Tuesdays with Tony

This week we’re going to talk about vaccines. What, this topic isn’t new and exciting? Well guess what? I agree. I wish everyone did so well at getting their horses vaccinated that I never had to talk about it again. But some of you are still not protecting your ponies! All horses need vaccines. Yes, your horse! Were you about to say that that he never leaves the property or that he had vaccines for years so he must not need any more? You’ve got to be kitten me! Let’s me purr-suede you why your horse absolutely needs vaccines.

 There are certain vaccines that every horse should receive (called “core” vaccines”) and some that are risk-based. The core vaccines are necessary for every horse, no matter where he lives or what you do with him. In Florida, that means Rabies, West Nile Disease, Eastern Encephalitis, and Tetanus. The risk-based vaccines (for example, influenza and strangles) are optional and are recommended if your horse will be exposed to those diseases. Best way to figure that out is to talk to my doc about your individual situation.

Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic

 So why are some vaccines considered “core” and the others optional?  Here are the criteria for a core vaccine:

 The disease causes severe symptoms or death.

  1. Rabies: A variety of neurologic symptoms leading to certain death.
  2. West Nile: Muscle twitching, hyper excitability, in-coordination, sometimes inability to stand or death.
  3. Eastern Encephalitis: Fever, severe incoordination, inability to stand, seizures, coma, death.
  4. Tetanus: Muscle spasms/rigidity, inability to eat or drink, inability to rise, death.

 The disease is difficult or impossible to treat.

  1. Rabies: 100% fatal regardless of treatment.
  2. West Nile: Supportive care only. Up to 1/3 of horses die despite treatment, and others have lasting neurological problems.
  3. Eastern Encephalitis: Supportive care only. Up to 90% of horses die despite treatment.
  4. Tetanus: Antibiotics, muscle relaxants and supportive care are used. 50-75% of horses die despite treatment.

 The way the disease is spread puts all horses at risk, regardless of the horse’s lifestyle.

  1. Rabies: Through bites from rabid animals.
  2. West Nile: Spread by mosquitoes.
  3. Eastern Encephalitis: Spread by mosquitoes.
  4. Tetanus: Bacteria lives in the soil, horses exposed through wounds or hoof abscesses.

 The vaccine is safe and effective.

  1. Rabies vaccine: 99% effective in preventing disease
  2. West Nile vaccine: 95-99% effective in preventing disease
  3. Eastern Encephalitis vaccine: 95-99% effective in preventing disease
  4. Tetanus vaccine: 95-99% effective in preventing disease

 Here are some common misconceptions my docs hear about vaccines:

 “My horse doesn’t ever leave the property or interact with other horses.” Doesn’t matter.  Your horse doesn’t have to go anywhere to get bitten by a mosquito, a rabid raccoon, or be exposed to tetanus through a small wound. All of those things will find him right in his own pasture. The only protection is a vaccine.

 “I’ve never heard of a horse getting Rabies.” Horses absolutely get rabies, though it is rare. But if it happens, it’s 100% fatal and puts your own human family at great risk. There is always a long list of people who get exposed in the process of diagnosing and caring for the horse prior to its death. Those people then have to go through the expensive and painful process of post-exposure therapy. Vaccinating your horse is a $20 insurance policy to protect you and your family from the possibility of exposure.

 “But there haven’t been any cases of West Nile/Eastern Equine Encephalitis in my area recently. Those diseases are not here anymore.” WRONG. Our practice sees several cases of encephalitis every year. Don’t get lax on this vaccine – we see positive cases on horses that are only a couple of months overdue from their last vaccine. They are terrible neurologic diseases and often fatal despite expensive treatment. This vaccine needs to be given every 6 months in Florida, because our mosquitoes never go away.

 “But I’m worried about vaccine reactions.” This is a valid concern. Like all decisions in veterinary medicine, the decision to vaccinate should be one of risks-versus-benefits. For most horses, the benefits of vaccination far outweigh the risks of vaccine reactions. The most common form of vaccine reactions are very mild – either a brief fever or local swellings, easily controlled by a few days of anti-inflammatories. If your horse has a history of a more severe reaction, talk to my doc about whether to withhold that vaccine from your horse.

 “My horse has had vaccines plenty of times before. He doesn’t need any more. My small animal vet says we only need to vaccinate my dog every 3 years.” Horses are not dogs. Unfortunately, horses do not mount the same level of an immune response to vaccination as people or dogs. The scientists who did the research on extending the time between vaccines for small animals are clear that this won’t work in horses because of the different way their immune systems function. Unfortunately, your 20-year-old horse still needs his vaccines as often as he did 15 years ago. To be properly protected, horses in Florida should be vaccinated once a year against Rabies and West Nile Virus, and every 6 months against Eastern Equine Encephalitis.

 So if your horse is even a little overdue for his core vaccines, call my doc to make your appointment! Vaccines are simple and inexpensive compared to the CATastrophe of your horse contracting a dangerous and easily preventable disease. Better yet, sign up for one of Springhill Equine’s Wellness Plans and let us keep track of his schedule for you.

 Now, be a good human and subscribe to my blog so you don’t miss out on my impressive cat knowledge. It’s the purple box right down below; you can’t miss it.

 Until next week,


 P.S. If you want to know more about equine vaccines and the diseases they protect against, the humans have a great podcast episode (actually 2 or 3, I think) that covers way more detail. You can find it over on the Podcast Page.



Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! 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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