Vac­ci­nat­ing Your Horse

Here’s what you need to know about vac­ci­na­tions to keep your horse safe—and to avoid worry.

Horse & Rider - - Table Of Contents -

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.

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