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Every mammal comes into contact with potentially dangerous viruses and bacterial infections in the course of daily life, and horses are no different. This makes vaccinations a critical component of a comprehensive horse wellness plan. Horse vaccines provide protection against several dangerous and even potentially deadly diseases by stimulating a horse’s immune system. People who care for horses often have many questions about how horse vaccinations work, what vaccinations their horses need, and when their horses need to be vaccinated.
Vaccines are essential for good health because they prepare a horse’s immune system to recognize and destroy potentially harmful pathogens before he or she comes into contact with the pathogen in daily life. The veterinarian will inject a serum into the horse that contains deactivated-live or dead components of an infectious bacteria or virus. These components do not make the horse ill, but they do stimulate the horse’s immune system to create antibodies customized to destroy those particular pathogens. This enables the horse to have a high level of immunity against that disease when he or she encounters it in the wild, thus preventing the horse from suffering a painful or potentially deadly infection.
There are many vaccinations for horses, some of which are considered essential for all horses (core), while others are recommended depending on the individual horse and his or her lifestyle (non-core). The American Association of Equine Practitioners recommends that all horses receive vaccinations against rabies, tetanus, West Nile Virus, and eastern/western equine encephalitis. These are high-risk pathogens that are common throughout the country and have a high rate of infection and are very often deadly—which is why vaccinations against these diseases are considered “core” or essential for every horse.
Non-core horse vaccinations can be administered by your veterinarian based on how “at-risk” your horse is for those diseases. You and your veterinarian will need to discuss what diseases are prevalent in your area, your horse’s health condition, and your horse’s lifestyle. If your horse travels frequently for shows or works in areas where certain pathogens are endemic, your horse will be best served by getting extra vaccinations to protect against those diseases. Some examples of non-core horse vaccinations are: anthrax, botulism, Equine viral arteritis, Equine herpesvirus (EHV), Equine influenza, Potomac horse fever, streptococcus equi and rotavirus.
When does a horse need to be vaccinated? Generally speaking, foals born to vaccinated mares (who pass on some immunity at birth for a short period of time) should start an initial core vaccination schedule at six months. They will need boosters when they are seven and eight (or nine) months old. For the course of the horse’s life, they will also need booster shots, some each year, some more or some less frequently, depending up on the particular inoculation.
Talk with your horse’s veterinarian today to make sure your horse’s vaccination schedule is current and providing him or her with the protection needed to stay healthy.