Ask the vet: Immunizations, Have you vaccinated your horses yet?

The weather is perfect, trail rides are beginning and so is the show season. Have you vaccinated your horse(s) yet? Pose your immunization/vaccine questions to our AAEP month's expert, Dr. Christina Dayton-Wall during the month of May.

Question: My current boarding barn requires vaccination for Strangles. My horse has been exposed to Strangles several years ago at a former boarding barn, but did not get sick. My veterinarian recommends using the killed virus vaccination if I absolutely must get it. What
do you think?
This is an excellent question because you are certainly not alone in this situation. There are definitely some options and you may need to discuss your situation with the boarding barn management. Since the horse did not contract Strangles, but was possibly exposed, I would recommend to test your horse's titers or level of immunity to Strangles. If the titers or levels of antibodies are high, I would not vaccinate and show the proof of titer to your boarding barn manager. If he or she has low titers then I would consider vaccinating with a killed or modified live vaccine (MLV). The killed vaccine is intramuscular (IM) and can cause muscle soreness, swelling, or even abscesses. The MLV is an intranasal vaccine and protects the mucosa in the upper airway. The side effects I see to the MLV is occasionally a runny nose from the nostril it was administered in.
Question: My horse has had terrible reactions to his vaccinations, which began 3 years ago. He now is vaccinated only for the West Nile, Eastern, Western and Tetanus and I have been admitting him to the equine hospital so they can treat/pre-treat and monitor him for any reactions. The reactions have been severe hives and, to the rabies vaccination, terrible pain as well. He recently had another bout of hives - cause unknown. Would a supplemental antioxidant offer a boost to his immune system? I currently give him Platinum Performance - but since he is now hyper-sensitive, would you advise I add something else and, if so, what would you recommend. He is a 15-year-old, pink-skinned Palomino Morab.
I am sorry to hear that your horse is so sensitive to the vaccinations, but it seems like you are managing the situation well. I think the Platinum Performance is a great product! I feed it to my horses and have for years! Another option that I would add in would be Vitamin E. I suggest that you supplement with 400-1200 IU daily based on how much exercise your horse gets. There are several supplements on the market that provide Vitamin E. Some are liquid and others are pelleted. Consult with your veterinarian to determine if you also need to supplement selenium based on your geographical location.
Question: In New England, I always did my vaccinations in March/April. Now I am advised to either do West Nile later such as the end of May so that it will last through the fall as our autumns are getting warmer. The other option is to vaccinate twice, Spring and Fall. My horse has COPD and navicular, which I am managing with medication, but I don't want to over vaccinate. 

If I don't tend to board my horse off the farm, but do attend day shows, would you vaccinate FluRhino twice a year for a COPD horse? I was concerned after the last vaccination he coughed quite a bit.
Since your horse has some medical issues such as the COPD and he is already an immune stressed horse, I would recommend limiting the amount of immune system stress. This means that I would try to limit vaccinating your horse to once a year. Most horses I would recommend vaccinating semi-annually, especially in areas with lots of mosquitoes! I would
probably try to vaccinate in early to mid-May, that way your horse is fully prepared and his immune system is protected from West Nile and the encephalitis'.

For your second question, regarding the Flu/Rhino vaccinations and the stress that it caused your horse, I have a couple of recommendations. I would recommend maybe trying a different brand of vaccines. Your veterinarian may be able to order a vaccine from a different manufacturer and this may cause your horse less stress and less side effects, but still protect from the diseases just as effectively. Another option would be to pre-medicate your horse with a dose of an anti-inflammatory. Your veterinarian can help guide you with this. This may help prevent any increases in your horse's inflammatory state in relation to receiving the vaccine. If you are traveling a lot to day shows, I would still vaccinate twice a year. Another way to avoid risk when you go to shows is to limit your horse's exposure to strange horses. Do not allow nose to nose horse interactions. Don't share buckets, or rags used to wipe the horse's nose. Try to limit your horse's contact with items strange horses may have used. If you have to use a stall at a show, consider using a disinfectant prior to allowing your horse into the stall.
Question: Is it still recommended to vaccinate for all three (3) forms of equine encephalitis (Eastern, Western and Venezuelan)? I notice a lot of the combo shots but only include two out of three (Eastern and Western).
What a good question! I too have also noticed the change in the vaccine combinations that are available. At this point in time, the American Association of Equine Practitioners recommends the Eastern Equine Encephalitis, and Western Equine Encephalitis as part of the core vaccines. I would say that the Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis would be a risk based vaccine. If the area you keep your horse in has had an outbreak, then I would recommend to vaccinate. Fortunately in the US, VEE has not been diagnosed for more than 35 years. The last cases were most notable in Florida. At this point, I would not vaccinate for VEE, but definitely EEE and WEE.
Question: There is controversy about "over vaccinating" humans, pets and horses. What is your opinion on this topic?
This is a very timely question. I believe that over vaccination can be an issue, however if your horse is in an environment that increases his or her exposure to disease, I recommend that you vaccinate. I recommend vaccinations based on the AAEP's core vaccines, which include annual rabies, Eastern and Western encephalitis, West Nile Virus and Tetanus. If you travel with your horse or keep your horse at a barn where there is a lot of horse traffic, I would strongly recommend that you also vaccinate for Equine Influenza (flu) and Equine Herpesvirus (a.k.a. rhino). You may also consult with your veterinarian regarding vaccinating for Strangles. I recommend that you vaccinate your horse based on his or her risk. For example, I practice in Georgia where with our mild winters and wet springs, I recommend semi-annual vaccines for EEE (eastern equine encephalitis), WEE (Western equine encephalitis), and WNV (West Nile Virus). I would recommend that you discuss what vaccines are appropriate for your horse with your veterinarian.
Question: Why does my 15-year-old Arabian mare get hives locally on her neck and shoulder after receiving her spring vaccinations? What should I do now and in the future to treat/prevent this?
This is an excellent question. A horse that gets hives on her necks and shoulders is having a mild reaction to the vaccine. If the horse gets all the vaccines at once, I would recommend to break them up and separate giving them by at least a week. This helps to allow your veterinarian and yourself to figure out which vaccine your horse is reacting too. Another precautionary step would be to give a dose of an anti-inflammatory prior to the vaccines to help decrease the reaction that your horse has. Your veterinarian can help determine which anti-inflammatory is the most appropriate.