Long Live The Horse: Equine Vaccinations

Your horse needs regular vaccines to keep them healthy. Getting your horse their regularly scheduled vaccines is an important part of being a good owner.

You may think you don’t have to be concerned with vaccines because your horse stays on the farm. The problem is that your neighbor’s horses may travel and be exposed to diseases. They can carry these diseases which can then be transmitted by over the fence contact, mosquitoes, and ticks.

The mosquitoes that carry many horse viruses are flying from farm to farm. Did you know that tiny, pesky insect can travel three or more miles to find a meal?

Protecting our horses is very important. Vaccines take time to work and build up an immunity. So the best prevention is getting your horse their shots every year.

Join Us March 21, 2020, for our Spring Animal Health Day and get 20% off your horse’s vaccinations. Blacksmithing also available!

We have a nice big parking lot for you to park your trailer.

Common Equine Diseases


Tetanus which is also referred to as “lockjaw”, is caused by bacteria in the soil. This bacteria enters the horse’s body through cuts, wounds or a foals umbilical cord.  The bacteria produce a toxin that blocks nerve signals to muscles.

Symptoms include stiff muscles, locked knees, and flared nostrils. The jaw muscles tighten which prevents the horse from eating or drinking. More than eighty percent of affected horses die from tetanus.

Tetanus bacteria are everywhere and your horse will be exposed. Please hear me loud and clear – EVERY HORSE NEEDS AN ANNUAL TETANUS VACCINE!

Dr. Glaza recommends all horses have an annual booster.


More commonly referred to as “sleeping sickness” or equine encephalomyelitis. This virus is transmitted by mosquitoes. The host animals are usually birds and rodents. There are several variants of the virus: East, West, and Venezuelan. Talk to your vet about what affects your area.

Symptoms include fever, depression, wandering aimlessly,  and loss of appetite. As it gets worse the horse may have poor balance, inability to swallow, and stagger.  Paralysis may develop. Depending upon the strain, between 20 and 100% of infected horses may die.

While the risk is low, encephalomyelitis is zoonotic and humans can get the disease but not from their horse! The horse is a dead-end host, meaning they can’t transmit the disease. The host is a bird that is bitten by a mosquito which can then bite the human.

Dr. Glaza recommends that horses in our area get both East and West. Both are also common in combo vaccines.

Listen to Dr. Glaza’s Podcast on Equine Vaccinations

West Nile Virus

West Nile is a perfect example of a virus that has crossed continents. Mosquitos infected with the virus came to North America on planes. This disease has made the news several times because humans can get it as well. Not from your horse but from that same pesky mosquito.

West Nile Virus affects the nervous system and is similar to Encephalomyelitis. Most horses that get West Nile can recover with supportive therapy.


Rabies is deadly. The virus is typically transmitted from the bite of an infected animal. It affects the central nervous system. Symptoms include disorientation, loss of motor control, and clamping of the jaw. Some animals display abnormal behavior and aggression.

Horses are not frequently infected. However, it is always fatal. If your horse gets rabies and bites you then you can get the disease.

Protect your horse with an annual vaccine. Terry Bradshaw does!

Equine Herpesvirus/Rhinopneumonitis (EHV)

There are two distinct variants, equine herpesvirus type 1 (EHV-1) and equine herpesvirus type 4 (EHV-4) which is also called rhinopneumonitis.

EHV has symptoms like in equine flu including fever, coughing, tiredness, loss of appetite, and as Dr. Glaza would say SNOT!

EHV-1 is nerve-racking because it can cause abortion, death in young foals, and paralysis. Vaccines are helpful but do not guarantee that your horse won’t get the disease. EHV1 tends to mutate frequently. However, getting the vaccine does reduce the effects of the disease.

EHV 4 is not quite as serious and is treated much like influenza. Vaccines are a good prevention for this strain.


The flu. All mammals can get it, some more famously than others. Variants include avian and swine flu. The flu is a contagious respiratory illness that is spread through coughing, mucus and in air molecules.  

Equine Influenza is highly contagious in horses. In addition, your horse can continue to infect other horses for several days after they recover. So separation is a good management strategy.

Horses that travel or are exposed to other horses are most at risk. Humans can’t get equine influenza but they can transmit it among their horses.

Typically Dr. Glaza gives the flu vaccine once and then gives boosters if there are strains prevalent in our area. People who travel on the show circuit or among racetracks may want to vaccinate more frequently.

Potomac Horse Fever

This disease is an acute intestinal infection caused by a water organism called a trematode. The trematode’s lifecycle includes living in snails, muscles and aquatic insects such as mayflies. When horses are around wetlands they can inadvertently ingest one of these hosts and become infected.

Symptoms can include intestinal discomfort and extreme diarrhea. Horses easily become dehydrated and weak.  

PHF is a seasonal problem with geographic factors. The Merck Veterinarian Manual lists it as being a problem in fourteen states. Both Kentucky and Ohio, along the Ohio River Valley, and its tributaries are high-risk areas.

A vaccine is available. Dr. Glaza typically gives the vaccine in the spring as the disease occurs in warm weather.


A highly contagious, yet seldom fatal, bacterial infection characterized by an infection in the guttural pouch. The guttural pouch is actually not in the gut at all but rather are sacs of air extending from the Eustachian tube on each side of your horse’s head.

Strangles, also called equine distemper,  is highly contagious and causes the horse to have trouble breathing, excrete lots of mucus and have a swollen jaw and guttural pouch. Most often seen in young or older equines.

Strangles is transmitted by contact between horses. It can also be communicated through tack, brushes or anything the bacteria has come in contact with.

Dr. Glaza recommends vaccinating your horse if they are at risk of the disease. So yes for horses who are going to shows or endurance events.

Photo credit: Equine Veterinarian Services


Like tetanus, botulism is found widely in the environment. There are several different types which are often found in decaying animals and plant materials such as hay or silage.

Botulism kills very quickly. The horse loses motor control and not long after it is unable to breathe.

Botulism is a serious disease and we are hopeful that more horse owners will start vaccinating against this.

American Association of Equine Practitioners

Give us a call and schedule an appointment for your horse needs today. 859-472-4141

Author, Ame Vanorio, is the director of Fox Run Environmental Education Center and a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. She teaches onsite and online classes in organic gardening, solar power, and wildlife rehabilitation. She lives on her farm in Falmouth, Kentucky with too many animals to count! 

1 thought on “Long Live The Horse: Equine Vaccinations”

  1. What a useful article. I will definitely share it with my colleagues.
    Unfortunately, there are also anti-vaxers among horse breeders. However, in this case, the responsibility for the health of the horse lies only with the owner, the horse itself is unlikely to go to the veterinarian to get vaccinated..

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