Thursday, April 23, 2009

Spring Tune-Up

It s that time of year again that the horses are due for vaccinations. For the last several years I have hemmed and hawed over whether we should vaccinate or not. I have always decided to go ahead and vaccinate , but only for Tetanus, eastern/western, influenza, and westnile. We don’t vaccinate for Rhino anymore because we have had so many issues with reactions. A healthy adult horse can usually fight off the Rhino virus anyways without too much difficulty. It’s kind of like a really bad cold for us. Every spring we suffer through sore and stiff necked horses for a few days, one year so bad we had to administer bantamine to help them because they couldn’t move their head and neck to eat and drink. We have had abscesses, swelling, lethargy, etc. All any horse owner wants to do is to have a happy healthy horse and the yearly vaccines are supposed to be part of that duty. Every year, as I administer shots, I can’t help but wonder, am I hurting my horses more than helping them? It’s a difficult question without a simple answer.
Over the last several years there seems to be more and more horse owners out there going away from vaccinating their horses because the side effects are worse in some cases than the disease that the vaccine is supposed to prevent. We even have a few friends who have made the choice for one reason or another to stop vaccinating all together. None of them have had any issues with illnesses since ceasing vaccinations and in one case; the owner hosts many clinics and lessons at their facility, bringing in several outside horses through out the year , exposing their own herd to risk. Those people we know that have chosen to go away from vaccinations did so because their horses had either horrible reaction that left life changing health issues or in one case they lost a horse due to a reaction.
On the other hand, I attended a local 4 day horsemanship clinic a few years back. It was in early and it just so happened that we had vaccinated all of our horses early that year. 3 days into the clinic , horses at the facility and those attending the clinic started coming down with a high fever, runny noses, coughing, and loss of appetite. A lot of horses got very sick. As it turns out , not one of our horses even showed the slightest symptom. Our horses were the only ones that didn’t get sick. At first I thought it was because didn’t keep our horses at the facility that it was being held at, and were hauling the horses to the clinic each day, but three other clinic attendees were also hauling in and their horses came down with the illness. That kind of ruled that theory out.
We found out later that every horse that did get ill had not received their spring vaccines yet. I would like to believe that in our case, the vaccines saved us from many restless nights of checking on sick horses, multiple doses of antibiotics and so on, but did it really? I guess I won’t ever know for sure but the vet seemed to think so and it seems to be the logical reason.

So , given that I have had both good and bad situations with vaccines, I am still torn about what best decision is. I suppose I will vaccinate for West Nile for sure this year but still tossing the coin on the others. I am not a scientist and maybe I am over simplifying but it has always seemed odd to me that horses need vaccines every year while with humans, most vaccines are needed early in life and then that is it ,unless a person travels to another country . Why are vaccines for other mammals needed yearly? One the flip side, there is of course the consideration of vaccination simply out of courtesy to other horse owners, especially if the horse is traveling to several locations where there are other horses.

I have copied below my vets recommendations and thoughts on vaccines and reactions that they recently published in their spring newsletter.

"The core vaccinations for all horses recommended by the American Association of Equine Practitioners include West Nile Virus, Eastern and Western Encephalomyelitis, Tetanus and Rabies. Each of these diseases poses a serious threat to the life of the horse. All horses of all ages are at risk of these diseases whether they are high end performance horses or a back yard pet. Rabies has not been reported in domestic livestock in the Flathead Valley in over 20 years; therefore we currently do not recommend Rabies vaccination of local horses that do not travel outside of the valley. However, Rabies is considered part of the core vaccines for much of the U.S., so for those horses that do travel, particularly to the east, Rabies should be included. We recommend and use Innovator West Nile + EWT made by Fort Dodge Laboratories, which contains all of the core vaccines (with the exception of Rabies).

The other diseases that we commonly vaccinate against are contagious but generally not life threatening to the horse. Influenza, Equine Herpes Virus (Rhino) and Strep equi (Strangles) fall into this group of diseases. Horses that travel or come in contact with horses that do (show horses or horses boarded in public stables) are at greater risk of exposure to these diseases. The decision to vaccinate for these diseases is based on risk of exposure, the owner’s risk tolerance, cost and potential side effects of the vaccine. We see very few complications from vaccinating for Influenza and Equine Herpes Virus. Local swelling and soreness at the injection site occurs at the rate of 1 in 200 horses, for this reason we recommend the vaccine be administered at least one week before a show. Strep equi or Strangles vaccine on the other hand has a higher rate of adverse reactions. Horses vaccinated with the intramuscular vaccine often exhibit some muscle soreness and although rare may develop an abscess at the injection site. The intranasal vaccine may induce a mild infection and occasionally an abscess in a regional lymph node of the head in 1 in 500 horses. These cases appear to a very mild form of the disease itself." -courtesy of Lasall Equine Vet Clinic

What are all your thoughts on vaccinating horses? Do you vaccinate or do you take your chances? What was your deciding factor for either decision?


ellescee said...

