Vaccination Strategy

Discuss vaccinations with your vet to devise the ultimate plan for your horse's needs.

Discuss vaccinations with your vet to devise the ultimate plan for your horse’s needs.

By Jenn Webster

If you’re a horse owner, it’s likely you’ve come up against the vaccination debate a time or two. For every individual equine, risk factors vary based on the animal’s age, exposure risk, value, general management and geographic location. There is no one single vaccination protocol for horses, however an informed vaccine strategy is one of the basic, most important things you can do to maintain your equine’s health. Your best bet is to discuss a protocol with your vet, however.

Here are a few basic considerations with specific key points regarding foals. 

Tetanus

Tetanus is caused by toxic-producing bacteria present in the intestinal tract of many animals and found in the soil where horses live. Spores enter the horse’s body through wounds or the umbilical cord of newborn foals. Tetanus is a constant threat to horses and humans and as such, horses should be vaccinated against annually.

Foals can receive their first tetanus vaccine as early as six months of age if the mare was vaccinated within 30 days of foaling, or three months of age if the mare was not vaccinated. Talk to your vet.

Encephalomyelitis

This disease is often referred to as “sleeping sickness” and caused by Western Equine Encephalomyelitis (WEE) or Eastern Equine Encephalomyelitis (EEE). These two strains of the disease have been seen throughout North America. A third version, Venezuelan Equine Encephalomyelitis (VEE) has recently been seen in Mexico. These diseases are usually transmitted via mosquitoes and symptoms vary a great deal, however they result in the degeneration of the brain.

Foals can be vaccinated at six months of age if the mare was vaccinated within 30 days of foaling, or three months of age if the mare was not vaccinated. Talk to your vet and specifically ask if your foals need an encephalomyelitis booster.

Influenza

This is one of the most common respiratory diseases in horses and the virus is highly contagious. Horses that travel or are exposed to high horses traffic should be vaccinated regularly against it. Flu viruses can result in nasal discharge, fever, coughing and loss of appetite. The disease can be expensive to treat and is usually very uncomfortable for your horse to endure. Often, this vaccine is given in combination with the rhinopneumonitis vaccine.

Foals can be vaccinated at six months of age if the mare was non-vaccinated.

Rhinopneumonitis

It’s important to know that there are two very different disease viruses: equine herpesvirus type 1 (EHV-1) and equine herpesvirus type 4 (EHV-4), that cause two different diseases, which are both known as rhinopneumonitis. Both cause respiratory tract problems, however EHV-1 can also cause abortion in pregnant mares, foal death and paralysis.

Since this vaccine is often given in a combination with the flu vaccine, as mentioned above, foals can be vaccinated at six months of age if the mare was non-vaccinated. Speak to your vet about flu/rhino boosters.

Strangles

No matter where you live, strangles is a highly contagious disease you should hope your horse never contract. If your equine does contract this disease, consult with your veterinarian for a treatment protocol. If your horse has contracted strangles in the past, ask your veterinarian about vaccinating this animal specifically – some vets think the horse may receive enough immunity from being exposed to the disease in the first place. There are some side-effects associated with the vaccine, because it is a modified live virus. This means the vaccine cannot cause serious disease in the horse, also allowing it to provide longer lasting protection. As such, this class of vaccine is often not recommended for pregnant mares. The efficiency of this vaccine has been questioned by many vets because outbreaks can occur even in vaccinated herds. Administered intra-nasally (IN), this vaccine requires a booster administered three to four weeks after the initial shot has been given.

Can be given to foals starting at six to nine months.

Rabies

Rabies is a scary disease that always results in death. Luckily, it is more prevalent in some areas than others – concern areas include southern Saskatchewan and the hotter southwestern states like Arizona and New Mexico. If you also choose to vaccinate your horses against rabies, your veterinarian may not want to administer a rabies vaccine on the same day as other vaccines as some serious health threats can occur.

Foals can be vaccinated against rabies at six, seven or 12 months of age if the mare was vaccinated. Speak with your vet.

West Nile Virus

There haven’t been a lot of Canadian cases in recent months, but West Nile Virus (WNV) should not be forgotten about. This disease is a mosquito- borne virus that can cause swelling and inflammation of the brain and spinal cord in horses, birds and humans. In Alberta, WNV is a federally reportable disease. This vaccine requires a booster in the initial sequence.

Foals from unvaccinated mares can be vaccinated for WNV for the first time at six months of age or older. The second vaccination should come three to four weeks later.

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