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Routine Health Care for your Horses


Compiled by Nancy Brannon, Ph.D.

Keeping your horse healthy means having regular check-ups with your veterinarian, plus vaccinations to prevent diseases, and annual Coggins tests.

Immunizations are a vital part of proper equine management and care. The specific vaccines your horse needs are dependent on several factors such as: environment, age, use, exposure risk, geographic location, and general management. Foals and broodmares require different immunization protocols. Together with proper husbandry, dental care, deworming, and nutrition, you can ensure your horse’s good health.    Please talk to your veterinarian for recommendations, and together you can design a tailored immunization plan for your horse’s specific needs.

The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) has outlined the following guidelines for Core Vaccines, or immunizations that every horse should receive:

Tetanus: Also called “Lockjaw”, tetanus is caused by a bacteria Clostridium tetani which lives in the soil as well as the gastrointenstinal tract of animals.  Symptoms include muscle stiffness and rigidity, a “sawhorse” stance, flared nostrils, and third eyelid prolapse.  This disease is highly fatal.

Rabies:100% fatal in horses

Semi-annual vaccines:
Eastern and Western Equine Encephalomyelitis: Also called “Sleeping Sickness,” encephalomyelitis is transmitted by mosquitoes after they acquire the virus from birds and rodents.  Symptoms include fever, depression, loss of appetite, staggering, and paralysis. 

West Nile Virus: Also spread by mosquitoes, WNV is a neurologic disease that affects horses throughout the United States

Risk Based Vaccines, or immunizations that are based on travel, job, and geographic location:
Influenza: Extremely contagious, and is recommended as a semi-annual vaccine due to the short immunity the vaccine provides

Rhinopneumonitis: Caused by Equine Herpes Virus (EHV) 1 and 4.  Both EHV 1 and 4 can cause respiratory symptoms, and EHV 1 also causes abortion, foal death, and neurologic signs.  EHV is extremely contagious, and semi-annual vaccination is recommended due to the short immunity that the vaccine provides.

Potomac Horse Fever: Seasonal problem with geographic factors
Strangles:Highly contagious, rarely fatal.  Recommend to NOT vaccinate during outbreak or clinical signs.

We checked with a sample of mid-south veterinarians to see what their annual vaccination recommendations are and what the costs are.

Full Circle Equine recommends: “Our annual vaccination protocol includes: Rhino/Flu, Eastern and Western Encephalitis, West Nile, Tetanus, Rabies, and Strangles. The cost for one horse to vaccinate plus a farm call ($50) is $165. If the horse is brought to the clinic, it saves the farm call charge and we do not charge an office visit, making the cost $115. We always encourage people to bring their horses into the clinic to make it more affordable. If we come out to a boarding barn with multiple people, we split the trip charge among owners.

“In the fall we focus on semi-annual vaccines, Rhino/Flu, West Nile and E/W Encephalitis, which are the mosquito spread diseases; we want to keep the horse better protected. It’s always a good idea to vaccinate twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall if your horse is in a boarding barn where horses are always coming and going to different places, like trail rides or horse shows.”

Jennifer Dunlap Equine Services provides the same semi-annual vaccines, plus Coggins tests that are needed on an annual basis. This fall, Jennifer gave some of her clients’ horses these vaccinations: Westnile/Encephalitis/Tetanus, Flu +’03, ‘07/RhinoEHV-1/4, and Rabies.

Jennifer charges $30 for Coggins; the Westnile/Encephalisis/Tetanus shot if $54; Flu, Rhino EHV is $35; and Rabies is $18. Jennifer’s farm call is also ~$50.

Tennessee Equine Services intern Allison Williard recommends these annual vaccinations, which, she said, many folks give in the spring. She said that some folks opt for the 5-way vaccine, which includes eastern & western encephalitis, rhinopneumonitis, influenza, and tetanus. Others opt for the 6-way, which includes these five plus West Nile virus. If the horse is showing a lot, she said a rhino booster in the fall is good precaution. Rabies is recommended and strangles vaccine is an elective. She said that the strangles vaccine doesn’t prevent the disease, but can lessen the impacts of the disease if contracted. In addition to these vaccinations, horses should get their teeth checked once a year and have a fecal egg count, which can be done in the fall or spring. This test will indicate how often to deworm the horse.

The costs are: trip change starts at $30 + any additional mileage; the vaccinations are $72; Rabies is $17; strangles is $32; Coggins test is $30; fecal egg count runs $20 - $30; and teeth check up runs $140-150 + sedation.

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