I'm a traditionalist and believe in vaccination--the old adage "an ouce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" seems to ring true for many of the diseases.

However, I understand not wanting to vaccinate. I believe at a minimum you should vaccinate for West Nile and Tetanus. They can get Tetanus from an aberrant nail in the pasture, so it's not a highly contagious dissease and can happen to any horse, any time. The treatment for the disease is costly, time-consuming, and sometimes futile.

Also, I have to get in my small public service announcement. I understand horse owners not wanting to vaccinate if they've got a pleasure horse that rarely leaves the property or has had a negative reaction to a vaccine. However, as endurance riders, I think it is our responsibility to not only take our own horses's well-being into consideration. If the majority of horses at a ride wer unvaccinated, a disease could spread like wildfire through ridecamp and have a serious impact on future endurance endevors. It would be terrible not to have vaccinated for influenza or the like and have your horse have permanent respiratory complications as a result.

Ultimately, though, it comes down to a personal decision and I completely understand the movement towards fewer vaccinations. However, I think that if one were to undertake that kind of responsibility, they should at least have titers done each spring to measure the level of immunity that is present. At least this could potentially cut down on the total number of vaccinations given over a life-time.

Whew! It's one of those things I feel strongly about. Don't GET me started on deworming!


Jonna said...

(oops, I forgot to mention that we always vaccinate and always will for tetanus, that is definitely a must)Thanks for your input. Since you are a soon to be vet, I value your input. You make all very good arguments.. The titer thing would definitely be important. Worming? yeah that's a whole different thing that drives me crazy! I'm now taggin you to do to post on it!!

Susan Catt said...

I use to be a traditionalist and I do vaccinate for the first four or five years of a horses life. I will then allow a few years to slip by before vaccinating again. My thoughts are that the horse builds up s omany anitbodies, and after awhile it's just overkill. I agree with Tetnus, and vaccinating a horse if he is traveling otherwise if he is staying at home and being ridden locally or alone that his arsenal of antibodies will portect him naturally. If lived where horses were coming and going I may be more inclined to vaccinate yearly. Just to ward off vet bills as you mentioned in your post.

ellescee said...

Thanks, Jonna!

Maybe I will do a post on it! Hmmm....I may even be able to count it towards studying for finals...


Catherine said...

Enjoy lurking on your blog Jonna (I have endurance dreams with my stallion but no progress there yet). Good thoughts on this topic. I will add a couple things because, well, I'm a horse owner and like to voice my opinion--lol! I have a gelding that had a very bad reaction to the five way vaccine. Within a month he began exhibiting breathing problems which the vet couldn't diagnose. He was only five. Since that time, he seems to have a seasonal allergy type thing/asthma that comes and goes--very reactive immune systom now. Coincidence? I don't think so. Some horses just can't tolerate the punch to the immune system over and over. I used to give him all the recommended vaccines, every year. I am a writer and had the opportunity to research this topic not long ago. Unfortunately, the publication that was innitially interested in the feature (no names please) turned it down though they said the writing was very good and, "please submit again." I had even interviewed the state assistant veterinarian, a man who once worked for Fort Dodge. The piece was not anti-vaccine but I took a middle road, "use care" approach. The publication sells alot of ads for pharmaceutical companies so is this a coincidence? I think not. Follow the money. Vaccinations are big money. It is also convenient that titer testing for horses is not reliable and not regularly done or even understood by some vets(read the the AAEPs own statement about this). Why isn't the research being done? Because of public outcry, companion animal vaccinations are handled more carefully now and titers more common (immunity lasts longer than expected--surprise!). NOw, I am not a super natural girl that thinks no vaccines, ever. But I believe vets should be more prudent here. Give their clients more information and not blindly vaccinate backyard animals every year because they can. Many owners are under the assumption they are being good stewards of their animals. Should show horses/endurance horses have more vaccines? Sure. Each situation is unique but what many people don't realize is that vaccines are NOT harmless. I don't travel a whole lot but do take my animals to local barns and trail heads. They all get tetanus and that's it.

Jonna said...

Hi Catherine and welcome. Thanks for lurking. I love meeting and hearing from new voices out there. Thankd for your side of the story. Whether or not to vaccinate is obviously a debatable topic. I guess the bottom line is that horse owners need to educated themselves and make the right decision based on their unique situation and what they are comfortable with. Glad to hear you are another endurance rookie hitting the trails. Keep up the hard work.