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Vaccination for Horses

    Vaccinations can be a touchy subject. There are views to the extreme saying to avoid them altogether, while others vaccinate for everything they possibly can "just in case". I really feel the answer is somewhere in the middle. I recently read an article in a mainstream horse magazine on this very subject.

    You can vaccinate for a staggering list of diseases, and sometimes it is hard to know what is best for your horse. In this regard, I do feel that a veterinarian is your best bet for finding out what is necessary in your area. So if in doubt, ask your vet. *Remember, just because they are recommended, you don't have to partake on all of them.* Many times owners can administer the shots themselves, but if you feel it out of your comfort zone, a vet is quite happy to do it for you. Some horses SHOULD be vaccinated by your vet- either because the horse is needle shy and too dangerous for the owner to administer to, or to make sure it is done properly.  There is always a risk with all vaccinations having a severe, negative effect.


Vaccinations and "Natural" Horse Care

   Natural Horse Care advocates often recommend fewer vaccinations, while more traditional schools of thought call for more vaccines as they become available. There are a lot of potential negatives when vaccinating. Of the side effects, the mildest can simply be sore muscles, mild infections and even getting the disease for which you vaccinated. In more severe side effects, horses may suffer laminitis, analphylactic shock and even death. Of course, the mild reactions are the more common ones. However, knowing that each and every shot could have potentially severe side effects, one should strive to minimize the number of vaccinations given, yet provide suffcient protection for your beloved horse(s). 

     Combo vaccinations seem to be the answer, with fewer needle pricks and more "bang for the buck" in numbers of diseases you think you can protect them from. However, too many given at once increases the risk for the negative reactions to that single shot. So, now that you are really confused, what should you do for YOUR horses? I recommend making a checklist of what your horse will need. Ask yourself a few questions about your horse. 

        *If your horses are exposed to a transient population, either because they travel to shows/events a lot (which stresses them and could suppress their immune systems as well as exposing them to more "exotic" disease than by staying home), or if you board in a public barn, buy/sell or train outside horses then a more comprehensive list of vaccines should be given. 

        *   If your horse stays at home, around the same herd members and are isolated (where neighboring horses can't touch and flies/mosquitos are not shared) you can give a minimum of vaccines as their exposure rate is much lower.

       * Mares to be bred, or pregnant will need something slightly different than geldings, stallions and barren/spayed mares.

       * Insect populations. Mosquitoes carry a lot of nasty things and if you live in warmer, more humid areas, mosquitoes must be considered. More vaccination coverage will be needed.

       *  Already sick or weak horses may need fewer vaccines, even if more will be added later. Their immune systems may not be able to handle it. It's better to simply quarantine them until they are healthy enough to join the herd. A vet should be consulted in this case.

       * Young, or horses with unknown histories may need more frequent booster shots to make sure they work, as well as the traveling horse, or any that will be exposed in the near future.

       * Location: Certain parts of the world/country will have higher risks for certain diseases.

So, I recommend asking yourself how old your horse is, how likely he is to be exposed to other horses and how frequently. Then, find out what is most prevalant in your area (or where you will be traveling to). Also, some things you can vaccinate for, but it may not be that dangerous of a disease and if you can afford to risk a couple of weeks off, it might be better to skip that vaccination. Remember, you really only want to vaccinate for things that are really risky or could ruin your competative season.


What are the basic shots?

    While I do try to allow my horses to be as "Natural" as I can, I also realize they are living a domestic lifestyle. They are exposed to more rusty metal and potential puncture wounds and are exposed to more "Strange" horses than probably would be in a herd in the wild where they would more or less live in the same family groups, only seeing other herds from a distance and occasionally loosing part of the population to a new disease if it took hold, I don't believe my horses CAN completely protect themselves naturally in domestic environments. I do try to vaccinate minimally and try to let them live a healthier lifestyle to promote a healthier immune system with exercise and nutrition.

   I also SEE the negative effects of vaccinations. In clients horses, I frequently see laminitis after a heavy round of shots. This might be due to these horses also tend to be the ones living the most unnatural and high-stress lives. It's just the final straw that tips them into laminitis. I also have seen some horses that were severely muscle sore afterwards and performance was off for days. Then there have been those that develop lumps, atrophied dents in the muscle tissue, infections at injection sites that developed pus and even some that came down with the disease for which they were vaccinated. The side effects ARE real, and possible.

Tetanus is the absolute most necessary shot you can give! This is a disease that once it takes hold, there isn't much you can do to save your horse.  It's also a germ that is everywhere, so you can't avoid its presence. Due to it's mortality rate, DO NOT SKIP TETANUS SHOTS! The side effects I've seen have never come from simple tetanus toxoid vaccines. They were either other shots or combo shots.

Certain shots, like the Strangles vaccine, is more subjective, in my opinion. Strangles is rarely fatal. It does cause some misery for any infected horses, and is HIGHLY contageous. It is said to stay on farms and every few years there will be "storms" of strangles infections in foals or new horses. Most horses, once they have it, rarely ever get it again. Coupled with a low mortality rate, and a high potential for the horse to get it anyways, I personally don't bother with it. However, I quarantine new or horses to avoid breakouts. If I were a trainer, I would have a higher rate of risk, and would consider it. However, every time I have vaccinated for Strangles, they either got it (mild cases) right away, or later in the season, and these were horses that had been vaccinated before. Yet, the ones that had had Strangles from direct contact with an infected horse, got a little sicker, but only had it once, instead of a recurring bout every season.

Ask your vet what is available and recommended. Then ask what is the bare minimum for your situation if you have any doubts. Try to space the shots over a few weeks to avoid overload on the horse. When giving multiple shots, administer them in different locations to minimize soreness. Get your horse moving for 15-20 minutes after the shots. This helps it to circulate in the body and be absorbed. It also cuts down on soreness and other side effects.

All artificial immune stimulation carries risk. Make sure potential benefits are realistic enough to merit the risks. This will help keep your horses' immune system more naturally healthy and strong, while countering the effects of domestication.