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“Think of booster shots for your horse as being similar to practising fire drills,” says Dr. Alison Moore, DVM, DVSc, Lead Veterinarian, Animal Health and Welfare, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food and Rural Affairs. “If you only practise a fire drill once in your life you are unlikely to remember the plan when it's necessary, however by repeating the drill on a regular basis you will be able to respond to the best of your ability when required. By providing a booster vaccine at regular intervals, your veterinarian is training your horse's immune system to be prepared to respond to a disease agent when required.” Moore goes on to explain, along with practising biosecurity, vaccinating your horse is one of the most important aspects of preventative medicine. Regular vaccinations are needed for protection so this should be an annual discussion with your veterinarian.
Equine Guelph’s Vaccination Equi-Planner, kindly sponsored by Zoetis Canada, is a great starting point to learn what vaccines are recommended and at what frequency. The interactive healthcare tool creates a personalized immunization plan for your horse based on age, location and risk factor. For example, a horse traveling to events will be at higher risk of contracting infectious disease than one that stays on the farm in a closed herd.
“Given the recent frequency of some serious viruses like rabies and Eastern equine encephalitis in Canada, it is important for horse owners to be on top of their horses’ immunization schedules,” says Dr. Cathy Rae, Manager, Veterinary Services at Zoetis Canada. “Using Equine Guelph’s Vaccination Equi-Planner tool, a horse owner can quickly enter information for his/her horse and receive a printable customized vaccination schedule. Owners should then consult their veterinarians to plan a vaccination program that optimizes their horses’ protection.”
Choice of vaccines is based on risk and this is a discussion you should routinely have with your veterinarian. Discuss your annual plans for your horse; for instance, are you planning on breeding a mare and where will you be going? Ask your veterinarian what diseases are endemic to your area and communicate the areas you plan on visiting with your horses.
There are some great websites for information on disease alerts, including Equine Guelph’s monthly eNews and HEALTHflash communications which you can sign up for at EquineGuelph.ca, as well as:
If you live in Ontario:
Core vaccines usually include those vaccines for which the disease agent causes fatal or severe disease. For example: tetanus, Eastern equine encephalitis, West Nile virus and rabies. Tetanus is caused when a wound becomes infected with the organism Clostridium tetani, which is commonly present in soil. Tetanus is very difficult to treat but vaccination is efficient at providing protection from this disease.
West Nile virus is spread by mosquitoes. It is fatal in 30% of horses showing neurological signs of the disease. Survivors can have residual neurological deficits for months or can be permanently disabled. During mosquito season, depending on what vaccine is chosen, some veterinarians recommend a booster every 4 – 6 months.
Eastern equine encephalitis is endemic in parts of eastern and northern Ontario. This viral infection causes a 90-100% fatality rate. The virus is transmitted by mosquitoes, making it challenging to prevent infection, however, vaccination provides excellent protection when given appropriately. In 2014 there were at least 24 equine deaths caused by this virus in eastern Ontario.
Rabies has been endemic in parts of Ontario, including the Hamilton area, since fall of 2015 with 128 wild animals, predominantly raccoons, affected. On the OMAFRA site you will find that under the Ontario Health Protection and Promotion Act, Regulation 567 it is a legal requirement for traveling horses to be vaccinated for rabies in certain public health units in Ontario: Rabies in Ontario
“It is difficult to prevent horses from interacting with potentially rabid animals, given their inherently curious natures and the amount of time they spend outdoors, hence the rabies vaccination is very important,” says Moore. There has also been a recent podcast from fellow Lead Veterinarian, Animal Health & Welfare at Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Dr. Maureen Anderson, discussing the recent raccoon-variant rabies cases around Hamilton, Ontario: Ontario Rabies Update with Dr. Maureen Anderson
Although only 1 rabid horse per year (2014, 2015) have been identified across Canada, horse owners should be sure their horses are vaccinated against rabies. Rabies can occur in essentially any mammal and multiple wildlife species and some domestic animal (dog & cat) cases are identified yearly in Canada.
According to Dr. Daniel Kenney of the Ontario Veterinary College, “Annual vaccination is an essential part of preventive health care in horses.” Horse owners should discuss the best vaccination program for their individual horse and the herd with their veterinarian. All horses should receive core vaccinations to prevent or decrease diseases that may have a profound impact on horses. Other vaccines may be recommended depending on the specific horse or herd circumstances. Viral diseases such as rabies, West Nile virus and Eastern equine encephalitis virus continue to occur in Ontario. Tetanus and respiratory viruses (Influenza & Rhinopneumonitis (Equine Herpesvirus) are other important vaccines that should be considered.
Visit Vaccination Equi-Planner from Equine Guelph to learn more about core and optional vaccines.
Discuss the right plan with your veterinarian to help protect the health of your horse.