Six Must-Discuss Horse Health Topics
By Kevin Hankins, DVM, MBA, senior technical services veterinarian, Zoetis

Winter’s end isn’t too far away, which means it might be time to start planning your horse’s spring wellness examination and vaccinations. Plan to use that opportunity to discuss with your veterinarian any events that could impact your horse’s well-being, and use the opportunity to expand your equine wellness knowledge.

Talk with your veterinarian about your horse’s unique disease risk factors and other core health needs. Your horse could be missing out on much-needed disease protection. Help ensure his health by vaccinating him annually against the five core equine diseases: Eastern and Western equine encephalomyelitis, rabies, tetanus, and West Nile virus. Your horse might also benefit from additional risk-based vaccines. Evaluate his needs by covering these six key points with your veterinarian:

1. Upcoming travel: Discuss upcoming travel to determine whether there are possible disease risks prevalent in areas to which you’re traveling, as well as any event-specific health requirements. Ask also about implementing biosecurity best practices.

2. Exposure to other horses: If your horse lives in a boarding stable or is exposed to other horses at events participation, he could be at increased risk of disease exposure for threats such as equine herpesvirus and equine influenza, which spread from horse to horse by aerosol transmission (coughing or sneezing) at distances as far as 50 yards. Even if your horse doesn’t travel off the property, if he is exposed to others that do, the disease risks remain, especially if he isn’t receiving the appropriate risk-based vaccinations.

3. Deworming needs: Ask your veterinarian for advice on how to select the most appropriate dewormer for your horse. Your veterinarian can perform a fecal egg count (FEC) test to determine your horse’s parasite burden. No matter your horse’s FEC test results, all horses should receive a minimum of two deworming treatments per year, during spring and fall. The American Association of Equine Practitioners recommends targeted tapeworm treatment once a year, in the late fall or early winter after tapeworm transmission ends due to cold weather.

4. Wildlife threat: Wildlife exposure is a reality for all horses, no matter location. Rabies and leptospirosis are two key diseases horses can contract from wildlife such as skunks, raccoons and bats. The result of rabies infection in any mammal—horses and humans included—is always death. Due to the impact of rabies on horses as well as the risk of disease transmission to humans, all horses should be vaccinated annually.

Leptospirosis can cause uveitis, as well as abortions and kidney failure. Horses are generally infected through exposure to the bacteria Leptospira interrogans serovar Pomona, which is found in urine from infected animals, such as skunks, white-tailed deer, raccoons, and opossums. Infected urine often is found in stagnant or slow-moving water or in contaminated soil, bedding, feed, or drinking water. Genetics might also play a role: Appaloosa, draft, and warmblood breeds are more frequently and severely affected by Leptospira-associated uveitis than other breeds. Vaccination against leptospirosis might help reduce your horse’s risk of developing illness.

5. Age: Your horse’s age can play a role in his risk for disease. For example, senior horses might not be able to mount an immune response as well as earlier in life, leaving them at higher risk for exposure. Talk with your veterinarian about how your horse’s age could affect his health and well-being.

6. Post-vaccination expectations: Occasionally, horses react to vaccines much like humans do, such as when we experience muscle soreness after receiving a tetanus booster. Talk with your veterinarian about normal vaccine reactions. If side effects last longer than 48 hours, or increase in severity, contact your veterinarian. While each horse is unique, it’s possible for your horse to experience mild, temporary side effects, such as:

  • Local muscle soreness or swelling;
  • Fever above 101.5°F;
  • Loss of appetite; and
  • Lack of energy or alertness.

Work proactively alongside your veterinarian to develop the best possible wellness plan to ensure your horse’s health.