Anybody who has spent time riding or caring for a horse can appreciate the natural bond that inevitably develops. This bond can be so strong that people dealing with disabilities, addictions, depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and other challenges have found healing in equine therapy.
Whether you love horses for the thrill of sitting in the saddle or you feel a tender connection by caring for one of these gentle animals, you want your horse to live for a long time. That’s why it’s essential to administer vaccines annually to protect your horses from possible exposure to potentially fatal diseases.
This article is to help you understand the five “core” equine diseases, including Eastern Equine Encephalomyelitis, Rabies, Western Equine Encephalomyelitis, Tetanus and West Nile, all of which are deadly threats to your horse; as well as the three risk based “non-core” vaccines — Influenza, Rhinopneumonitis and Strangle.
Five ‘core’ diseases
Two viral diseases that can attack your horse’s nervous system are Eastern (EEE) and Western (WEE) equine encephalomyelitis. These diseases may cause a loss of appetite, fever, teeth grinding, blindness and seizures. You should consider vaccinating for these two diseases every spring.
Rabies is a neurologic disease caused by a virus in the saliva of infected animals, and it can be transmitted through an infected animal’s bite. If a horse is exposed to Rabies, the virus works its way up the nervous system into the brain, where the disease progresses fast and is always fatal. Symptoms of Rabies include loss of appetite, colic, choking, depression, lameness, difficulty urinating and even death. This virus can be transmitted from horse to humans as well, so you should vaccinate for Rabies every spring and fall.
All horses are at risk for Tetanus, a bacterial disease. It starts in the intestinal tract and is transmitted to the feces of horses and other animals. This causes the bacteria to get into the soil where it can survive for years, putting animals and people at risk. This bacteria can be transmitted through an open wound with exposed tissues or incisions. It may cause hyper responsiveness to noise and movement, flared nostrils, elevated head, stiff tail, stiff leg gait muscle spasms and death. It is suggested to administer this vaccine every spring.
By now you’ve probably also heard about West Nile. This is a virus that can cause inflammation of the central nervous system. West Nile is spread by mosquitoes, and in some cases blood-sucking insects. Mosquito control is not possible, so all animals and people can be at risk for this disease. When exposed, horses can experience a loss of appetite, fever, weakness, blindness, difficulty moving, seizures and death. We recommend you vaccinate your horses for West Nile every spring.
Three non-core vaccines
We highly recommend you vaccinate your horses for Influenza and Rhinopneumonitis on a semi-annual basis (semi-annual- spring and fall), especially for traveling horses and those at large boarding barns. Flu and Rhino are contagious respiratory diseases that are easily passed from horse to horse. Warning signs include loss of appetite, fever, lethargic, cough and nasal discharge.
The third is Strangle, a bacteria that can be transmitted if the horse has direct contact with an infected horse or is passed by object or person. This virus may cause an abscess of the lymph nodes, leading to pus discharge from nostrils, high fever and may cause hacking and strangled sounds when the horse breathes. Strangles is usually not life-threatening, although it can be if left untreated. Please vaccinate annually in the spring.
Other vaccinating tips
- As a general rule, if your foal is born from a non-vaccinated mare, the foal should receive its first vaccination at 3-4 months of age.
- Foals born from a vaccinated mare should receive their first vaccines at 6 months.
- Most foal’s first vaccines should be given as a series of three doses (boosters) about 4-6 weeks apart, although be sure to follow the label’s recommendations.
- After the initial booster set, a foal will only need its annual vaccination in the years that follow.
- A pregnant mare should be vaccinated for Eastern and Western encephalomyelitis, West Nile virus, influenza and tetanus at the beginning of pregnancy. A booster should be given one month prior to foaling to increase the antibody level in the mare’s colostrum (first milk) and help protect the newborn foal from disease. Also, the mare should be vaccinated against equine rhinopneumonitis (aka the abortion virus or rhino) at five, seven and nine months of pregnancy.
Information for this article was provided by Lindsey Hutchison, Animal Health, Tack and Farrier Dept. Manager, Riverton IFA Country Store.
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