By Robert Holland, DVM, Ph.D.
The world is getting smaller every day. People and horses travel across the country and around the planet at rates never seen before. It has opened up huge opportunities for competition, growth, and learning. Unfortunately, it has also given us increased opportunities to be exposed to a growing number of diseases. Never before has it been so important to connect with your veterinarian to focus on preventive actions for the health of your horse. The number one way to do this is through an effective vaccination program. It is so easy to forget those annual vaccines, but they can and do keep horses healthier, and in some cases, alive. Who wants to see their horses suffer with a disease?
So how do you begin to decide what vaccines to give? Get together with your veterinarian. Your vet can help you assess the risk factors in your area, when the best time to vaccinate would be, and what is right for your specific animals on your farm, ranch, or stable. It is not as easy as it sounds; when I was on the task force for the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) to develop vaccination guidelines, one of our biggest issues was how to account for variations in individual circumstances. For example, the ideal time of year to vaccinate might change due to the geographic area. Using the AAEP guidelines as a starting point, talk with your veterinarian about developing an individual plan for your horses.
Vaccinations aren’t your only defense, however: Preventive management on your farm is another important key. Quarantine any incoming horses away from the rest of your herd for at least two weeks. This should cover any incubation period. That way, if your new horse is sick, you don’t get all of the others sick as well. Make sure to keep your water sources cleaned regularly, wash your hands between horses, and always deal with a sick horse at the end of the day to avoid spreading his disease. If a horse has a respiratory problem, ask your vet to swab his nose to get a sample to test for what specific disease is affecting your horse. That way, the appropriate antibiotic and treatments can be applied. Discuss these and other measures with your veterinarian.
A starting point in developing a vaccination program for your horses is first to determine the risk of infection for your animals with your local vet, who will know the diseases and risk factors common to your area. Are your horses farm-bound, or are they out at a new show every weekend? The process of shipping stresses horses in and of itself. So, if shipped horses are also exposed to many other animals that might be carrying disease, they might need a more aggressive vaccination program to give them the best protection possible in these increased risk circumstances.
How old are your horses? Young horses, like children, tend to pick up passing diseases very easily, as they are still building up their immunity to many diseases. And immunity to any disease isn’t instant, even with vaccine administration. According to the AAEP guidelines, “Protection is not afforded to the horse immediately after administration of a vaccine that is designed to induce active immunity. In most instances, a series of multiple doses of inactivated vaccine must be administered initially for the vaccine to induce protective active immunity.”
The next question to ask is: What are the environmental risk factors? Do you live in an area where there is a high risk of certain diseases? If so, you might need to vaccinate more often for those diseases. For example, someone living in Florida might want to vaccinate more often for West Nile virus because the mosquitoes are active year-round. The type of weather can also impact your vaccination decisions; for example, certain times of the year may be unusually wet through many parts of the country. This could potentially increase the risk of your horse getting a disease such as Potomac horse fever.
AAEP Forum article courtesy of The Horse magazine, an AAEP Media Partner.