Achoo! All of this horse hair floating around in the air makes my nose itch. I can feel it twitching as I sit here writing. It feels wonderful to get rid of my thick winter hair coat! I also enjoy the extra time my friends spend grooming me. The shedding of winter hair signals the beginning of spring for me. Spring is not only marked by piles of horse hair. This season also brings fresh green grass (yum!) and a vet visit for my spring vaccinations (yikes!).
It’s up to you to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian so your horse can receive its annual vaccinations. Do you need a quick reminder on why we give vaccinations to our horses and which vaccinations your horse should be receiving? Well, don’t worry I have put my investigative skills to work. Keep reading to discover the answers to your questions!
The first question I investigated was why we give vaccines. It turns out vaccines are an integral part of a good biosecurity plan and help keep your horse healthy and disease free. Our bodies (horse and humans) have this amazing system known as the immune system. The immune system is responsible for recognizing foreign substances, such as the viruses and bacteria that cause disease. The body then mounts a response to these foreign substances to keep them from spreading farther in your body. Once the immune system has been exposed to a specific virus or bacteria it is more likely to recognize it again in the future and mount a faster response. Vaccines work by introducing the pathogen or disease-causing agent into the body. Only a very small amount or a modified version of the virus or bacteria is introduced into the body. This allows the immune system to become familiar with the virus or bacteria without causing illness. Thus, vaccines prevent or reduce the severity of future illness.
Now, let’s talk about what vaccinations your horses should receive. The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) publishes guidelines on what vaccines horses should receive. If you want to learn more about vaccinating your horse, you can do some investigative work of your own on their website.
Before we get into the details, we need to understand that there are two major categories of vaccines: core and risk-based. Core vaccinations should be administered to all horses in the United States. Risk-based vaccines are administered on a case-by-case basis. Your horse’s lifestyle including factors such as its age, location, and travel status will determine whether a particular risk-based vaccine should be administered.
The core vaccinations are tetanus, eastern and western equine encephalomyelitis (EEE/WEE), West Nile Virus (WNV), and rabies. As I mentioned earlier, ALL horses should receive these vaccinations. Most of these diseases are fatal to horses and most horses will be exposed to the disease at some point. Tetanus is found in the soil and on other surfaces throughout the entire U.S. Like tetanus, rabies is endemic across the U.S. Horses can be infected by contact with another infected mammal, such as a skunk or raccoon. EEE, WEE, and WNV are spread to horses by mosquitoes and other biting insects after the insect feeds on an infected bird. The route of transmission for these three diseases is part of the reason we vaccinate horses in the spring. As we head into the warmer months, the number of mosquitoes and biting insects will increase. We want our horses to have maximum protection from insect-borne diseases during the warm summer months. In some parts of country, vaccinating every six months for these diseases is recommended as the insect season is longer.
As mentioned previously, risk-based vaccines are only administered to horses whose lifestyle makes them likely to come in contact with the disease. As an example, horses that travel to shows or other events or live with horses who frequently travel should probably be vaccinated for influenza (flu). Horses are exposed to flu by being around other horses. Horses that are routinely exposed to other horses, especially horses outside their own herd, are more likely to be exposed to influenza and get sick. Other risk-based vaccines include anthrax, botulism, equine herpesvirus (EHV or rhinopneumonitis), equine viral arteritis (EVA), Potomac horse fever, rotavirus, snake bite, and strangles. You’ll want to assess your horse’s lifestyle and location before working with your veterinarian to develop a vaccination program for your horse.
I’m off to remind my friends at the Equine Science Center to schedule my spring vaccinations. I’d much rather get it taken care of now and not have to worry about getting sick later! After taking care of the reminder, I’m going to find a nice spot to roll. Shedding my winter hair coat makes me itchy! A roll takes care of those hard-to-reach spots on my back.
Until next time.