Everything You Need To Know About Tetanus

Everything You Need To Know About Tetanus

Tuesdays with Tony

A little housekeeping before we get started on Tetanus: don’t forget about my Paddocks & Pastures Seminar on April 19th @ 6:00pm. Join me, the docs, and the Alachua County Extension Office to learn all you ever wanted to know about grass! The talk will be held right here at Springhill Equine, and as always, admission is FREE!

   Now for this week’s enlightening blog. Continuing my trend of why we vaccinate horses for things, I decided to talk to you all about Tetanus today!

What is Tetanus?

   Tetanus is a neurotoxin caused by the bacteria Clostridium tetani, which lives in the soil pretty much everywhere. Clostridium tetani likes to form spores that are very resistant to heat, drying, chemicals, and fire-breathing dragons. Ok, I got a little carried away there… but seriously, this bacteria can survive for years in the environment. More bad news: it is particularly common in horse manure. You know where you can find plenty of that? On horse farms!
    Tetanus becomes a problem when it enters the body, usually through a wound or surgical incision. It is a myth that tetanus comes from sharp metal objects… it’s just that sharp metal objects tend to cause wounds which serve as a perfect entry point for this bacteria.
   Once the organism enters the body, it begins to multiply *evil cat laugh*. Clostridium tetani loves anaerobic (oxygen-poor) environments, like the inside of a wound. The tetanus toxin travels through the bloodstream and binds to nerve endings at neuromuscular junctions. The toxin signals the muscle to contract, and the muscle gets locked in the contracted position.

What does Tetanus look like?

Sawhorse stance tetanus    What this looks like is a horse with all 4 limbs stiffened (often called a “sawhorse” stance), a tight or locked jaw, and the third eyelid flashing across from the corner of the eye. The horse may be lying down with all 4 limbs extended, unable to stand. Eventually the tetanus toxin binds to the muscles used to breathe, leading to death.
    In short, Tetanus looks very scary. Horses usually begin exhibiting signs within 24 hours of infection. The disease can progress over days to weeks, but is over 50% fatal. In order to survive tetanus, a horse must be rapidly treated with tetanus antitoxin, and managed with intensive supportive care (read: $expensive$). Even with treatment, horses often have long-lasting deficits from the tetanus infection.
   If you suspect your horse may have tetanus, call your veterinarian immediately. Better yet, you should call your vet any time your horse suffers a wound that breaks the skin.

Is my horse at risk? 

   If your horse’s hooves ever touch the ground, then yes, he is at risk. If your horse lives on a horse farm full of tetanus-laden horse manure, then he is definitely at risk. If your horse lives on a horse farm, goes outside, and has access to sharp objects he could potentially cut himself on (this basically describes every horse I’ve ever met, and this cat has met a lot of horses), then he is at high risk for being exposed to tetanus at some point in his life.
   In fact, as a human you are also at a pretty high risk of contracting tetanus. This risk is increased if you spend time outside and at the barn, which most of our clients do with most of their free time. If you are a human, you probably received a series of tetanus vaccines as a child. Even so, you will probably receive a tetanus booster vaccine if you have a serious wound and have not been recently vaccinated against tetanus.
    “But Tony,” you may ask, “humans only need a tetanus booster like once every 5 years. Why do horses need boosters every 6 months?” Well, there are the high-risk factors discussed above (living outside in the dirt, having manure that is naturally full of tetanus). Then there is also the fact that nobody has ever studied exactly how long the protection of a tetanus vaccine lasts in horses. If you have a spare million dollars sitting around, you are welcome to fund such a study. Until then, I’m going to continue to err on the side of caution and recommend you vaccinate your horse once every 6 months.

How can I prevent Tetanus?

   I thought you would never ask! Conveniently, there is a simple, inexpensive vaccine that is very effective at preventing tetanus in horses. Our docs recommended the vaccine twice a year in case your horse suffers a puncture wound or laceration. If we perform a surgery (such as castration) we will want to make sure your horse has been vaccinated against tetanus within the last 6 months. Reminder: that’s not because the docs dip their scalpel blades in Clostridium tetani before your horse’s surgery. It’s because cuts, even clean surgical ones, create a route for this bacteria that lives all around us to get inside the body.
    When it comes to tetanus, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Since the disease is often fatal, and treatment is very difficult, we feel strongly that it is well worth a $20 vaccine. For this reason, many of the combination vaccines we give include tetanus. Tetanus is the “T” in “EWT-WN” (Eastern/Western Encephalitis/Tetanus/West Nile) and “EWTR-WN” (Eastern/Western Encephalitis/Tetanus/Rhino virus/West Nile) vaccines. It just so happens that these other vaccines are also recommended every 6 months, so why not lump them all into one poke? If that’s not your style, and this post has inspired you, we do stock the plain Tetanus vaccine at the clinic as well.
    So let’s all remember to call Shannon or MJ at the office to check when our horses are due for a tetanus booster, mmkay? Now I think I’ll go walk through some lovely tetanus-laden horse manure, and roll in some tetanus-flavored dirt! While I’m doing that, why don’t you scroll down a bit and subscribe? I’ll let you take a selfie with me at the next seminar if you do.
Until next week,

Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Office Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!

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Why Equine Vaccines Are Only Good For Six Months

Why Equine Vaccines Are Only Good For Six Months

Tuesdays with Tony

Yeah yeah, I know I just talked about this, but today I want to answer the question I get ALL THE TIME: Do I really have to give vaccines every every 6 months? Yes. Yes you do. If you need more than my assurance, then read on.

When the immune system attacks

That’s exactly how the horse immune system works. My Docs give vaccines, and your horse’s immune system responds great. By that, I mean it makes antibodies to the diseases the vaccines were for. Those antibodies roam around the body 24/7/365 looking for their target (like Eastern Equine Encephalitis, EEE for short). When they find their target, they attack and fight to the death. When something like EEE attacks, it doesn’t attack with two or three little viruses. It attacks with millions of viruses, which means the body needs millions of antibodies. Even more important in a state like Florida with EEE out there all the time, the body needs to have millions more antibodies ready for the next attack.

There’s something I was supposed to be doing…

That last part is where horses have trouble. You see, the immune system needs to remember what viruses it’s supposed to make antibodies to. The equine immune system suffers from short term memory loss. My Docs give a vaccine, those millions of antibodies get made for a while, then the body starts to forget. That time frame is about 6 months. In some horses, it’s as short as 4 months! A bunch of researchers have vaccinated horses, then checked the blood every month for 6 months to see how many antibodies there are floating around. Turns out that number drops in a big way at 2 months, then does a slow decline over the next few months. Here’s a link to one of these papers, in case you need to read it for yourself. The important thing to note in this paper is that these horses were routinely vaccinated every 6 months for YEARS before this study came out. ← And that’s why horses have to get vaccinated all the time, even when they’ve had them for years.

Can’t you do a blood test?

My Docs often get asked, What if we run a blood test to see if there are enough antibodies? You may not realize it, but that’s a super-complicated question. Until recently, it was tough to find a lab that would run these blood tests, called titers. We do now have a lab at Kansas State University where Eastern Encephalitis, West Nile, and Rabies titers can be run. Next tricky part is deciding how many antibodies are enough. No one really knows. There was some work done many, many years ago to look at how much was enough. However, by today’s standards, the answers they got give us an OK answer, but not a very definitive one.

So yes, for some diseases, a titer can be done, but the answer may still be a big question mark.

Is this true for all equine vaccines?

Pretty much, yep. Horses just don’t respond well to vaccines. They do about the best with Rabies, but even then those antibody numbers drop hard and fast at about 14 months. Rhinopneumonitis (also called Herpes, Rhino, or EHV-1) is weird and will get its very own blog, but suffice it to say the vaccine doesn’t work very well, and it follows different rules anyway.

The influenza vaccine has two different versions: an intranasal one and an intramuscular one. The intranasal one is tough to get antibody levels on. Most of the antibodies hang out in the mucosa lining the nose and mouth so a blood test doesn’t work very well. However, in studies it does a great job preventing the flu for at least 6 months (and really more like 12). The intramuscular vaccine makes antibodies, we can measure them, and they seem to help make the flu less icky, but when compared to the intranasal, it’s no contest.  

Strangles also comes in an intranasal and intramuscular variety. This is another tough vaccine to sum up in a sentence. Tell you what, I’ll write a future blog about Strangles too, just for you guys.

So to answer your questions: When it comes to Eastern Encephalitis, West Nile Virus, and Tetanus, your horse definitely needs to be vaccinated every 6 months at a minimum. Rabies needs to happen at least yearly. The intranasal flu can happen every year. Strangles and Rhino are complicated. If you prefer, a blood test can be done for EEE, West Nile, and Rabies, but knowing what the results mean is tough.

