You asked @theequinevet – Which vaccines are right for my horse?

Bionca from Illinois writes –

Dear Dr. Bedford, I have 8 horses and vaccines for all of them is expensive. Are there any vaccines that I can skip or are there certain vaccines that you would recommend?

@theequinevet – Bionca, thanks for your question! This a great question and one that is frequently asked by my clients especially with the current economy, we are all trying to cut a few corners and save some money. Unfortunately, there is not an easy answer to your question. Which vaccines are right for your horse depends on many different factors such as age of the horses, travel, intermingling on the farm, geographic location, reproductive status, ect. The most important factor in determining which vaccines are most appropriate for your horse is risk of exposure to the specific diseases that the vaccines protect against.

In my opinion, Eastern/Western Encephalitis (also known as sleeping sickness) and West Nile virus should be considered core vaccines since these diseases are transmitted by mosquitos and exposure to mosquitos is difficult to control. Also, the mortality rate is fairly high nearly 90% for Eastern Encephalitis. These 3 diseases are neurological diseases and if the horse were to survive, residual deficits are likely.

Tetanus (usually included with Eastern/Western Encephalitis combo vaccines) is also in my opinion a core vaccine since this bacteria is found in the soil and horses are highly susceptible to this bacterial infection. Tetanus is a fatal disease. Remember to booster this vaccine if your horse sustains a laceration, hot nail, or hoof abscess > 6 months since previous tetanus vaccination.

Rabies, in my opinion, should also be considered a core vaccine. I often have owners say that their horses are not at risk because they are kept primarily in the barn and only turned out in small paddocks close to the barn. My response is that this is the cheapest vaccine of all of them and the disease is fatal – to horses and humans! In most states, this vaccine can only be purchased and administered by a licensed veterinarian.

Influenza, Rhinopneumonitis (Herpes Virus 1,4), and Strangles are all respiratory diseases that are transmitted from one infected horse to another. If your horse does not travel to shows, ect and exposure to outside horses is minimal these vaccines may be optional. An exception to this would be boarding facilities where your horse may not travel to shows, but is exposed to other horses in the barn that are traveling to shows. In this case, I usually recommend vaccinating for these diseases. It is important to note that there is no vaccine currently available to protect against the neurological form of Herpes Virus 1. If you have a pregnant mare – vaccination for Herpes Virus 1 (killed vaccine) is recommended at 5,7,9 months of gestation to prevent abortion.

Potomac Horse Fever vaccination is controversial. The vaccine only protects against one strain of the Neorickettsia risticci and there are a total of 26 strains, therefore vaccination may not prevent disease. In my opinion, having practiced in geographical locations where Potomac Horse Fever infection was endemic to the area, I believe that vaccination provides some cross protection resulting in less severe clinical signs if the horse does become infected.

I hope this answered some of your questions Bionca!

If you are unsure which vaccines are right for your horse, please consult with your regular veterinarian.

Remember – An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!




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