Routine Vaccinations are Essential for Equine Health

Vaccines are one of the easiest and most efficient ways to protect your horse’s health, preventing the contraction and spread of infectious diseases including Rabies, West Nile Virus, and Influenza.

In continuation of National Immunization Awareness Month, Dr. Leslie Easterwood, a clinical assistant professor at the 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,” Easterwood 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 their location and proximity to disease, horses should receive vaccines for a number of harmful and potentially life-threatening illnesses.

“In Texas, the routine vaccinations for horses 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 West Nile Virus cause neurological conditions in horses, while Influenza, Rhinopneumonitis type 4, and Strangles cause respiratory infections. Vaccines that are not commonly administered in Texas—because the likelihood of contracting the disease is low— include Potomac horse fever and botulism vaccines, according to Easterwood.

“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. As always, if any serious or unusual side effects are noted, owners 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.”

The most important resource for questions or concerns regarding vaccinations will always be your veterinarian. By planning ahead, establishing a vaccination schedule, and maintaining a relationship with a veterinarian, owners can ensure their horse stays happy and disease free.

Pet Talk is a service of the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.