Routine horse vaccinations

Routine horse vaccinations are one of the easiest and most efficient ways to protect equids’ health, reducing the risk of or preventing contraction and spread of infectious diseases including rabies, West Nile virus (WNV), and equine influenza.

In recognition of National Immunization Awareness Month, Leslie Easterwood, MA, DVM, a clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, offers recommendations for equine vaccinations, suggesting that horses begin a routine vaccination schedule at a young age.

“We typically start foal vaccinations at 90 days of age,” she said. “If the mare is currently vaccinated and boosted late in her pregnancy, she will provide temporary immunity to the foal until they are able to respond to vaccinations. If the mare was not boosted late in pregnancy, we may choose to start vaccinations at 60 days.”

Depending on the horse’s location and proximity to disease, they should receive vaccines for several harmful and potentially life-threatening illnesses.

“In Texas, the routine horse vaccinations are rabies, Venezuelan equine encephalitis (VEE), Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE), Western equine encephalitis (WEE), West Nile virus, influenza, rhinopneumonitis type 4, and strangles,” Easterwood said.

Rabies, VEE, EEE, WEE, and WNV cause neurologic deficits, while influenza, rhinopneumonitis type 4, and strangles cause respiratory infections.

Vaccines not commonly administered to Texas horses—because the likelihood of contracting the disease is low—include Potomac horse fever and botulism vaccines, Easterwood said.

“Because of the differences in risk, what is recommended for one group of horses may not be best for all groups,” she said. “A possible vaccination schedule could be rabies once a year and the other recommended vaccinations twice a year. A consultation with your veterinarian to discuss the risk of exposure for your horse, based on activity and travel schedule, will allow them to develop a recommendation for vaccination schedules.”

Easterwood said she believes the risk of contracting disease significantly outweighs the minimal amount of risk associated with vaccinations. However, if owners observe any serious or unusual side effects they should contact their veterinarian immediately.

“Horses may become sore at the injection site, similarly to how people get sore after a vaccination,” she said. “Usually minor reactions are controlled with anti-inflammatories and a little time.”

Your veterinarian is the most important resource for questions or concerns regarding vaccinations. By planning ahead, establishing a vaccination schedule, and maintaining a relationship with a veterinarian, owners can help their horses remain happy and disease free.