Your Guide to Equine Health Care

Revisiting Equine Vaccination Strategies and Protocols

Most experts agree that the approach for equine vaccination should be about what’s best for the individual horse.

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Focus on what’s best for the horse

Sorting out best practices in equine vaccination can be a daunting task, partially because a standard vaccination protocol for horses does not really exist. Instead, most experts agree that the approach for equine vaccination should be about what’s best for the individual horse.

Fortunately, horse owners have access to the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) guidelines, plus veterinarians who are well trained to evaluate the horse’s environment, the horse’s health and the types of vaccinations that it will need.

As you work together with your veterinarian to develop a strategic vaccine protocol, consider:

  • What is the horse’s age: foal, mature horse, elder horse?
  • What the horse does: Is it a working horse? Does it compete and travel? Is it a broodmare? Is it used strictly as a pleasure horse?
  • How it is kept: Boarding stable with a lot of in-and-out horse traffic? Alone in a pasture? Sharing a fence with other horses?
  • Location: East, West, South, etc.? Different diseases are more prevalent in certain parts of the country.

Core Vaccines

All horses in good health should be given what are known as “core” vaccines, no matter where they are located, according to the AAEP and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). These vaccines include:

  • Eastern equine encephalomylelitis (EEE)
  • Western equine encephalomyelitis (WEE)
  • West Nile virus (WNV)
  • Rabies
  • Tetanus

In terms of when core vaccines should be administered, they generally are included as part of spring wellness exams. Pregnant mares often receive “pre-foaling” vaccinations, which generally include EEE, WEE, WNV, tetanus, EIV and EHV four to six weeks prior to foaling so that immunity is transferred to foals via colostrum. (As a general rule, rabies vaccines are typically given to the mare when she is not pregnant.) The “pre-foaling” vaccinations give foals immunity until they’re old enough for their first vaccinations. Keep in mind that not all vaccines are safe for use in pregnant mares, so be sure to check the label. Booster vaccines may be administered in the fall or other recommended intervals as indicated by your veterinarian.

Risk-Based Vaccines

AAEP recommends risk-based vaccinations when a risk-benefit analysis warrants them. In conducting an analysis, a veterinarian takes into account things such as location, the type of vectors in the area, how a disease is transmitted, the morbidity and severity of the disease, the potential for infectious spread, the age of the horses, how the horses are used, and cost. Risk-based vaccinations may vary from one population to another, as well as from horse to horse.

Vaccines included in the risk-based category include:

  • Anthrax
  • Botulism
  • Equine herpesvirus (EHV)
  • Equine influenza virus (EIV)
  • Equine viral arteritis
  • Leptospirosis
  • Potomac Horse Fever
  • Rotaviral diarrhea
  • Snake bite
  • Strangles

As with core vaccines, your veterinarian can recommend appropriate booster schedules.

Competitor vs. Pasture Ornaments

When doing a risk-based analysis, it’s easy for a horse owner to think of only their horse. But the horses in close proximity to that horse should be taken into account as well. For example, if you have a 20-year-old retired horse out in pasture, is that horse at risk? The typical response would be, “No, he doesn’t do anything or go anywhere, so he’s fine.” However, there’s a 5-year-old roping horse in a barn next to that pasture that does go places and gets exposed to all kinds of risk-based diseases. In other words, it’s the commingling that can put a nonactive, non-traveling horse at risk for diseases that initially may not seem to be an issue.

Competition Requirements

Keeping your horse’s vaccinations current ensures it can compete in events throughout the country. Generally, boostering vaccinations, especially risk-based vaccines, at least 30 days prior to an event can help ensure antibodies are built up and any possible vaccine side effects have subsided. While each event can establish its own rules, the United States Equine Federation requires horses competing in its events to be vaccinated against EIV and EHV every six months.

Keeping Records

Horse owners should always keep detailed vaccination records for their horses. Some veterinarians may keep records as well, but ultimately this responsibility falls to the horse owner. Forms and other useful vaccination records can be found online from equine retailers and supply stores, equine event organizations, vaccine providers, etc. Competitive event officials may request copies of vaccination records and can deny a horse entry if those records are not available. More importantly, having current vaccinations on hand helps a veterinarian understand a horse’s history, should it get sick.


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