6 months since mosquitos are an issue year-round.
Tetanus is caused by a neurotoxin emitted by spore-forming bacteria. The bacteria itself is commonly found in our soils. The risk of exposure comes from exposure of the toxin into open wounds. Punctures in the hoof and lower extremities are especially at risk. Vaccinations are typically once per year.
Horses make up over 96% of non-human cases of West Nile Virus. The disease is transmitted to horses by mosquitoes who have fed on birds carrying the virus. Roughly a third of horses infected lose their battle to the disease. Of the survivors, about 40% have lasting damage to their health and behavior.
Beyond the core vaccines, horse owners have the option to choose additional vaccinations. The decision is often left to the owner but the vet may help with the decision based on risk and geographical area.
In my region flu/rhino is practically a core vaccine. Influenza/rhinopnuemonitis (or equine herpesvirus) is highly contagious horse-to-horse and affects the respiratory system. Vets will recommend this vaccine to horses that travel often or come into contact with many other horses.
Strangles is a bacterial infection horses can become affected by. The infection causes high fevers. Discharge from the nose is caused by the swelling and abscessing of lymph nodes.
Strangles is extremely contagious…we’ve had some local cases and this often means the entire barn is quarantined until all signs of illness have gone away. It’s not uncommon for a barn’s name to be associated with the disease in the community years later.
Potomac is another bacterial infection caused by the digestion of disease carrying mayflies or insects. It is most common in the late spring/early fall. Symptoms might include fever, laminitis, mild colic, and diarrhea. Vaccination for Potomac is typically recommended for horses living near freshwater. My farm happens to have a lot of marshy/swampy water nearby so I add this to my schedule.
Several other vaccinations that some might opt for include:
- Equine Viral Arteritis
- Snake Bite
Some horses can become lethargic and sore after vaccinations have been administered. Less often horses may run a low grade fever or colic. In some rare instances horses might experience more severe reactions.
It’s important to realize that too much of anything all at once can be very detrimental to anyone, let alone a horse. As much as we’d love to have the vet come and vaccinate our horses one time and move on it’s not always the most preferred method; it’s a fast way to shock your horse’s system.
Vets will often tell you to spread your vaccinations out by a couple of visits. The horse’s immune system needs time to respond to only a couple things at a time.
Vets will also often administer vaccinations on different sides of the neck. If you see swelling on one side after the visit it will be easy to determine which vaccine caused the sensitivity.
I’m no vet so the take-home message is to ALWAYS talk to your vet about the risks involved and which vaccines would be most beneficial to your region and living situation.