The importance of vaccinating your horse

H. D. Atherton DVM, BS


Rabies: This disease is a viral infection of the brain. The signs that your horse is infected with rabies can be variable. A common first sign is in-coordination while walking or moving, the horse's muscles in its legs can show irregular muscle action. The horse may seem like it is "drunk". Contrary to popular belief, horses with rabies are usually not mean or aggressive.  However, the animal infected with rabies (dog, raccoon, skunk, cat, etc.) that bite the horse likely was aggressive.

Some horses will act extra sensitive and spook at things easily. Weakness and a drunken stagger will usually lead to laying down and not being able to get up; seizures can also be seen. Horses may develop problems seeing, behavior changes, inability to control its bowels, or even weakness of the tail. Other signs may include muscle spasms, roaring, sweating and fever. 


Mosquito Born Viruses: Diseases like West Nile, Eastern and Western Encephalitis cause inflammation of the central nervous system. The group of viruses responsible for this disease, usually reside in the bird population and are spread to horses by biting insects that feed on both birds and horses. The signs vary in intensity depending on the virus involved.

Common signs include drowsiness, indifference, unresponsiveness, aimless walking along fences or in circles, and blindness. Fever and inappetance are also common with these insect born viral diseases.


Tetanus: This disease can occur in all animals as well as humans and is caused by a bacteria called Clostridium tetani. This bacteria produces spores that are very hardy and last for a long time in the environment. When that bacteria is introduced into the body by a puncture, cut, abrasion, laceration or some other injury it can produce toxins within 8 hours. The toxins are absorbed into the nervous system of the body and the toxins block the release of neurotransmittors that inhibit muscle contraction. Doing this makes the muscles contract without stopping to relax. Most signs occur 5 - 10 days after an injury and sometimes the puncture may have already healed, leaving no evidence of a wound. Horses are more prone to tetanus than any other species.

Signs can be as subtle as "lock jaw" or inability to open the mouth. Rigid legs are often seen and some horses will have a "saw horse" stance. Seizures are possible and death can be caused by inability to breath from rib muscle contracture. Milder effects can be a stiff gait, elevated tail, erect ears, retracted lips, elevated upper eyelid and protruding third eyelid.


            Vaccinating is one of the most important things involved with caring for your horse. It is just as important as deworming regularly, hoof trimming, dental care, fresh water and clean nutritious hay. The vaccines listed above should be mandatory due to their life threatening potential. Many animal vaccines are designed to protect humans, as well as the animal, by helping stop the spread of certain zoonotic diseases from animals to people.

When your horse's health is on the line, trust a veterinarian for vaccinations, not TSC, an online pharmacy or a feed store.


Other important vaccines for the CSRA area include:

Influenza, Rhinovirus/Herpes, and Strangles (Strep. equi).

Consult with Dr. Atherton on frequency of vaccinations as well as any potential additional vaccinations, based on your specific horse and location.


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