What Vaccines Do Horses Need?

Infectious diseases are a major cause of equine pain and death, which makes vaccines vital to horse health and longevity. Here, our Union City vets discuss important vaccines horses need and a horse vaccine schedule.

Infectious Diseases

Bacteria and viruses are the number one cause of infectious disease in horses. These infectious agents are spread through direct contact between horses, ingestion, inoculation into wounds, transmission by insects, and more.

Core Horse Vaccines

The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) lists 4 yearly horse vaccinations as 'core vaccines.' These include vaccines the West Nile Virus, Eastern and Western Encephalomyelitis (also known as sleeping sickness), tetanus, and rabies. Below are the vaccines essential to horses and when they should get them.

EWT/WN Vaccine (Annual - Spring)

The EWT/WN vaccine protects against Eastern and Western Encephalitis, Tetanus, and West Nile Virus.

This is a four-way vaccination, which mixes various vaccines in a single intramuscular injection. You can administer each of these immunizations separately, but the IM dose certainly is convenient. Because horses are very sensitive to tetanus, this is a vital immunization to receive for your horse every year, typically in the spring time.

Rabies (Annual - Spring or Fall)

According to the American Association of Equine Practitioners, rabies immunization is one of the core vaccines that every horse should have on an annual basis, administered in the spring or fall.

Like most mammals the virus infects, rabies can cause neurologic abnormalities in horses, making them appear slow or "dumb." Any horse that dies as a result of neurologic episodes is a candidate for rabies testing and should be treated with caution to avoid rabies exposure postmortem. 

Risk-Based Vaccines

Risk-Based Vaccines are suggested in specific conditions when the risk of contracting the disease in question outweighs any disadvantages of using the vaccine. The use of risk-based vaccines may differ regionally, between populations within an area, or between individual horses within a given community. When to use these immunizations should be decided jointly by you and your local veterinarian.

These vaccinations can be given annually or semi-annually, and include diseases like Equine Flu, Equine Herpes (also known as rhino), Strangles, and Potomac Horse Fever.

Flu/Rhino (Semi-Annual - Spring & Fall)

Influenza/rhinopneumonitis vaccination is not one of the AAEP's "core" vaccines, but it is strongly recommended on a semi-annual basis. Flu and Rhino are both contagious respiratory infections that spread from horse to horse. The Flu/Rhino vaccine may be unnecessary if your herd is mostly isolated and rarely travels. While this is an intramuscular vaccine, there is also a popular intranasal influenza vaccine.

Strangles (Annual - Spring)

Strangles is a bacteria that causes regional and systemic lymph node abscessation, resulting in pirulent or pus discharge from the nostrils. Your horse will have a high fever, and you will frequently hear a hacking, strangled sound as he breathes, thus the term. Strangles is usually not life-threatening, but they can be. It can be fatal if the bacterium infects the internal lymph nodes or if the regional lymph nodes in the throat clasp and obstruct the airway.

Potomac Horse Fever (Semi-Annual - Spring & Fall)

Potomac Horse Fever (PHF) is a localized bacteria with an expanding distribution. Horses can contract this bacterial infection by eating dead mayflies and other insects and can lead to fatal diarrhea. Although most common in the northern United States, there has been a surge in recent years in other areas of the country. Horses that have PHF but have been vaccinated typically have less severe symptoms than unvaccinated horses.

You should consult with your vet to decide if the Potomac Horse Fever vaccine is right for your horse.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

More questions about equine vaccinations? Contact our vets at Reelfoot Animal Hospital.