Vaccinating the Horse: What You Need to Know

Horses mostly live outside in the wild – here (and also in the stable) they meet conspecifics and other animals, but also dangerous pathogens of infectious diseases. In order to protect your darling from these, it is important to have your horse vaccinated. You can find out here which vaccinations are essential and when they are administered!

Vaccination in Horses – What Happens?

Similar to humans, vaccination in horses is also a prophylactic measure to ward off viruses and prevent infections. The vaccination itself is important for the overall health of your horse because pathogens can be found and spread everywhere in the herd and generally in nature when riding out and on pasture.

During vaccination, weakened and/or killed pathogens of the disease against which protection is to be provided are injected into the horse’s body. The immune system can fight these weaker pathogens much more easily and thus form the corresponding antibodies.

In addition, specific memory cells are formed that recognize the same pathogen even after several years and know how to react to them. Your horse can contain it itself and, ideally, destroy it. Depending on the pathogen, the vaccination protection is guaranteed for different lengths of time and should be refreshed accordingly on a regular basis.

The Basic Immunization in Horses

The basic immunization of the horse begins as early as the foal age. After the sixth month of life, the young horses are out of suckling age and their own immune system is building up.

Now you usually start with the three main vaccinations: tetanus, influenza, and herpes. To complete the immunization, the second injection follows after four to six weeks. Another five to six months later, the foals get the last vaccination against herpes and influenza. The third tetanus injection is only given after 12 to 14 months.

Caution! If possible, do not miss a vaccination! Then you may have to start the whole process from the beginning because the immune system has not developed enough memory cells.

The Vaccination Rhythm

After the basic vaccination has taken place, the vaccinations must be regularly refreshed. In the case of influenza and herpes, this happens every six months at best. With tetanus every one to three years – here you can also use a rapid antibody test to check the existing titers. “Titer” is the measure of the body’s own immunity to a certain disease. If the value is high enough, the vaccination can be postponed a little.

In order to ensure effective protection, it is essential to adhere to these vaccination intervals. It is also crucial that only healthy horses that are not infected by parasites are vaccinated – if this is not the case, the weakened immune system may not be able to build up antibodies.

It is therefore advisable to take a wormer before the vaccination. This greatly reduces the risk of parasites. A fecal examination is also a good measure before vaccination.

Which Vaccination for the Horse?

Vaccination of horses against tetanus and influenza is mandatory in Germany. But further vaccinations can also be very useful. This always includes herpes, because the viruses are very widespread. Vaccination against rabies and/or fungi is also recommended in certain regions.

So that you and your horse get the protection they need, it is best to consult your veterinarian. This can give you precise information about which viruses are particularly widespread in your region and what additional vaccinations are worthwhile.

But why should you vaccinate against the four most common pathogens mentioned here? And what can the viruses actually trigger? We clarify it below.

The Tetanus Vaccination

Not only people are vaccinated against tetanus (tetanus), but this disease can occur in all mammals. The bacterial infection damages the muscle-controlling nerve cells and often leads to death as a result.

The dangerous thing is that the tetanus bacterium occurs almost everywhere in nature. It occurs particularly often in the ground and from here it gets into wounds and thus into the horse’s organism.

Because of the dangerous nature of the toxin, vaccination was made compulsory. Failure to do this is a violation of animal welfare and is not particularly responsible. So always make sure to repeat the vaccination regularly – your vet knows best when it is “due”.

The Influenza Vaccination

Influenza is a viral disease of the respiratory tract. Symptoms include a strong cough, nasal discharge, and a high fever, as well as swollen lymph nodes. In addition, influenza is highly contagious and infects hundreds of (unvaccinated) horses worldwide every year. These then often have to struggle with long-term consequences such as chronic coughing or permanent damage to the airways.

Due to the risk of consequential damage, the influenza vaccination is mandatory for competition horses according to the performance test regulations. The reason? At a tournament, many horses from the most varied of stocks meet – it would be easy for the viruses to spread and then find their way into the various stables.

The Herpes Vaccination

In addition to tetanus and influenza vaccinations, vaccination against herpes is often recommended. This is because around 80 percent of all horses worldwide carry the virus. If it breaks out, it can cause respiratory disease, among other things.

The herpes vaccination not only has the purpose of reducing the risk of infection but also and above all of alleviating or even preventing a possible course of the disease. In addition, this also prevents the herpes viruses from being excreted, which in turn prevents previously uninfected horses from becoming infected.

Vaccination against herpes is a hygiene measure for most stables – the spread can only be limited if the horses have been vaccinated across the board. Many stables, therefore, make it a prerequisite for receiving a horse.

The Rabies Vaccination

We have all heard of rabies. It is the reason why we shouldn’t stroke wild animals as children – otherwise, we would foam at the mouth. In fact, said foam is just one of the symptoms of the disease. Aggression, for example, is also part of it.

The latter is also the reason for the transmission to the horse because the horse is usually infected by the bite of a rabid animal (e.g. fox, raccoon, or marten). Once this happens, the disease needs to be treated quickly so that deadly consequences can be averted.

If rabies is widespread in your area, it is worth vaccinating. In addition to the basic vaccination course, it is given for the first time at the age of six months. It should then be refreshed every two years.

Vaccination in Horses – Side Effects

If you are worried that your horse could suffer negative consequences after vaccination, this will be a little reassuring. Few horses suffer from vaccination side effects at all, and most of them are harmless.

Just like us humans, the muscles sometimes start to hurt in the following hours. However, this will go away after a few days at the latest. In addition, we all would rather accept the brief pain than the truly serious illnesses.

It is best to give your horse a short break after the vaccination and do not ride it at full gallop right away. So it can acclimate itself, so to speak, and its body can digest the new input in peace.

Mary Allen

Written by Mary Allen

Hello, I'm Mary! I've cared for many pet species including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, fish, and bearded dragons. I also have ten pets of my own currently. I've written many topics in this space including how-tos, informational articles, care guides, breed guides, and more.

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