Prevention is ultimately better than cure and vaccination of your horse or pony is an important part of their preventative health care. Following a vaccination against a specific disease, your horse’s immune system generates a protective response that helps prevent future disease. It’s important that your horse is healthy at the time of vaccination to allow their immune system to develop this protective response. The most common equine vaccines are for tetanus and equine influenza. Vaccines also exist for herpes virus, strangles and rotavirus.
With an estimated UK horse population of just under a million, a recent survey by Elanco Animal Health showed that approximately 50% of horses in the UK are not vaccinated against tetanus and flu. Leaving horses unvaccinated puts them at high risk of contracting preventable diseases. Horses who are up to date with their jabs can still carry and transmit disease despite not showing any clinical signs themselves. This means all unvaccinated horses are potentially at risk. As horse owners it is our duty to protect the health of our animals and to avoid unwittingly endangering the health of the wider horse population.
Equine influenza and tetanus Out of all domesticated animals horses are amongst the most susceptible to tetanus because of the outdoor environment they live in. Tetanus is a bacterial infection caused by the bacterium Clostridium tenanii, which can be found in soil and droppings almost everywhere although some areas have a more concentrated quantity than others. It survives in the soil for long periods of time and typically enters the body through dirty wounds. The bacteria are anaerobic which means they do not require oxygen to survive, and multiply rapidly in the damaged tissues at the site of the injury. Most cases of tetanus ultimately result in death of the affected animal, but your horse can be effectively protected against infection with vaccination.
Unlike tetanus, equine flu has a relatively low mortality rate but the attack on the immune system leaves horses open to serious secondary infections such as pneumonia and bronchitis. There is limited treatment available for equine influenza and affected individuals recover slowly, needing a long period of rest to recuperate. Equine flu occurs globally and has a near 100% infection rate in unvaccinated horses with no prior exposure to the virus, as with the human version equine flu is highly contagious and with an incubation period of one to five days it spreads rapidly through the population. The highly contagious nature of equine flu makes it difficult to control, it can spread several kilometres on the air so even solitary horses who don’t travel are at risk of infection. Vaccination programmes are cost and time effective control methods that most horse sport governing bodies insist on.
Equine influenza and tetanus vaccines can be performed at the same time. The Jockey Club rules are –
- First vaccination for flu and tetanus. (Day 1)
- Second vaccination should be given approximately one month after the initial vaccination for both flu and tetanus. (Day 21 -92)
- Third vaccination happens approximately three months after the second vaccination. (150 – 215 days after second vaccination)
- An annual booster should be given no more than 365 days after the third vaccination.
- The annual booster alternates between flu and the combination of flu and tetanus as tetanus only needs to be given every other year after the first annual booster.
Contributor: B&W Equine Vets.
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