Before you start training for show season or head out for a trail ride, ensure your horse’s vaccines are up to date. Vaccines are an important part of your horse’s wellness plan to keep them healthy and athletically sound. Our Rustebakke Veterinary Service team explains all you need to know about equine vaccines.

Adult horse vaccines

Vaccines help minimize disease risk, and while no vaccine is 100% effective, vaccinated horses contract infectious diseases less frequently and their illness signs are less severe than those of unvaccinated horses. Ideally, all horses in your herd should follow the same vaccine schedule. A standard vaccination protocol for horses doesn’t exist. Each horse’s situation must be evaluated to determine their condition and infection risk, and our veterinarians can determine the best plan for your equine friend. Rustebakke Veterinary Service’s general recommendations include:

  • Rabies — Rabies is a viral disease that attacks the central nervous system and is 100% fatal once infection occurs. The most common infection route for horses is from the bite of an infected wild carnivore such as a bat, fox, or skunk. Signs may include behavioral changes, unexplained paralysis, extreme agitation, and self-mutilation. Rabies has no cure, but rabies vaccines are effective at disease prevention. Your horse should receive a rabies vaccine once every 12 months.
  • Tetanus toxoid — Tetanus is caused by neurotoxins produced by the bacterium Clostridium tetani. Spores can survive for years in the sole and can enter open wounds, especially puncture wounds, to cause disease. Signs include stiffness or lameness that quickly progresses to trembling, muscle spasms, and rigidity. Tetanus is treated with antibiotics and supportive care, but up to 80% of affected horses die. To prevent your horse from this infection, they should receive a tetanus toxoid vaccine once every 12 months, and if they sustain a wound more than six months after vaccination, they should be revaccinated.
  • Eastern and western equine encephalomyelitis (EEE and WEE) — EEE and WEE are viral diseases transmitted primarily by mosquitoes that cause brain inflammation. Signs include fever, lethargy, tremors, convulsions, paralysis, incoordination, and recumbency. Treatment involves supportive care. The prognosis for WEE is better than EEE, but surviving horses may have permanent deficits. Your horse should be vaccinated for EEE and WEE once a year.
  • Equine influenza — Equine influenza is a respiratory viral disease that spreads easily through direct contact with an infected horse and contaminated objects such as brushes, clothing, and tack. Signs include fever, cough, lethargy, and nasal discharge. Treatment involves rest and supportive care. Generally, we recommend vaccinating your horse against equine influenza every six months, but if they show or travel frequently, we recommend vaccination every two to four months.
  • Equine rhinopneumonitis — Equine herpesvirus types 1 and 4 infect the respiratory tract, causing fever, lethargy, nasal discharge, and swollen lymph nodes, and is spread similarly to equine influenza. We recommend vaccinating your horse against equine rhinopneumonitis every six months or every two to four months if they show or travel frequently. 
  • West Nile virus (WNV) — WNV is a mosquito-borne virus that causes signs that include fever, incoordination, weakness, muscle twitching, seizures, teeth grinding, abnormal sensitivity to touch or sound, and in serious cases, recumbency. Horses can recover fully from WNV, but some may have long-term effects. Your horse should receive a WNV vaccine once per year.
  • Strangles — Strangles is a highly contagious bacterial infection that causes fever, nasal discharge, and abscessed lymph nodes. Routine vaccination is not recommended, but if your horse is housed in a barn that has a history of strangles or they are in a high-risk environment, they should receive the intranasal strangles vaccine.

Our Rustebakke Veterinary Service team administers the five-way combination vaccine that protects against EEE, WEE, equine influenza, equine rhinopneumonitis, and tetanus toxoid. We recommend giving the five-way and WNV in the spring and boosting your horse’s influenza and rhinopneumonitis vaccines in the fall or more frequently, depending on their disease risk. If your horse has never been vaccinated, they will need a booster shot two to four weeks after their initial vaccine to be fully protected.

Foal vaccines

Healthy foals are protected by antibodies from their mother’s milk for their first few months, and to help build their immunity, they should receive a vaccine series, starting at about 6 months of age. If your foal has a high disease exposure risk, our team may recommend vaccinating them earlier.

Pregnant mare vaccines

Pregnant mares should receive a five-way and a WNV vaccine at the beginning of pregnancy and about one month before foaling to increase antibody levels in their colostrum. They should also receive Pneumabort-k + 1b or Prodigy at the fifth, seventh, and ninth month of pregnancy to help prevent equine herpesvirus abortion. 

Keep your horse protected against preventable diseases by keeping them up to date on their vaccines. Call our Rustebakke Veterinary Service team today to schedule your horse’s appointment.