Don’t want to worry about any of this? Leave it all to my crack staff of minions. They’ll take excellent care of your horse so you can worry about how that pesky outside rein works.

Now show this cat some love: scroll down a little further, just below that beautiful green virus, and hit that subscribe button.

Springhill Equine vaccines blog

Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Office Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!

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The Inside Scoop on Vaccines

The Inside Scoop on Vaccines

Tuesdays with Tony

The Inside Scoop on Vaccines

Ahh, spring is in the air! I hope all you humans are taking advantage of the beautiful weather and getting some saddle time in. I personally have extended the duration of my naps in the parking lot, interrupted only by the occasional horse trailer or UPS truck. Hopefully that lovely scent of spring blooming (mixed with a little pollen of course) also reminds you that it’s time for your horse’s spring shots! Let me take this opportunity to refresh your memory on why the best person to administer those vaccines is your veterinarian.


I love Tractor Supply as much as the next cat. I mean, who can make it down those aisles at the checkout counter without grabbing one of their irresistible impulse-buy gifts, snacks, or nick-nacks? But one thing I wouldn’t trust Tractor Supply for is handling the vaccines I plan to give my beloved horse. Did you know that vaccines must be maintained within a very narrow temperature range from manufacture all the way up until they are administered?

At Springhill, we will not accept a shipment of vaccines if the ice has melted during transport; we unpack all cold boxes immediately upon receipt; the docs carry the vaccines in coolers in their trucks; the techs don’t draw up vaccines into syringes until they arrive at your farm; and the docs keep the vaccines on ice until immediately before administering them to your horse. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t trust the high school kid working at your local feed store to be this careful.


Do you know which vaccines your horse needs? Do you know how often your horse needs a booster for each vaccine to maintain immunity? Do you know what’s really in a 5-way? If you answered ‘no’ to any of these questions, you should probably have a veterinarian vaccinate your horses. Vaccines are not one-size-fits-all. A horse’s disease risk varies by geographic location, age, and lifestyle. Depending on your horse’s prior vaccination history, what you are vaccinating against, and which brand of vaccine you are using, your horse may need a booster anywhere from 6 weeks to 1 year later.

I didn’t go to vet school, but I know 2 kinda awesome women who did. I highly recommend you take advantage of their education when it comes to vaccinating your horses! Not to mention, they literally vaccinate horses every day, so they have the system pretty down pat. Young horse? Needle-shy horse? Sensitive horse? No worries. Our docs can handle it, and will probably turn it into a positive experience that they look forward to next time.


Everybody thinks the pharmaceutical companies that make vaccines are “in the pocket” of veterinarians, or that there are “kick-backs” for using their vaccine versus another brand. Here’s the inside baseball: I get visits from the representatives of the major companies we buy medications from (including vaccines) about once or twice a year. They always scratch me behind the ears and comment on how handsome I am. Sometimes they bring lunch and I may get a pepperoni off a slice of pizza or a bit of tuna from someone’s sandwich. They talk about their vaccines, the extensive research behind them, the newest changes they have made to decrease the incidence of vaccine reactions from 0.02 to 0.01 percent. They may leave us with some pens, hats, notepads, or keychains. One time a pharmaceutical rep gave us drawstring bags, which I found amusing to play with for about 5 minutes.

However, if you think our docs are choosing which vaccines to carry based on who gave out the coolest pens this year, you are sadly mistaken! They look at the research. They choose the vaccine that has the best combination of disease prevention and lowest reaction rate. That sometimes means carrying a Flu vaccine from one company and a West Nile vaccine from another. Our doctors don’t have their own interests or the interests of some major pharmaceutical company in mind- they only care about what is best for your horse!

I’ll leave you with 2 reminders: 1) Schedule your horse’s spring shots. 2) Make sure you have my next See Tony event, the Deworming Seminar, marked on your calendar for Thursday, March 8th at 6:30pm.

Happy Tuesday! -Tony

Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Office Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!

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Tuesdays with Tony – Pregnant Mare Care

Tuesdays with Tony – Pregnant Mare Care

Pregnant Mare Care: What should I do?

Breeding season is sadly coming to a close. While I’m relieved to see an end to the interruptions of my early morning and late night cat naps, I will miss the excitement of watching the docs confirm a mare is pregnant for the first time. If you just heard the awesome news that your mare is in foal, congratulations! Now what? Should you simply mark your calendar for 11 months from now, sit back and relax?  Well, not exactly. Pregnant mare care is about to become a big part of your life for the year to come! Let me explain.

