Do you vaccinate your horse?
Statistics on how many people vaccinate their horses is quite limited, and it is estimated that only 30-50% of horse owners vaccinate their horses. The horse owners who attend the Horse First Aid Courses that I run are quite a self selecting group, but sometimes only half of these might report vaccinating their horse. I find this really surprising as vaccinations are an essential part of preventative health care, and aren’t particularly expensive.
Horses in the UK are most commonly vaccinated for Equine Influenza and Tetanus, although those involved in breeding may well also be vaccinated for Equine Herpes Virus. To protect the overall horse population from infectious disease 85% of the equine population needs to be vaccinated, but there are so many myths when it comes to vaccinating your horse.
With that in mind here are 6 reasons that you should vaccinate your horse.
- It’s not just about your horse
One of the main reasons to vaccinate your horse is to protect your own animal from disease, but vaccinating your horse also contributes to the overall health of the entire equine population. The more horses that are vaccinated the less likely an outbreak of equine influenza is to occur.
- You are providing protection from life threatening diseases
If your horse contracts equine flu they will be quite unwell, but they are unlikely to die. Tetanus, however, is a different matter, and in some ways a much more serious disease. Tetanus is caused by a toxin released by a bacteria called Clostridium tetani, and this bacteria lives in the environment. The horse is the most susceptible of all domestic animals to tetanus, and infection can occur via a wound, or any break of the skin. Symptoms develop within seven to fourteen days, and the bacteria can enter via the smallest cut or scratch.
Prognosis is very poor for a case of tetanus, and sadly the majority of cases do not survive. The vets I work with do report the occasional surviving case, but this is after weeks (if not months) of intensive nursing which can be an expensive option for the owner. If you don’t vaccinate your horse for tetanus you should ask yourself if you’re prepared to take a gamble.
- You can’t compete without vaccinations
Your horse will need to be vaccinated if you wish to compete in Riding Club and Pony Club competitions, as well as in affiliated disciplines. An up to date flu vaccination is also required at more and more local shows, so it is worth looking at the rules of entry.
Checking vaccination records has become much more common, and it would be a shame to arrive at a show or a championship to find that you couldn’t compete because your horse’s vaccination had lapsed.
- You might well invalidate your insurance policy without up to date vaccinations
Vaccinating your horse is considered as routine health care, like hoof trimming or shoeing, dental care and worming. If you choose not to vaccinate your horse, or the vaccinations lapse you might find that your insurance policy is invalidated. Have a look at the small print of your policy, is your horse still covered without a vaccination?
- Vaccinating your horse won’t make it unwell
When I ask owners why they don’t vaccinate their horse they often say that they worry that the vaccination might make their horse unwell. Just like a human receiving a flu vaccination your horse might experience some localised muscle soreness, and it is sensible to tailor your horse’s work schedule around the vaccination giving them a few quieter days afterwards.
Some horses can develop an abscess in the injection site, although this isn’t that common. If you are concerned speak to your vet as they can administer the vaccination into the pectoral muscles in the chest, which will drain much better and heal faster if an abscess did form. If your horse does have a reaction do let your vet know as they report these reactions to the vaccination manufacturers.
- Vaccinations are good value for money
If your horse receives a combined flu and tetanus vaccination there will be an annual booster, and if you only vaccinate for tetanus there is a booster every two years. A vaccination will cost between £25-£45 depending on your location and call out fees of your veterinary practice. Many practices offer a ‘no fee day’ for routine work, in specific locations on certain days. You might be surprised that it is not as expensive as you think.
Compare this price to the cost of an influenza outbreak, which will involve numerous visits from your vet, your horse being isolated for several weeks at least (if not longer) and it is a much cheaper option. Likewise, with tetanus the vaccination will set you back around £20 a year, compared to thousands of pounds of veterinary fees and the strong chance that your horse would not survive tetanus.
Do I need to vaccinate my horse for both flu and tetanus?
For the vast majority of horses, the answer would be yes, however, there are some horses who do not interact with any other horses other than their herd mates. Provided that none of the horses have contact with other horses you might find that it is possible to vaccinate for only tetanus, but please do discuss this with your vet first.
What if my horse is old, or young surely they don’t need vaccinating?
This is a vaccination myth that I often hear. Horse owners might vaccinate their horse who is out competing, but not worry about youngstock or older retired horses.
The first point to note is that tetanus can affect all and any horses, it is not passed from horse to horse but via the environment, so all horses should be vaccinated for tetanus.
Secondly, both younger and older horses can have reduced immunity, and these horses may be less likely to be able to fight off an infection is they were exposed to the flu virus, without the protection of a vaccination. A vaccination makes the horse develop antibodies (which are like internal weapons) against that particular disease so it is ready to attack the disease if it encounters it in the future. Owners of older horses often assume that after years of vaccinating their horse that it will have developed immunity and won’t need any more vaccinations to protect it. Whilst it is thought that protection from the tetanus vaccination can last for up to three years this cannot be backed up with empirical evidence and therefore the booster guidelines for every year (influenza) and every two years (tetanus only) should be adhered to.
I hope that reading this post helps you to understand why vaccinating your horse is so important, and please don’t just rely on your vet sending you a reminder. Stick the date in your phone and diary with a few reminders to book the appointment!
by Nicola Kinnard-Comedie MSc, BHSAI Int. SM
Leading provider of Horse First Aid Courses