December 18, 2017

A Shot In The Dark

Every year horse owners are faced with many challenges to keeping their horses well and healthy. First in many owners mind is the cost. Therefore; some owners will not vaccinate their horses or will use vaccines purchased at the local feed store or online. I have done my own vaccinations in the past. However; I now have all my horses vaccinated by my veterinarian. I know he will have the latest information about what is going on in the area and will be able to give my horses the best chance of being protected from diseases. Plus, it gives him a chance to check each of my horses and answer any questions I may have about their care. It has improved my relationship with my vet and I know that being a good client over the years has entitled me to superior service, especially in an emergency.

Recently, I had the great pleasure of attending a meeting of our local riding club where my own vet, Dr. Treser, D.V.M was a speaker. The topic was common diseases and the routine vaccinations used to prevent them. Now I pride myself on keeping up on things, but even with my 30+ years of experience, I learned a thing or two. Here’s a synopsis of the talk.

Tetanus– Potentially fatal to horses and any horse can get it. They do not need to have contact with another horse or person to contract this disease. Any open wound can become infected with the bacteria because it is abundant in the horse’s environment. It can also be transmitted to humans, so owners have a risk as well. This disease is easily prevented by annual vaccinations.

Rabies– Rabies is now considered enough of a risk to horses that the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) considers it to be a core vaccination. This means that the AAEP recommends that every horse in the United States be vaccinated for Rabies. At U. C. Davis Vet School, rabies is more commonly presented in horses than any other animal. Rabies can also be transmitted to humans by simply being in the same area as an infected animal. Some humans have gotten rabies by breathing the same air or having a horse breathe into their face. Since the first symptoms of rabies are drooling and difficulty swallowing, owners will often check the horse’s mouth. This action may cause exposure by getting saliva in a cut or passing the airborne particles into the owner’s eyes or mouth.

Rabies in Southern California is most commonly transmitted by Mexican Brown Bats. Since bats fly at night, a horse owner would not know their horse has been bitten until symptoms appear. Then it is too late. Also, any humans who came in contact with that horse would have to undergo a rabies vaccination program to prevent them from contracting the disease. Rabies is preventable by annual vaccination.

West Nile– West Nile is a virus that affects the neurological system of horses and people. It is transmitted when a carrier animal, usually a bird such as a crow, is bitten by a mosquito and then it bites you or your horse. West Nile has been effectively controlled in California because most horses are now vaccinated twice per year.

Strangles– Strangles is a highly contagious disease caused by bacteria. It can be transmitted by direct contact from horse to horse, from the horse being placed in a stall where an infected horse has been, or from the hands, shoes, or clothing of a person who has had contact with a sick horse. The highly contagious nature of the disease can cause epidemic-like outbreaks at some stables. It is a nuisance disease that is rarely fatal in horses. Symptoms include abscesses that form under the jaw, fever, nasal discharge and loss of appetite. Strangles vaccines are intranasal, live vaccines that may cause a horse to contract a mild form of the disease. Most vets will recommend you vaccinate for strangles if there is an outbreak in your area.

Sleeping Sickness– This neurological disease takes several forms- Eastern, Western & Venezuelan. The disease is spread when a carrier animal, usually a bird such as a crow, is bitten by a mosquito and then it bites you or your horse. Vaccines exist for all forms, but it is best to contact your veterinary regarding which ones are necessary for your area. Sleeping Sickness or Encephalomyelitis is prevented with annual vaccinations.

 Rhinopneumonitis (Rhino)- This disease can take one of three forms or strains. The first one will make your horse sick with flu like symptoms, but not cause any serious problems. The second will cause abortion in pregnant mares, so they are vaccinated in the odd months of pregnancy (3rd, 5th, 7th and 9th) to prevent problems. The last strain- Equine Herpes Virus (EHV) – causes neurological problems and often death in horses. Some Rhino vaccines have been effective in real-life situations for EHV while others have no effect on the disease. Be sure to check with your vet to be sure you are getting the correct one. Rhino vaccines should be given at least every 6 months or up to 6 times per year depending on your horse’s exposure potential. A horse at a large facility where horses come and go to shows, rides, etc will have a higher exposure potential than a horse kept in a backyard that never leaves home.

   Influenza (Flu)- Influenza in horses is very similar to Flu in humans. There are various strains and most vaccines will cover the common strains. Flu is caused by a virus and will cause symptoms such as-lethagy, off feed, cough, fever and nasal discharge. Flu is not usually a big problem unless it happens the weekend of the big trail ride or show. Flu can be prevented by vaccinating at least 2 times per year or more if exposure warrants.

Potomac Horse Fever (PHF)- Because PHF is no longer a serious threat in our area, we no longer vaccinate for this disease. If your horse will be traveling to the mid-west or east coast, vaccination for PHF may be required.

There you have it, the information on common, preventable diseases and the vaccinations to prevent them. Remember your local feed store or vet catalog may sell you a vaccine, but they will not know which diseases are prevalent in your area or which strain of vaccine will work best for your individual situation. In all health matters regarding your horse, it is always best to consult your veterinarian. This article is for educational and entertainment purposes only and is not offering any medical advice.

Cheryl Rohnke Kronsberg is a Certified Horsemanship Association Master Instructor, Clinic Instructor and an AQHA Professional Horsewoman. Cheryl has been teaching riding and horsemanship for over 30 years. Currently she and her husband own and operate CRK Training Stable in Yorba Linda, CA. We welcome your comments and questions. Please feel free to share this article with your friends, but rights to publish this article are restricted. For more interesting articles from Cheryl go to


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