Cute ultrasound pics
If you were a pregnant human, you’d be visiting your midwife or OB/GYN about once a month throughout your pregnancy. For horses, we recommend ultrasounds at 14 days, 30 days (“heartbeat check”), 60 pregnant mare foaldays, 90 days, and 7 months of pregnancy. How else can you get cute ultrasound pictures to post on Facebook with your mare’s pregnancy announcement? But seriously, early embryonic loss is not uncommon in mares, so we like to do several ultrasounds during the first few months of pregnancy to confirm that all is well. The 7 month ultrasound is primarily to look for signs of placentitis, or infection of the placenta. When identified early, placentitis can be treated and can prevent abortion of a late-term foal.

Your mare, the pincushion
While there are many potential causes of abortion in mares, there is one that is very easily prevented: equine herpes virus. The Pneumabort vaccine is extremely safe, and designed specifically for pregnant mares to protect against equine herpes virus infection. In my humble opinion, giving your mare a Pneumabort shot at 3, 5, 7, and 9 months of pregnancy is a no-brainer! Also, don’t forget to schedule your mare’s pre-foaling vaccines 4-8 weeks before her due date. The docs like to vaccinate mares shortly before giving birth to boost those antibodies so they will transfer to the newborn foal in the mare’s milk. A brilliant plan, if I do say so myself!

Prenatal vitamins for horses
Now that she is eating for two, it may be time to increase or change your mare’s feeding program. Just like pregnant humans, mares need a strong vitamin and mineral package to support the healthy growth of their fetus. Lucky for you, there are several commercially available Mare & Foal feeds that are well suited to meet the needs of pregnant and lactating mares. Especially towards the end of her pregnancy, it will be important to keep up with your mare’s nutritional demands in order for her to produce enough milk once her foal is born.

So, fear not my friends. For although this year’s breeding season is coming to a close, you will see me again at least another half dozen times between now and when that adorable foal makes his debut! As a matter of fact, you can come see me at 6:30 pm on June 8th here at the Clinic for our ever-popular Skin Funk Seminar! If you bring me a treat, I’ll let you pet me. Well, I’ll probably let you pet me even if you don’t bring a treat, because I’m a good guy like that.


Tuesdays with Tony – Blessed Be The Old Farts

Tuesdays with Tony – Blessed Be The Old Farts

Blessed be the old farts.  Around here there is a kind of reverence for the older horse.  I will admit to jealousy.  It’s not pretty, I know, but it’s real.  I mean, I’m a cat.  I deserve all the reverence around here.  In an effort to explore the causes for this misguided worship I talked with my minions, I mean humans, about the phenomenon.

Turns out all my humans went with something along the lines of enjoying their horses, learning from them, and feeling appreciative of all the horses gave to them during their athletic careers.  The humans said they wanted to make sure their horses had wonderful retirements since they had earned it.  I was a little confused by the “earned it” thing, since I don’t need to earn anything, but I digress.

What messes up a horse’s retirement?

Do they golf? Do they play Canasta and Bridge?  Apparently no.  They wander around a field and eat. This is a typical day for me if you substitute ‘Clinic’ for ‘field’, so not sure if I’m retired already or how that works.  Anyway, dental issues, lameness, and not feeling so hot are the biggies that interfere with retirees’ ability to wander around and eat.

The Teeth

Let’s start with dental issues.  Horses are this really weird thing called an hypsodont.  It means they have a whole lot of tooth when they are young, which they wear down to nothing over their lifetime.  The super cool thing is you humans are doing such a good job taking care of your horses that they now outlive their teeth.  Sure. that sounds scary, but with good nutrition it’s not a problem.  What it does mean is that you may notice your horse not wanting to eat.  You humans do a pretty darn good job knowing your horses.  When Tiny backs off on feed, don’t worry that we are going to think you’re crazy.  We won’t! We do the exact same thing! What we are going to do is schedule an appointment for one of our Docs to come take a look in Tiny’s mouth.  They might find some teeth that need to be adjusted a little bit or potentially extracted.

