Understanding the Equine Immune System

This important protective system is extremely complex. Here’s a rundown of how your horse’s immune responses function.
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Understanding the Equine Immune System
The horse's immune system is extremely complex. | Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse
The immune system is critical to maintaining life in any species. It protects when foreign invaders, such as viruses, parasites, or bacteria, breach your physical barriers—such as skin and mucous membranes—and enter the body. Naturally, this important system is extremely complex.

Amanda Adams, PhD, equine immunologist at the University of Kentucky’s Gluck Equine Research Center, presented an overview of the immune system at the Role of Immunology in Equine Health Symposium, held Nov. 21 in Lexington. She started with some of the basics: What is immunity?

“Immunity is a state of having sufficient biological defenses to avoid infection, disease, or other unwanted biological invasion,” Adams began.

There are three types of immunity: Natural acquired immunity, artificial acquired immunity (induced when vaccines are administered), and passive acquired immunity (that which horses acquire via their dam’s colostrum at birth). There are also two types of immune response that are both critical to fighting infection—innate and adaptive—which Adams described in detail

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Alexandra Beckstett, a native of Houston, Texas, is a lifelong horse owner who has shown successfully on the national hunter/jumper circuit and dabbled in hunter breeding. After graduating from Duke University, she joined Blood-Horse Publications as assistant editor of its book division, Eclipse Press, before joining The Horse. She was the managing editor of The Horse for nearly 14 years and is now editorial director of EquiManagement and My New Horse, sister publications of The Horse.

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