What vaccinations are recommended for my horse?

Every situation is different, and discussing your specific horse with a veterinarian is the best way to make a plan for vaccinations. However, the basic "core" vaccinations that every horse needs at least yearly are: Rabies, Tetanus, Eastern/Western Equine Encephalitis, and West Nile Virus. These diseases are serious, life threatening and/or very costly to treat, and are easily prevented with vaccination. Additional vaccinations that may be recommended include the contagious respiratory viruses (Influenza and Rhinopneumonitis) and the contagious respiratory disease Strangles. Depending on environment, Potomac Horse Fever and/or Botulism vaccinations may be recommended. Finally, in breeding stock, Equine viral arteritis vaccination may be necessary. Brief summaries of the diseases we vaccinate for, how often they should be given, and when to give them:
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What "combination" vaccines are offered?

There are several "combination" vaccinations available.  The most common combination vaccine is the "3-in-one" or "E/W/T" which is the Eastern/Western Encephalitis vaccine plus Tetanus vaccine.  We also carry a "4-in-one" or "E/W/T/I" which adds the injectable Influenza, and the "5-in-one" or "E/W/T/R/I" which adds the Rhino vaccine.   There is also a "2-in-one" which is the Rhino vaccine plus the injectable Influenza. 

Keep in mind that giving many vaccinations at once can increase the strain on your horse's immune system.  Giving a 5-in-one vaccine, plus Rabies and West Nile Virus vaccines at the same time increases the chance for inappetance/dullness, mild colic, neck stiffness or emergence of an underlying syndrome - after all, that's 7 vaccines at one time!  Therefore, we recommend that spring vaccinations ideally be broken up into two appointments; we will generally give the E/W/T combination and a Rabies vaccination on the first visit, and then come back in 2-3 weeks and give the Rhino, Intranasal Flu and West Nile Virus vaccine.  This of course is a generalization, and you should consult with a veterinarian to determine the best schedule for your horse and farm.

Why does my horse need a dentistry?

Horses have teeth that erupt continually, and are ground down by the act of chewing their food.  A horse's lower jaw is narrower than the upper jaw, so the teeth do not wear perfectly evenly.  The outside of the upper teeth (next to the cheek) and the inside of the lower teeth (next to the tongue) often are not worn down like the rest of the tooth surfaces, and this results in sharp "points" which can pinch the cheeks or tongue and cause pain.  Grinding these points down once a year will make your horse's mouth more comfortable so that he can chew more easily. 

Other things that can go wrong in a horse's mouth include loose or fractured teeth, abnormal uneven wear such as "ramps" or "waves", or gaps between the teeth that pack feed material.  All of these can be addressed during a routine dentistry appointment.  Tooth problems in horses can have very subtle signs - even if your horse isn't dropping feed, or fighting the bit, the mouth should be examined yearly to be sure small problems don't turn into large ones.

Why is saddle (or tack or blanket) fit important?

Riding a horse in a poorly fitting saddle is like putting on shoes that don’t fit, and then going running for an hour or so.  Pressure points can cause a horse significant discomfort during riding, which can lead to poor performance, behavior issues, muscle soreness and back misalignment.  Saddles can be poorly fitting in many different ways.  They can be too narrow, causing pinching at the withers.  They can be too wide, resulting in weight being put directly on the spine.  Tipping forward or back can result in uneven pressure even with the most balanced rider.  A properly balanced saddle can be a tremendous help to your horse’s comfort and performance, as well as your own. 

The saddle isn’t the only thing that can cause pain or discomfort if improperly fitted.  The bit can be too small or large, or fastened too high or low in the horse’s mouth.  This can cause significant communication problems between horse and rider.  An improperly fitted breastplate can constrict the chest or cause the saddle to be pulled too far forward.

Blankets which do not fit properly can not only be uncomfortable, they can be unsafe.  Horses spend many hours a day in a blanket without supervision.  A low hanging strap, or a loose, shifting blanket can cause a horse to become hung-up.  A trapped horse will often panic, causing damage to himself and likely his enclosure.

Why does my horse need a yearly physical exam?

Just like humans, horses should have a yearly “wellness” examination to help catch potential problems while they are subtle, before they become serious and potentially life threatening.  During a routine physical examination, the veterinarian will listen to your horse’s heart to be sure there are no murmurs or arrhythmias, which can lead to performance problems.  She will listen to the lungs to check for abnormal sounds that can indication inflammatory airway disease, which can be subclinical.  Listening to the abdomen can provide information on the health of the intestine, as well as check for sand within the large colon.  Your veterinarian will check your horse’s temperature to make sure he is well enough for vaccinations (mild fevers can go unnoticed until the horse’s system is stressed).  The eyes will be checked, as well as the lymph nodes and jugular veins for any inflammation.  We also like to run our hands along the lower limbs, feel the tendons and the joints, to check for any lameness issues, and may watch the horse walk to check foot balance and ease of motion. 

Many subtle issues can be caught on a physical examination and treated or addressed before they become larger problems.  If performed every year, we can also compare your horse’s health from year to year and pick up subtle trends (such as weight gain or loss, cataracts, or a progressive murmur) that might otherwise be missed.  This procedure can help ensure the long term health and well-being of your horse, and should be part of the yearly routine vaccination visit. 

What deworming product should I use, and how often?

In recent years there has been a shift in deworming recommendations.  In the past, veterinarians used to develop a rotational schedule using the different products available, and horses were given deworming every 2-3 months.  What we have discovered is that this system is a overuse of deworming products for most horses, and it was helping to develop resistance in the parasite populations. 

What we recommend now is a Fecal Egg Count, which is a simple test on the manure to determine each horse’s parasite burden.  This test costs $20, and should be done on every horse on the farm BEFORE they are dewormed.  With the results of this test, we can develop a deworming program that will be specific to each horse.  We recommend fecal egg counts 3-6 times per year, and deworming can be done as little a twice yearly (up to 5 times yearly) depending on each horse’s need.

To collect a fecal sample: collect 1-2 balls of fresh manure in a plastic baggie.  Remove as much air as possible, and seal the baggie.  Keep refrigerated until you can drop it off at the clinic (or have the veterinarian pick it up during an appointment).  Be prepared to tell us the last time you dewormed, and with what product.  Unless we are testing for resistance, the fecal should be at least 4-6 weeks after administration of Panacur (Fenbendazole) or Strongid (Pyrantel), at least 6-8 weeks after administration of Zimectrin (Ivermectin) and at least 12 weeks after administration of Quest (Moxidectin).