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Vaccines – Are they really that important?


Vaccines stimulate the body’s own immune system into producing antibodies against a specific disease without actually causing the disease. The antibodies “prime” the body for potential infection and result in a faster immune response against the disease compared to a naïve animal.

Vaccines are primarily directed against viruses but there are some against bacteria. High-risk diseases which are highly infectious and either have no cure or have a high mortality rate are those that vaccines are mostly developed towards. Some other available vaccines are targeted against diseases that are endemic to a region and those causing significant economic impact on an industry.

There are five vaccines that are considered “core” for Florida horses and donkeys and include tetanus, rabies, West Nile Virus (WNV), Western Equine Encephalitis (WEE), and Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE). These diseases are all highly infectious with no specific treatment options available. Horses are highly susceptible to tetanus which is caused by a toxin produced by the bacterium Clostridium tetani which lives in the soil. Rabies is transmitted through the bite of an infected animal (ex. coyote, fox, skunk, bat…) while the WNV/WEE/EEE are viruses transmitted by mosquitoes. These five disease vaccines are recommended for all horses and donkeys regardless of their use and travel arrangements.

“At-risk” horses may also be vaccinated against other diseases such as Anthrax, Botulism, Equine Herpesvirus, Equine Viral Arteritis, Leptospirosis, Potomac Horse Fever, Equine Influenza, Streptococcus equi (Strangles), and Rotavirus. These diseases are not considered essential for all horses, but if your horse is at an increased risk of exposure, your veterinarian may advise that you vaccinate against the disease. An example of this would be a broodmare being vaccinated against Equine Herpes Virus to prevent abortion; or a show-jumper being vaccinated against Equine Influenza or Strangles due to the large number of horses they come into contact with at competitions.

A lapse in vaccination booster can mean your horse is no longer protected against that disease and re-starting a vaccination program can be expensive, time-consuming and may impact your plans for travel or competitions. Talk with your veterinarian about making sure your horses or donkeys are up to date on their vaccinations, most vaccines are given at 6 or 12 month intervals.

This column is sponsored by Polk Equine, and the opinions expressed herein may not reflect those of CFAN or of its advertisers.

Dr. Katie Hennessy graduated from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in 2008 with a degree in large animal health and equine medicine. She completed an advanced internship at The Equine Medical Center of Ocala and is currently the owner and practicing veterinarian at Polk Equine. Her expertise ranges from small and exotic creatures to large animals, specializing in equine medicine.