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Adverse reactions to immunizations can also occur. It's fairly common for horses to show signs of fatigue, be less alert, lack energy, run a fever, lose their appetite or have localized muscle soreness or swelling at the injection site. These are the immune system's response to infection and should subside within 24 hours. However, side effects such as hives, difficulty breathing, colic, collapsing or swelling at the injection site several days after the vaccination are signs of a more severe reaction and should be immediately reported to the veterinarian.

Issues and concerns about immunizations should always be discussed with the veterinarian prior to inoculation. Some reactions may be related to the adjuvant, which is a substance added to the vaccine that triggers a more effective immune response. Some vaccines don't contain an adjuvant and the veterinarian may opt to try one of these if the horse has a prior history of reacting to inoculations. Likewise, using single immunizations, rather than a combination shot, makes it easier to pinpoint which vaccine is causing the problem.

Another alternative for horses that have had reactions to vaccinations includes spacing out the shots. Giving one every two weeks, instead of giving four or five vaccines in the same day, puts less stress on the immune system. Of course, for horse owners this often means multiple farm call fees. Some veterinarians offer haul-in service where owners can trailer their horses to the vet, thereby reducing or eliminating this additional expense.

Currently there are fourteen different vaccines available for horses. However, it is unlikely that an individual horse will need each one. In recent decades, there has been much debate about the safety of aggressive vaccination programs for humans as well as for animals. Questions arise as to whether or not vaccinations cause imbalances in the immune system and trigger chronic allergies and respiratory problems.

Current recommendations also suggest broodmares should be vaccinated approximately 4 to six weeks prior to their foaling date. This not only protects the broodmare but allows for passive transfer of immunity to the foal, providing the newborn receives the necessary immunoglobulins from the mare's colostrum. Vaccination programs for the foal typically begin at 3 to 4 months of age and can vary depending upon whether or not the mare was immunized prior to foaling. Foals generally receive 1 to 2 additional boosters of each vaccine at three to four week intervals.

There is no doubt, routine vaccinations can strain the budget equestrians set aside for veterinary care. But compared to the cost of caring for an ill horse or worse yet, replacing one that died from a preventable disease, vaccinations are a wise investment! 

The information contained within this article does not constitute medical advice.
Please consult your horse's veterinarian for further information on vaccination programs, diseases and health care.

Determining which vaccines a particular horse needs requires a cooperative effort between the horse owner and the veterinarian. Veterinarians are up-to-date on which diseases are prevalent in the area. They also know which type of vaccines are most effective and which ones are more likely to cause an adverse reaction. On the other hand, the veterinarian doesn't know each horse's exposure potential to contagious diseases - unless the horse owner shares this information. Thus, it's vital for the horse owner to discuss with the vet whether or not the horse will be transported to horse shows, trail rides, clinics or to another stable for training or lessons. Likewise, transporting a horse across state lines can alter vaccination requirements. All these factors can influence which vaccines are needed as well as the optimal time for administering the shots and the frequency or need for boosters.

Remember that it takes time for the body to respond to a vaccine and begin producing the antibodies that protect against disease. Generally, horses should be vaccinated at least three weeks prior to a period of increased risk. For vector-born diseases, like West Nile, vaccinating three to four weeks prior to mosquito season provides the most effective protection when the threat of this disease is the greatest. In addition, horses that have been exposed to a disease may need a booster shot to improve immunity. 

Ideally, veterinarians work with their clients to develop an individualized immunization program that includes both core and risk-based vaccines. Core vaccines are those recommended for most horses. These immunizations might be required by law or protect against diseases that have public health significance, such as rabies. Typically, core vaccinations are chosen because they protect against diseases that are endemic to a region, are highly virulent, or have high morbidity and mortality rates.


Immunization Done Right!

Some owners question whether aggressive vaccination programs are safe.

To help track your horse's vaccination history, click the picture for a printable Horse Health record page. You can find additional health record pages by clicking here.

Getting the Most From Your Vaccination Dollars

Click the picture for a printable copy of the Equine Risk-based Vaccinations to keep with your horse's health record. You can find additional health record pages by clicking here.

It's spring and for horse owners that means immunization time. Often, it seems like we just get done paying off those Christmas and winter heating bills, only to get hit with the cost of routine vaccinations. If you have multiple horses, that annual spring vet bill can easily run into hundreds of dollars. So you may be wondering if your horse really needs all these shots.

There is no doubt that immunizations are an important part of your horse's overall health care program. Since vaccines are derived from pathogens, they trigger an immunogenic response in the body. Following a regular vaccination schedule not only helps your horse fight off a potentially deadly infection, but protects the other horses in the stable by reducing the likelihood that an outbreak of disease will occur.

Surprisingly however, the American Association of Equine Practitioners does not issue a standard vaccination program for horses. Instead they offer guidelines for veterinarians to follow when recommending immunization programs for their clients. These guidelines are based upon the horse's risk for acquiring the disease, the potential outcome if the disease is acquired, the effectiveness of the vaccination and the potential for an adverse reaction. Since these factors can vary from horse to horse and region to region, a one-size-fits-all vaccination program is neither cost-efficient nor prudent.

Risk-based vaccinations are additional immunizations that are recommended for horses that have a greater potential of contracting diseases. This can include horses that are traveling to different regions of the country as well as horses that have frequent contact with new or unfamiliar equines. Likewise, some risk-based vaccinations are only recommended for stallions, brood mares or their foals. 

To better understand which vaccines your horse needs and the optimal time to administer them, click on the picture to open a printable Horse Health record page on Core Vaccinations. You can find additional health record pages by clicking here.


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