Equine Vaccination Q&A

Work with your veterinarian to tailor your horse's vaccination program to his specific needs.

Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse

Choosing a vaccine type, timing, and administration route can be a complex decision-making process. We'll try to make it a bit simpler.

Perhaps you’re already in the rhythm of planning immunizations for your horses and have scheduled a spring veterinary visit. Or, you could be setting a veterinary care budget for your new horse for the very first time. Either way, you likely have at least a few questions surrounding your horses’ vaccination protocols. Here, our sources will answer some common vaccination queries we’ve received from our readers. Think of it as a virtual FAQ to keep you on your toes and the pathogens—those disease-causing agents that try to rain on your parade (or at least your horse show!)—at bay.

Q. Is there a "one-size-fits-all" vaccination approach?

A. Unfortunately, no. But your veterinarian can help you design the vaccine protocol that is most effective for each horse in your herd.

Every horse’s immune response to vaccination is different and subject to the effects of health status, age, and environmental exposure. “The concept of vaccination is to introduce a small amount of pathogen or representative protein from the pathogen so the immune system can ‘learn’ about that protein,” says Elizabeth Davis, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM-LAIM, professor and head of Equine Internal Medicine and Surgery at Kansas State University, in Manhattan. “With aging or disease, there is a natural reduction in responses induced by the immune system.” Older horses or those with disease (such as pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction, or equine Cushing’s) might need to be vaccinated in a slightly different manner than younger or more healthy horses. 

“Other extraneous factors may influence immune function,” Davis adds. “Stress, such as experienced during long-distance transport and/or strenuous exercise, directly reduces the level of immune response that a host (the horse) can provide.” Always immunize well in advance of any anticipated stress (this also includes foaling, weaning, etc.) so the horse has sufficient time to respond to the vaccine(s).


Q. If my horse does not leave the farm, do I need to vaccinate him?

A. While your stay-at-home horse might not need as many vaccines as the frequent traveler, he does still need the core vaccines that the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) recommends. Every horse, regardless of location, age, or sex, should be vaccinated against Eastern and Western encephalomyelitis, West Nile virus, tetanus, and rabies. Talk to your veterinarian to determine whether your horse can do without risk-based vaccines, which protect against diseases specific to a region or type of horse. 

“AAEP core vaccine guidelines should be followed for all horses—those traveling as well as those staying at home,” says Davis. “If contact with other horses is anticipated, then risk-based vaccines, such as EHV-1/4 (equine herpesvirus, or rhinopneumonitis), EIV (equine influenza virus), and strangles should also be considered.”

This article continues in the March 2016 issue of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care. In this issue get expert answers on questions like:

  • Why do horses need to be vaccinated more frequently than humans or small animals?
  • Are intranasal respiratory vaccines better than standard intramuscular vaccines?
  • Should senior horses be vaccinated as frequently as younger and adults horses?
  • Does giving a combination (multivalent) vaccine offer the same protection as multiple products that each protect against a single disease?
  • and more!

Subscribe now and get an immediate download of this issue.


About the Author

Nancy S. Loving, DVM

Nancy S. Loving, DVM, owns Loving Equine Clinic in Boulder, Colorado, and has a special interest in managing the care of sport horses. Her book, All Horse Systems Go, is a comprehensive veterinary care and conditioning resource in full color that covers all facets of horse care. She has also authored the books Go the Distance as a resource for endurance horse owners, Conformation and Performance, and First Aid for Horse and Rider in addition to many veterinary articles for both horse owner and professional audiences.

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