Vaccinating Your Horse
Here’s what you need to know about vaccinations to keep your horse safe—and to avoid worry.
For this update on vaccination issues, we directed questions to Dr. Kevin Hankins, a senior equine technical services veterinarian for Zoetis who specializes in equine vaccines and vaccination best practices.
I often buy vaccines and give them myself. Is this safe?
It can be, but how a vaccine is stored can affect its safety and efficacy. By having your veterinarian vaccinate your horse, you’re assured the vaccine has been handled and stored properly, plus your vet can recognize if the vaccine has been compromised in any way. Then, too, manufacturers will guarantee the safety and efficacy of the vaccine if a licensed veterinarian has administered it for the correct purpose, whereas vaccines administered by the horse owner may not have the same guarantees and support.
How do I know what exactly to vaccinate against?
Your vet can help you develop a comprehensive health plan for your horse that includes which vaccines are needed and how often to give them. Core vaccines (which should be used for all horses) are tetanus, rabies, West Nile virus, and both Western and Eastern equine encephalitis. Risk- based vaccines include equine influenza, equine herpesvirus 1 and 4, and strangles. Whether or not your horse needs risk- based vaccines will depend on the incidence of the disease in your area, the age and breeding status of your horse, how he’s housed, and his exposure to other horses.
Aren’t some vaccines dangerous? I hear stories.
Vaccine manufacturers must go through rigorous safety and efficacy challenges before the USDA will license a vaccine and make it available to the horse owner. A typical safety study involves hundreds of horses of various ages, sex, and breeds. Still, not all horses respond the same to all vaccines, and occasionally a horse will have a minor reaction to a vaccine, or his immune system may not respond as well as it should. Such responses are rare, and your vet will be able to address them to make sure your horse suffers no long-term effects. Remember, stories on the Internet can be greatly exaggerated or even completely false.
Does my homebound retiree still need vaccinating?
Yes! Again, all horses should be vaccinated against the core diseases, at the very least.
We’ve had no outbreaks of communicable diseases in my area—can I skip vaccinating for those this year?
Once more, discuss this with your veterinarian to decide which vaccines are indicated for your horse and your area. Outbreaks of communicable diseases can come and go at any time of year, and even occur multiple times during a year. There’s not a standard vaccination protocol or “rule of thumb” in most cases, so a quick phone call to your vet or his/ her vet technician will provide you with an answer to this and all vaccination questions. That way, you’re assured your horse is properly safeguarded from potential disease outbreaks, and your mind is put at ease.
Your veterinarian is your go-to source for planning and administering vaccinations. Whenever you have questions, start there.