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Horse Vaccines: What You Need to Know

There can be a lot to keep track of when it comes to your horse’s health and vaccines can be an added stress. There seem to be numerous diseases that sound alike, numerous products of different mixtures, and different veterinarian recommendations that can all add to the confusion. However, to make it simple, there are a few factors you need to consider when choosing what vaccinations you’d like your horse to have.

Core vaccines are for diseases every horse is at risk of being exposed to and can be very deadly if your horse does become infected. These should always be considered a top priority for yearly vaccinations no matter what your horse’s lifestyle is.

  1. Eastern Equine Encephalomyelitis (EEE), Western Equine Encephalomyelitis (WEE), and West Nile Virus (WNV) are all transmitted by mosquitoes which we know to be very common in the state of Wisconsin. All three diseases attack the horse’s nervous system and cause very severe neurologic disease. Often times these diseases can be difficult to diagnose and treat and can often lead to death. It is important to consider vaccinating your horse against these diseases every spring before mosquito season hits! If your horse travels south for the winter, it is even possible to vaccinate them again in the fall to help booster their immunity.

  2. Tetanus is common in the environment, and there is no way of avoiding it. Horses become exposed to it by breaks in the skin; wounds, lacerations, surgical incisions, etc. just like humans are. And we all know how much horses are prone to hurting themselves. Tetanus vaccines should be given at least once each year, but your veterinarian may also booster them if they end up injuring themselves later in the year.

  3. Rabies isn’t a common occurrence in horses, but it can happen. Wildlife can interact with horses out in pastures, and there is always the risk that animal may have rabies and bite your horse. There is no cure for rabies, and it can be a serious risk to all individuals exposed to a horse that has contracted rabies. Once a year vaccination is recommended.

Additional vaccines can be given depending on the lifestyle of your horse such as traveling off the home farm, living with other horses who do, or are exposed to certain environments.

  1. Equine Influenza, Rhinopneumonitis (Equine Herpes Virus), and Strangles are respiratory diseases of concern for horses that travel or are living with other horses. All three diseases are highly contagious. They are passed from horse to horse through direct contact or by coming into contact with contaminated objects such as buckets, stalls, tack, and trailers. Other infected horses may not even appear to be sick before they pass the infection to your horse. These three infections cause respiratory disease (runny nose, fever, cough), and rhinopneumonitis can also lead to abortions and neurologic disease in some instances. They also can take several weeks to clear your horse’s immune system meaning horses may need to stay quarantined from healthy horses, may not be able to be exercised, and should not travel. Horses should be vaccinated at least once in the spring and can be vaccinated again in the fall.

  2. Leptospirosis is a disease of concern for horses that live with/around cattle, drink from streams, or have access to water in their pastures. This disease is commonly associated with equine recurrent uveitis, abortions, and kidney failure. Annual vaccination is recommended in these cases.

  3. Potomac Horse Fever is not a common occurrence in Wisconsin, but it can be a risk for horses that live near water sources. Horses contract Potomac Horse Fever by eating mayflies which can cause fever, diarrhea, laminitis, and abortion. Annual vaccination is recommended for horses at risk.

Now that was a lot of information and words. Here’s a very simple summary to help remember.

  • Vaccines should be given every year.

  • EEE, WEE, Tetanus, WNV, and Rabies are considered the core vaccines that every horse should receive annually, best done in the spring.

  • Influenza, Rhinopneumonitis, and Strangles are risk-based vaccines for horses that live with other horses or are traveling to places where there are other horses. These should be given at least once in the spring and can receive a booster in the fall if the horse is still at high risk.

  • Leptospirosis and Potomac Horse Fever are risk-based vaccines for horses that live near water or drink out of streams/lakes. These are annual vaccines.

An additional thing to keep in mind is many of these vaccines have an initial series of 2 doses 3-6 weeks apart if they have never been vaccinated or you don’t know their vaccination history. After this initial series, you can continue with annual/biannual vaccinations. Your veterinarian will be able to help you with first series of vaccines.

Finally, please remember that vaccines take weeks to work. Please don't wait to vaccinate until you hear of cases in the area, because it will be some time between vaccinating and your horse building an immunity, especially if it's the first time your horse is getting vaccinated for a particular disease and it therefore needs a two-dose series.

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