Vaccinations an Investment in Equine Health

When watching your wallet, it's also important to remember that trimming many veterinary expenses may cost you more in the end.

"Horses can be very expensive animals to own and maintain," said April Knudson, DVM, manager, Merial Veterinary Services. "So it's no surprise that, even in a relatively strong economy, horse owners look for the most inexpensive ways to care for their animals. However, the urge to trim costs becomes even stronger in a weak economy. When that happens, horse owners must be extremely careful not to cut back on important equine health care staples--like vaccinations, for example."

The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) recommends that all horses be vaccinated against core diseases, including tetanus, Eastern and Western equine encephalomyelitis (EEE/WEE), West Nile virus (WNV) and rabies. Other vaccinations might be recommended by a veterinarian based on individual risk if traveling or the disease is a problem for the area. This could include equine influenza and Potomac horse fever (PHF).

"Annual vaccinations--both for core and additional disease concerns--have long been a staple of equine health care and are the best way to help prevent potentially deadly equine diseases and keep horses healthy," Knudson said. "Even though there is some cost up front, vaccinations are the most cost-effective way to control veterinary expenses related to disease treatment later on down the road."

In fact, supportive care for horses infected with tetanus, EEE, WEE, WNV, PHF, or equine influenza can cost thousands of dollars. For WNV alone, supportive care can cost up to $3,000--45 times more expensive than simply vaccinating the horse for WNV.

Diseases listed in the AAEP's core vaccination guidelines, and PHF and equine influenza, are all diseases that could be a concern for every horse, Knudson added.

In some cases, horses can't help but be exposed. For example, tetanus is caused by bacteria from everyday manure, dirt or rust contaminating a puncture wound, and is fatal in at least 50% of the cases. EEE and WEE, most often known as sleeping sickness, are two of the most common causes of equine encephalitis, and are endemic to the United States--making it nearly impossible to completely eliminate risk of exposure.

"WNV, another core disease concern, has been identified in all areas of the United States and horses represent more than 95% of all non-human cases in mammals," Knudson said. "Finally, rabies is transmitted in the saliva of an infected animal and is 100% fatal for horses and almost always fatal for humans. In the case of rabies, vaccination not only protects horses, it protects their human handlers."

While PHF and equine influenza are not included on AAEP's list of core vaccinations, they are included in the list of risk-based vaccinations. Horses that travel or are stabled with others that travel are most at risk for equine influenza, but any horse that comes in contact with infected caddisflies or mayflies can contract PHF. What's more, PHF is a potentially deadly disease that can cause mild depression, anorexia, diarrhea, abortion in pregnant mares, toxemia, and laminitis. Equine influenza is transmitted through infected horses, contaminated inanimate objects, and people moving between infected and uninfected horses, and is one of the leading causes of respiratory disease in horses.

"Without vaccinations for these diseases, horses are left vulnerable to debilitating side effects or even death," Knudson said. "In addition to a sick horse, horse owners may also have to deal with an empty wallet because supportive care for many of these diseases can cost thousands of dollars. When you do the math, it costs so little just to vaccinate horses up front compared with the potential cost after the horse is sick."

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