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?