April Is Vaccination Education Month For Horse Owners

A horse receiving a vaccination from a veterinarian
Published: April 11, 2022 09:59 am EDT

Just one horse with an infectious disease diagnosis can close a stable or event facility. Vaccination is the best way to lower risk of loss of use, high treatment costs and unnecessary suffering for the horse. Tailoring your annual immunization plan to each equid in your care is the best way to practise prevention from spreading disease.

With spring vaccination season here, the Vaccination Equi-Planner (TheHorsePortal.ca/VaccinationTool) is Equine Guelph’s free healthcare tool available to horse owners as part of Vaccination Education Month. It is designed to explain the risk factors and then provide a print-out personalized to your horse’s vaccination needs – to get the conversation started with your vet.
 
“We are very pleased to announce April as our Vaccination Education Month,” said Gayle Ecker, director of Equine Guelph. “We thank Merck Animal Health, who has been an important partner of Equine Guelph programs for 10 years now, supporting the continued development of this interactive online tool and other important educational initiatives.”
 
Timing is everything

Spring is the popular time for immunization for a reason. West Nile vaccine and vaccines for other vector borne diseases should be administered before mosquitos emerge.  Horses tend to receive their first influenza shots of the year in the springtime in anticipation of outings and increased exposure to pathogens.
 
If you are vaccinating prior to an event, avoid vaccinating too close to trailering day. Depending on the vaccine used, you want to schedule at least two to four weeks out from the shipping date. You should also make sure your horses are appropriately vaccinated for the place to which they are travelling. 
 
“Equine influenza remains one of the most frequent and contagious respiratory tract diseases in horses. As is the case on the human side, the equine influenza virus evolves over time, although at a less rapid pace," said Dr. Serge Denis, Technical Services Veterinary Consultant with Merck Animal Health. “Therefore, the use of a vaccine, including recent strains of equine influenza, is highly desirable in order to help provide coverage against strains circulating in the field.’’  

Equine vaccines for the times

Just as the overwhelming majority of Canadians added COVID vaccines to their immunization roster, your vet may suggest a revised list of shots for your horse depending on what is endemic in your area and what recent strains of disease may impact you. Your horse’s vaccination strategy changes over time and discussions with your veterinarian are integral to your immunization plans. 
 
Age is a factor

Just as a teenager would not get vaccinated for Shingles, your horse’s immunization necessities change over the course of their lives. Foals, broodmares, travellers in their prime and the senior pasture puff all have special considerations.  Vaccination Equi-Planner is a great interactive resource to learn about recommendations for each stage of life of your horse. 
 
Exposure

Horses that are fed hay silage or haylage are usually vaccinated for botulism due to the possibility of encountering Clostridium botulinum, a spore-forming bacteria that grows in the absence of oxygen. Tetanus, on the other hand, is an immunization for every horse as the bacteria is found in the soil and most cases of tetanus are fatal. Rabies has seen its fair share of announcements of late in certain parts of Canada and is also considered a core vaccine. Only vaccination can prevent death from certain diseases such as rabies.
 
Who your horse ‘hangs out with’ should be another consideration. If your horse is a homebody but other horses in the barn travel, they may be exposed to the same threats as their higher risk travelling stablemates. 
 
When you purchase a new horse, it is wise to find out their vaccination status. Then you can have a conversation with your vet knowing which vaccines you require as boosters and which you may be including as part of an initial vaccination course.  
 
Rules and regulations

Reputable boarding barns require proof of vaccinations before allowing a new equine on the property. Vaccination records and biosecurity measures such as quarantine for new and returning horses are important actions taken to protect the health of the horses placed in their care.
 
Racing regulators and racetracks, as well as organizations including the United States Equestrian Federation, Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) and Equestrian Canada have rules requiring vaccination against equine influenza. They also specify how far out before the event they require proof of immunization.
 
How well do you understand the vaccines currently available and what are the discussions you should have with your vet?

Four questions are asked in Equine Guelph’s Vaccination Equi-Planner to help horse owners start conversations with their vet. Every farm has different risk factors including: age, use, sex, exposure to outside horses and geography. Whether you are the proud owner of a young foal, competition horse, hobbyhorse or broodmare, the Vaccination Equi-Planner points out considerations for each and discusses core and risk-based (optional) vaccines your vet may recommend.

(Equine Guelph)

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