“Should I vaccinate my horse? If so, which vaccines should I give?” I get asked these questions all the time in my practice, usually from concerned horse owners who use a holistic management program. I can usually help my clients make informed decisions about which, if any, vaccinations to give because I know their horses well. Most of my clients are well aware that, while vaccines can protect their horses against certain diseases, the side effects can often be worse than the disease itself.
But many people are not aware of this risk-reward formula that comes with vaccination. In fact, when I look up the most common Google searches for horse vaccines I find that most queries are about vaccination cost, frequency, and availability. Almost no one is asking, via searches, whether they should vaccinate their horses at all, or whether vaccines have negative side effects.
Yet, the decision about whether to vaccinate your horse, and with which vaccines, is a serious one that takes a bit of thought and research.
Vaccination: Risk and Reward
Obviously the positive side of vaccinating horses is that your horse has some protection against certain diseases, especially diseases that are fatal. This is the “reward” side of the vaccination equation. The risk side of the equation relates to the possible side effects that may affect your horse later in life. Over-vaccinated horses, or horses who are not healthy enough to withstand vaccination can suffer from (to name a few):
- chronic colic and digestive issues
- chronic respiratory infections
- flare-ups of chronic illnesses previously under control
- metabolic dysfunctions
Deciding whether to vaccinate your horse with which vaccines, if any, can be a real quandary. So how do you figure out what to do for your horse? Educate yourself and then make an informed decision.
Deciding Whether to Vaccinate Your Horse
Each horse is different in his or her ability to tolerate vaccines, and in his or her need for vaccines. Some horses stay perfectly healthy on a holistic program that strongly supports their immune system, never needing any vaccinations beyond the ones given in the very early years. Other horses may need certain vaccines plus supplements to support their immune system. To educate yourself about how to vaccinate your horse, here are some questions you can ask yourself.
About your region:
- Which diseases are common in my area?
- Which of these diseases are fatal? If your horse must be vaccinated you may choose just the vaccines for possibly fatal diseases.
- Which of these diseases are easily transmitted?
- Have others in the region found alternate successful ways to protect their horses from these regional diseases?
- Are there regulations in your regions that may cause the authorities to put your horse down if he becomes ill and has not been vaccinated?
- Is your horse stabled in close proximity to other horses, increasing his chances of being infected by disease?
- Is your horse boarded at a stable that requires certain vaccinations?
- How will you feel if you do not vaccinate and your horse dies or becomes seriously ill?
- How will you feel if you vaccinate your horse and he suffers from chronic diseases later in life that have to be managed on a daily basis?
- How will you feel if your horse suffers from painful side effects for days or weeks after vaccination?
- Are you willing to experiment with a strong nutritional program tailored to boost your horse’s immune system, knowing there is a risk that your horse may get the disease (but may also recover quickly)?
About your horse:
- Is your horse healthy enough to be vaccinated?
- Does your horse suffer from short term side effects after vaccination, such as a sore neck, respiratory infection, or overall body pain? If so, this is a clue that your horse may not tolerate vaccination well.
- Is your horse older (thus less able to tolerate vaccines)? I vaccinate yearlings and two-year-olds, but rarely older horses.
- Does your horse already have one or more chronic conditions that could be worsened by vaccination?
- Does your horse have a weakened immune system or is he currently suffering from a short-term health issue? If so, it may be best to wait until he is healthy again before you vaccinate.
- Does your horse travel to many places where he might be exposed to various diseases?
- Is your horse physically, emotionally, or mentally stressed? This can suppress his immune system.
Vaccination and Educating Yourself
Developing an appropriate vaccination program for your horse can take a bit of work and research, but both you and your horse will benefit from it. If you are interested in learning more about vaccines, how they are made, side effects, case studies, titers, immune-supporting nutritional programs, and more, I suggest the following resources:
The Vaccination Ebook (instant download):
If you want to discuss your horse’s specific situation, consider joining the Horse Health Hotline for a single life-time fee of $40.
Unless otherwise attributed, all material is written and edited by Madalyn Ward, DVM. Copyright (c) 2012 HolisticHorsekeeping.com and Madalyn Ward, DVM.
Please also enjoy all of Dr. Ward's web resources: