Regular vaccination of horses, ponies and donkeys is an important part of their primary care.
Vaccination ensures maximum protection against infectious diseases in the UK that can cause serious, and potentially life-threatening illnesses.
We strongly recommend that all equines are vaccinated against equine influenza and tetanus. If you wish to compete your horse in equestrian sport, vaccination will be a requirement of the governing body.
The following is a list of diseases against which horses are most
commonly vaccinated in the UK:
Equine influenza (flu) is a highly contagious viral infection which most commonly affects young horses.
Horses can contract the disease either from direct contact with an infected horse or through a contaminated environment or air space. Infected animals incubate the virus for one to three days before developing symptoms.
The virus affects the respiratory system resulting in a high fever, runny nose and coughing. Though rarely fatal, it can be very debilitating. A number of disease outbreaks have occurred amongst unvaccinated animals in the UK over the last few years.
Equine influenza vaccine schedule:
A primary course of two injections given between 21 and 92 days apart.
A third injection given between 150 and 215 days (five and seven months) after the second injection.
Annual boosters are required thereafter and must be given within 365 days of previous injection. However, following the outbreak in 2019, many regulatory bodies and competition centres require that horses have six-monthly boosters, to reduce the risk of transmission at large events.
The primary course may be started any time after your horse is six months old.
Many sporting governing bodies, including BD, BE, BSJA, HRA and FEI, have strict rules that dictate that a horse must be vaccinated against influenza in order to compete in competitions held under their rules.
Any of our vets will be happy to check your horse’s vaccination record before competition. Please be aware that a lapse in the vaccination history – even by a few days, years before – will be considered as a breach of the regulations and may result in your horse being unable to compete or fines being imposed.
It is your responsibility to ensure that your horse receives its vaccinations at the correct time.
Tetanus is usually fatal and is caused by the production of endotoxins by a soil borne bacterium, clostridium tetani, after contaminating a wound.
Deep puncture wounds are particularly dangerous as they provide an ideal site for infection as the bacteria thrive in low oxygen environments. However, the bacteria can enter via any wound, however small.
Because the incubation period is seven to 21 days the wound is very often healed by the time symptoms start to show.
The risk of tetanus is significant – approximately 90% of unvaccinated horses who contract tetanus do not survive. We therefore strongly recommend that all horses are vaccinated against tetanus even if they do not travel or mix with other horses.
Tetanus vaccination is commonly combined with flu vaccination and if you follow the vaccination schedule for the combined vaccination your horse should be protected against tetanus.
When using separate vaccines, the tetanus vaccination schedule is as follows:
Primary course two injections four to six weeks apart
First booster 12 months after the second primary injection
Subsequent boosters only needed every two years
Foals will receive antibodies from their mother’s colostrum and milk that will protect them for the first few weeks of life if the mother has been vaccinated.
Some foals are given tetanus anti-toxin shortly after birth as extra protection. Primary vaccinations are usually started in a horse over the age of five months but tetanus vaccination may be recommended in younger animals in some cases.
If your horse has not been vaccinated or their vaccination programme has lapsed, and it sustains a wound, it is essential that a tetanus anti-toxin injection is given as soon as possible to prevent tetanus infection.
This is not the same as a vaccination but will protect your horse against tetanus for approximately two to three weeks.
Equine herpes virus
Equine herpes virus (EHV) is a common virus in the worldwide horse population. There are five types but the most common strains to infect horses are EHV1 and EHV4, and these are also the only types that can be vaccinated against.
EHV4 is most commonly associated with respiratory disease, whilst EHV1 is more commonly associated with neurological disease and abortion.
Primary course two injections four to six weeks apart.
Booster vaccination every six months after the second primary injection.
Primary vaccinations are usually started in a horse over the age of five months.
To provide effective immunity against abortion caused by EHV a course of three vaccinations should be given to a mare during her fifth, seventh and ninth month of pregnancy.
Rotavirus and equine viral arteritis
In some cases we will recommend vaccinating against other diseases such as rotavirus and equine viral arteritis – please call to discuss these vaccinations further if required.