The Legs

Moving on to lameness.  This one I identify with.  I have jumped down from high places one too many times and I’m starting to develop a bit of arthritis in my right front paw.  Life catches up with us all.  All those daring feats of athleticism we displayed in our younger years show up as aches and pain in our later years.  Laminitis (same as founder) may rear its ugly head as well.  Once again the signs can be subtle, and you, the awesome human, may notice Flicka is in a different corner of the pasture than normal.  Once again, we won’t think you’re crazy when you tell us this.  We do the exact same thing! In this case our Docs are going to evaluate feet, legs, and the musculoskeletal system in general to identify a cause for the lameness.  If it’s arthritis, they will often recommend NSAIDs (horse aspirin) like bute or Equioxx, and movement, even in small amounts.  If it’s laminitis, a test for Cushings is almost always called for.  This is a test even a dog could pass!  It’s just a blood draw.  They also get on the phone with the farrier to make sure your horse’s entire team has the information they need.

When all of it goes wrong

Next there’s the “not feeling so hot”.  Again, when you call to say Mister isn’t right, but you can’t put your finger on it, we will be nodding our heads. We know that feeling!  This one is a little tougher.  Our Docs will put on their detective hats and start the investigation with you.  They won’t start with you because you are the prime suspect, they will start with you because you are the best source of information.  You know your horse.  You know if Mister ate and drank normally, and has he been sleeping normally? Rolling over? Is he in the same place in the herd hierarchy?  Next they will take your information, combine it with a good physical exam, and determine a course of action.  Usually, this involves some blood tests (remember they’re so easy a dog can pass them), along with an ultrasound of the chest and abdomen.  Only thing difficult about an ultrasound is the cold alcohol they put on your skin.  Based on these easy, peasy tests, our Docs will help you map out the best treatment options.  Lots of times these tests turn up Cushings disease.  Cushings is an endocrine disease which messes with every system there is to mess with.  Good news though: one small pink pill daily is the treatment. And if you schedule an appointment by the end of the week, our monthly special is $10 off this blood test!

Horses are like fine wine, they only grow better with age.  Totally patronizing the humans there, they told me to write that.  Anyway, let your horse live long and prosper with a little TLC.  The humans yak on a lot about Super Seniors, so this is the first in a four part Tuesdays with Tony expose.  Tune in next week for part 2


Tuesdays with Tony – Vaccine Seminar

Tuesdays with Tony – Vaccine Seminar

No surprise, my vaccine seminar last Thursday was a huge success! You’re welcome. My chosen speaker, Dr. Hancock from Boehringer Ingelheim, was excellent. I was there, which of course was the best part. I conveniently positioned myself in the entryway so each attendee would have to either pet me or step over me on their way in.

If you missed it, you better have a darn good excuse for me. But, since I am a forgiving Tony, I will give you a quick recap:

There was a time not too long ago when we didn’t have vaccines. Then, some brilliant people in black and white photos came along and figured out you could inoculate (that’s a fancy doctor word for vaccinate) a person or animal to protect them against a given disease. Things like Smallpox, Rinderpest, and Polio were all virtually eradicated by this method.

The same technology has been used by the government to develop vaccines against biowarfare agents, like botulism. Dr. Hancock was part of a top-secret mission using draft horses to develop and mass-produce such a vaccine in case of a bio-terrorist attack. Sometimes when I’m bored on the weekends, I pretend I am part of a top-secret government mission to take down the enemy (Teanie).

Anywho, back to vaccines. Some viruses that we vaccinate against are tricky little buggers. West Nile Virus, for example, wasn’t a very big deal until about 15 years ago when it underwent a mutation that enabled it to spread much faster. The flu virus in humans mutates to different strains about once every 8 months! Lucky for horses, equine flu only mutates about once every 10 years.

Also lucky for horses, their humans, and veterinarians, we have smart researchers like the people at Boehringer Ingelheim (that’s the company that produces most of our vaccines). They are constantly monitoring new and established diseases, and updating their vaccines accordingly, to make sure your horses have the best protection possible. This is what makes the vaccines given by our veterinarians superior to, say, ones you could buy at the feed store. (Not that any of our clients would even THINK of doing such a foolish thing!)

Dr. Hancock wasn’t afraid to say it, and neither am I: being anti-vaccination is just stupid! There is ZERO evidence to show that vaccines have any serious negative health effects, and PLENTY of evidence to show how well they work at preventing horrible and deadly diseases. The cost of vaccination is peanuts compared to the cost of treating any of the many diseases they protect against.

If you have any questions about why to vaccinate, when to vaccinate, or what to vaccinate against, I happen to know two pretty brilliant women who also happened to go to veterinary school that would be happy to answer your questions! Tis the season for fall shots, so call early to schedule your appointment. If I am unavailable (I spend a large part of my day sunbathing, self-grooming, and patrolling the perimeter), Stephanie or Mallie will be happy to help you.

Until next time!