If proof is needed that vaccinations work, horse owners should look no further than cases of West Nile Virus (WNV). WNV showed up several years ago and swept through the horse world in a wave.
“We started seeing WNV about 15 years ago and it’s still one of the most common neurological diseases we have,” said Traci Busalacchie, DVM, Elkhorn Veterinary Clinic. “But the number of cases of WNV has dropped dramatically since we started vaccinating for it.”
Another vaccination success story was for “sleeping sickness” or Eastern Equine Encephalomyelitis. The use of vaccinations knocked back incidences of the disease to the point people quit vaccinating for it. Once vaccinations were reduced, the disease has made a comeback, she said.
Among the neurological diseases in horses, tetanus remains a common problem. Horses are exposed to tetanus primarily through puncture wounds. An unvaccinated horse with a puncture wound, such as a nail poked into a hoof, should get an antitoxin instead of the vaccination. Otherwise give your horse tetanus boosters on a regular schedule and keep your barn and stables areas as free of dangerous sharp items as possible.
“When it comes to vaccinations; that’s something I don’t skimp on,” Busalacchi said, while speaking at the recent Keeping Your Horse Healthy seminar as part of the bi-state extension horse conference. “Vaccinations don’t give you a 100 percent guarantee but they will stop most infections and greatly reduce the severity of any cases the horses do get.”
Vaccinations come in inactivated and modified live forms and combination, or multiple disease, vaccination products are available. Depending on the product and the vaccination program the drugs are typically given by injection or nasal spray.
Vaccinations take time to work. The time to vaccinate is not when a flu is running through the herd. Most vaccines need about two weeks to become effective in the horse’s immune system.
If at all possible, Busalacchi said she likes to follow the same schedule at a barn. Depending on the challenges in the barn or the region boosters may be needed more frequently. High traffic barns where animals are coming and going, for example, may need booster shots more often. Likewise if the barn is in an area prone to specific infections, more boosters are a safe investment.
Busalacchi added that bio-safety precautions also can reduce the spread of many diseases. For the high traffic barns or when new animals are introduced a quarantine area and up to 60 days of separation are good practices.
“Flu is the most common respiratory disease of horses,” she said. “Flu is spread by coughing, sneezing or snorting and can travel 30 yards. Separation is very important.”
Horses will usually recover from the flu in about 10 days with good care. But the disease can linger or get worse if the horse is put back to work too soon. Her thumb rule is to give a horse a week off for every day it’s sick. With that rule, if the horse is sick two days it should have two days off. If the horse is sick for a week, it needs seven weeks to fully recover.
Follow a vet approved vaccination program with an eye for the unique challenges at your barn, follow basic bio-safety measures and be consistent to maintain a solid disease prevention program.