Does a Senior Horse Have Special Vaccination Needs?

Does a Senior Horse Have Special Vaccination Needs?

Owners need to ensure all horses are well-protected with a customized vaccination program, including the ones enjoying retirement in the pasture.

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Q. Does my senior horse have special vaccination needs?


A. Horses age, just like humans do. And with age, their bodies change (again, just like humans, but who wants to face that brazen thought?).

One significant change in senior horses, or those horses over 15 years of age, is their immune system, explains Kevin Hankins, DVM, MBA, senior technical services veterinarian for Zoetis. Senior horses can be more susceptible to disease because of their immune system’s inability to work as well as it did earlier in life. This makes vaccinations an even higher priority to help prevent disease and keep them healthy.

It’s a common misconception that senior horses, having received vaccinations for years, are already protected and haven’t the need for annual vaccinations. However, owners need to help ensure all their horses are well-protected under a customized vaccination program, including the ones enjoying retirement in the pasture, but especially for those being transported, which is one of the largest stressors and immune suppressors.

All horses should receive annual vaccinations for core equine diseases, which include Eastern and Western equine encephalomyelitis, rabies, tetanus, and West Nile. Based on your senior horse’s lifestyle, discuss with your veterinarian whether he needs additional risk-based vaccinations, such as equine influenza, equine herpesvirus, or strangles.

As your horse ages, he might require special needs outside of vaccinations such as:

  • Pain-relieving medication or supplementation to combat arthritis;
  • A quality senior diet developed based on the needs of their immune and digestive systems; and
  • Routine dental care to help properly process feed and prevent colic.

Horse owners need to work with their veterinarian to have an excellent plan in place to help ensure the health of their aging horse, both nutritionally and physically. Senior horses are in a special category of their own.

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