I am often asked to recommend a vaccination schedule for a client’s horse.
At first blush, that would seem to be an easy question to answer, but it really depends on a number of factors in order ensure that the horse will be adequately protected from the diseases it will most commonly be exposed to during the course of its seasonal activity.
To begin the conversation, we need to consider the types of diseases that a horse may be exposed to and the types of vaccines that are available.
The most common diseases that horses are exposed to are: respiratory diseases such as strangles, equine herpes virus type 1,4 (aka rhinopneuminitis) and equine influenza; mosquito-borne diseases such as West Nile virus, Eastern equine encephalitis and Western Equine encephalitis; and clostridial diseases such as tetanus and botulism.
Strangles is a bacterial respiratory infection common in young horses and equine herpes/equine influenza are both viral respiratory infections that affect both younger and older horses.
Mosquito-borne diseases will affect horses of all ages, as will the clostridial diseases.
Exposure to the various diseases depends somewhat on the degree of travel and herd density around the horse to be vaccinated.
Horses that are predominantly backyard pets, do not travel off-farm and have no or minimal new herdmates introduced will have a low degree of risk for respiratory bacteria/virus-related diseases, but will remain at risk for mosquito-borne and clostridial diseases.
By contrast, a performance horse travelling to shows/competitions and living in a herd/stable of horses with constant movement on and off a farm will be at risk for respiratory viruses/bacterial infections much like a child at daycare.
There are several diseases for which the veterinary pharmaceutical industry has developed efficacious vaccines.
The more common vaccines administered are combinations and are colloquially referred to as either 3-way (tetanus, Eastern and Western encephalitis), 4-way (3-way + West Nile virus) or 6-way (4-way + equine Herpes Virus 1,4 and Equine Influenza).
The strangles vaccine is commonly given separately and alone from other vaccinations. The vaccines can generally be broken up into single diseases as needed.
Vaccination is an important step in preventing disease and illness from spreading through the horse community and ensuring that your horses do not become laid up for part of the prime summer riding season. If you have questions about what vaccinations are most appropriate for your horse or horses, talk to your veterinarian for more information.
Chris Bell is an equine veterinarian and surgical specialist who operates Elders Equine Veterinary Service, with clinics in Cartier and Winnipeg. See www.eldersequineclinic.com