Vaccinate to protect your horse
Disease prevention through vaccination is an essential part of horse management. If you are lucky enough not to need your vet for an emergency this year, you should still make sure you see them for your horse's vaccinations and check-up. The health check is also an ideal time to discuss how your horse has been over the year, identify whether there are any areas that need monitoring or further investigation and discuss any questions or concerns that you may have regarding your horses’ health and management.
Vaccinating your horse against equine influenza
This disease spreads very rapidly and can have significant economic implications due to loss of performance as well as the ill health of an infected horse so vaccination is often compulsory for horses entering competitions, particularly if they are run under British Horseracing Authority or FEI rules. You should check that your horse is vaccinated to meet local requirements before setting off for a competition. Even if your horse isn’t competing it is important to protect them against the unpleasant ill effects of equine influenza.
Foals should start their flu vaccinations from a young age, typically four to six months of age.. The initial course for foals and adults alike is two injections given generally 4-6 weeks apart, with a third injection required around 5-6 months later. Following this third injection, the manufacturer's recommendation for subsequent flu vaccination should be followed and is typically every 12 months. If you are competing your horse you will also need to make sure that the vaccinations are in accordance with the governing body for your particular sport. For most governing bodies, standard manufacturer recomentdations are sufficient for competition, however some organisations, such as the FEI require 6 monthly intervals between flu vaccines and a period of time between vaccination and competition. Be careful to check the rules of any competition before you leave for an event.
If any, there are usually only mild side-effects to a flu vaccine.. Your veterinary surgeon will be able to discuss what you may see and if you are worried that your horse is having a reaction you should always contact your veterinary surgeon for advice.
Vaccinating your horse against equine herpes virus
Equine herpes (EHV) can cause respiratory signs, neurological disease and can have implications for breeding mares if infected, including risk of abortion. Not every horse requires an EHV vaccine and you should discuss with your vet whether this vaccine is appropriate for your horse. The initial vaccination course is similar to the flu vaccine (2 injections 4-6 weeks apart) but the booster interval is shorter and specific schedules exist for the vaccination of pregnant mares. Contact your veterinary surgery for further information regarding EHV vaccination.
Vaccinating your horse against tetanus
Tetanus vaccination is recommended for all horses, whether or not your horse leaves the yard or meets other horses as the organism responsible for infection is in the environment. Initial (primary course) vaccination again starts with two injections given 4-6 weeks apart. Following the initial course, booster injections should be given at least every one to three years, depending on the vaccine manufacturer's instructions so check with your vet who will advise you on the relevant booster interval for your horse. As with other equine vaccines, side effects are not common but horses may rarely become stiff or sore around the site of injection after it is given and you should contact your veterinary surgeon for advice if you suspect that this has occurred.
Vaccinating your horse against strangles
There is also a vaccine that is available against strangles for horses that are at risk of this infection and this vaccine is given into the upper lip of the horse, using a special applicator. The first two (primary) vaccinations are given 4 weeks apart, and a booster vaccination is then needed after 3 months. The booster interval will then depend on the risk of infection to your horse and what other control factors are in place. Your veterinary surgeon will discuss booster intervals and control factors that will be appropriate to your yard and whether vaccination against strangles is recommended in your horse.
Other equine vaccinations
In addition, there are other vaccines that are usually only used in high-risk areas or in breeding horses and not all of which are available in the UK.
Rotavirus can cause diarrhoea in young foals, but it rarely affects older animals. An equine rotavirus vaccine is available to stimulate immunity in mares so that their milk contains specific antibodies which give their foals protection during their first few months of life. Mares are vaccinated during their 8th, 9th and 10th months of pregnancy.