Vaccinations are one of the first steps to ensuring a healthy horse. Even if your horse never leaves the farm, there are still some dangerous diseases they can be susceptible to, and having a solid vaccine protocol could save you time, money, and possible heartache later on down the road.
Early springtime in Michigan is the best time to start your vaccination routine. The summer bugs haven’t woken up yet and show season hasn’t quite started so there is plenty of time to allow for boostering if needed. We will evaluate you and your horse’s lifestyle and exposure risk to recommend the best protocol for your needs.
What Vaccines Are Recommended?
“Core” vaccines are defined by the AVMA as those “that protect from diseases that are endemic to a region, those with potential public health significance, required by law, virulent/highly infectious, and/or those posing a risk of severe disease.” These diseases pose a risk to all horses regardless of travel or exposure to other horses. The core diseases we see include Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE), Western Equine Encephalitis (WEE), West Nile Virus (WNV), Tetanus, and Rabies. EEE, WEE, and WNV are all transmitted by mosquitoes, which we all know are inevitable. Tetanus is a toxin found in soil and rabies can be exposed by an infected animal; in Michigan, this is most commonly the raccoon. These diseases are a good baseline to start at for your vaccination protocol and once administered are effective for 365 days.
Potomac Horse Fever (PHF) is another disease that we believe to be a core vaccine based on our geographic location. Michigan is a very wet and sometimes swampy state and Potomac Horse Fever is easily spread by Mayflies who love to live in standing water. Horses who live or travel where there is standing water are at a higher risk for the disease than those located near moving water or dryer conditions. The immunity to this particular vaccine does not last as long as most others and we recommend boostering late in the summer when PHF cases rise for increased protection.
Risk-based vaccines are determined by your lifestyle and whether or not you travel with your horses. If you show or partake in clinics, some events will have vaccination requirements but even if they don’t it’s always a good idea to protect against respiratory diseases. Equine Influenza (EIV) and Rhinopneumonitis (EHV) vaccines as well as Strangles vaccines are also recommended for those horses that are boarded or frequent a training facility or if you plan to introduce a new horse into the barn.
To summarize: Horses that are pasture pets or are kept on their own property with an established barn or pasture mate should receive the core vaccines of EEE, WEE, WNV, tetanus & rabies along with Potomac Horse Fever. Horses that show, otherwise travel, or if you are planning to introduce a new horse to the barn should receive the core vaccines plus Strangles, Equine Influenza, and Rhinopneumonitis.
Naive Horses and Boostering:
If the horse being vaccinated has never had vaccines before or has an unknown vaccine history we refer to them as being naive. We would administer the first round of vaccines and come back in 3-4 weeks for a booster to ensure full immunity. This gives us the insurance that if there is an outbreak of a disease or the horse mysteriously falls ill, we can eliminate these diseases as top concerns. And as mentioned previously, Potomac Horse Fever vaccine immunity doesn’t last as long as the core vaccine immunity so all horses should be boostered in late summer for optimal protection. The Equine Influenza and Rhinopneumonitis are also advised to be boostered on a 6-month interval so depending on when the spring dose was given it would be a great opportunity to pair it with the PHF vaccine.
What About Vaccine Reactions?
We’re very fortunate that almost all of these diseases can be vaccinated with one injection, but it does also pose the risk of increased reactions. If your horse is naive, has a history of reaction, or you are otherwise concerned, we have the opportunity to break the vaccines into multiple visits to allow the body enough time to process fewer antigens stimulating their immune system at one time. If you have already vaccinated and suspect your horse is having a reaction, some signs to watch for are lethargy, inappetence, muscle soreness or swelling at the injection site(s), and sometimes fever. These symptoms should resolve in a day or two and can be managed with the aid of Banamine as prescribed by your veterinarian.
Why Should I Call My Vet To Vaccinate?
Calling your veterinarian for a vaccine appointment as opposed to administering yourself holds a multitude of benefits. For starters, we here at Michigan Large Animal Associates perform a physical exam before administering vaccines to ensure that your horse is healthy and able to accept the vaccine into its immune system. During this physical exam, we have the opportunity to identify any subtle changes in your horse since we last saw them and make notes in their medical records. Additionally, if there happens to be an outbreak of one of the diseases, much like the EEE outbreaks in recent summers, we know that the vaccine was handled properly at all times ensuring the vaccine is optimal for protection. Not to mention if your horse happens to experience an adverse reaction requiring follow-up medical care, vaccines administered by your veterinarian are eligible for reimbursement from the manufacturer for medical care costs whereas vaccines administered yourself do not come with this guarantee.
Ultimately, our goal is to have vaccination completed by June to provide optimal protection for your horse. If you are registering for a show or traveling out of state, be sure to contact us with enough advance notice to complete any possible vaccination requirements. To view the AAEP’s recommendations, visit AAEP.org. For more information or to schedule your appointment, give us a call at 517-541-2238.