What You Need to Know about Equine Vaccinations

Horse receiving vaccine

What You Need to Know About Equine Vaccinations

Even the healthiest horses can catch diseases that threaten their well-being. Luckily, a variety of equine vaccines are available to protect your horse's health.

Why Vaccinations Are So Important

Vaccinations reduce your horse's risk of developing diseases that may cause severe illness or even death. Vaccines also help protect other horses your horse may come in contact with, including younger horses that haven't received a full series of vaccines yet. When the majority of horses are vaccinated, disease outbreaks are much less likely to happen.

Types of Vaccines

The American Association of Equine Practitioners categorizes vaccines as core or risk-based. Core vaccines protect your horse from a variety of infectious diseases that can affect equines across the U.S. Your horse should receive these core vaccines every year:

  • West Nile Virus
  • Tetanus
  • Rabies
  • Eastern Equine Encephalitis/Western Equine Encephalitis (EEE/WEE)

Your equine veterinarian may also recommend several risk-based vaccinations, depending on the types of diseases that may sicken horses in your area. Your horse may also need risk-based vaccines if it travels to other areas of the country. Risk-based vaccines include:

  • Rotavirus
  • Equine Influenza
  • Equine Herpesvirus
  • Equine Viral Arteritis
  • Strangles
  • Leptospirosis
  • Botulism
  • Anthrax
  • Snake Bite
  • Potomac Horse Fever

An Annual Coggins Test Is a Must

Horses also need a yearly Coggins test, in addition to core vaccines. The blood test determines if your horse has equine infectious anemia (EIA) antibodies. The viral disease is spread when a deer or horse fly bites an infected animal and then bites your horse. EIA kills 30 to 70% of infected horses, according to the Michigan State University Extension.

Symptoms include fever, weight loss, swollen abdomen, weight loss, anemia, rapid breathing and heart rate, and muscle loss. Some horses never develop symptoms but become carriers of the disease. Any horse that tests positive for EIA must be euthanized or kept hundreds of yards from other horses, as there is no treatment or vaccine for the disease. Before traveling, your horse will need a negative Coggins test.

You can reduce the risk of EIA spreading through your stable by:

  • Quarantining New Arrivals. Don't let new horses mingle with other horses until they've received a negative Coggins test.
  • Relocating the Manure Pile. A manure pile is the perfect place for breeding as far as flies are concerned. Unfortunately, if the pile is close to the barn or pasture, flies have easy access to your horses. Keep the pile from the barn to reduce the risk of fly-borne illness.
  • Using Sprays. Annoying flies won't bother your horse or spread disease when you keep fly spray on hand.
  • Get Rid of Standing Water. Flies and other insects are drawn to stagnant water. Decrease their population by dumping out buckets and other containers after it rains. If you can, avoid placing stables or lean-tos close to bodies of water.
  • Setting a Standing Date with the Veterinarian. It's much easier to ensure your horse's vaccinations are up-to-date when you schedule them for the same month every year. During vaccination visits, your equine veterinarian can also provide information on diseases and illnesses that may be circulating through the local equine population and recommend at-risk vaccines.

Vaccinating Foals and Broodmares

Foals receive natural protection from illness by drinking colostrum shortly after birth. Colostrum, the first milk the vaccinated broodmare produces, contains antibodies against several diseases. Broodmares should receive additional vaccines for rabies, EEE/WEE, tetanus and West Nile disease four to six weeks before foaling, according to AAEP guidelines. These vaccinations are in addition to the annual vaccines usually provided.

Vaccinations for foals start between 2 to 6 months, depending on the vaccine. Although the first dose of the vaccine does help protect the foal for illness, several doses are needed for full immunity. Vaccines may be injected in the foal's neck muscles, injected under the skin or placed in the nostrils.

Is it time for your horse's annual vaccinations? Give us a call to schedule a convenient appointment time with the equine vet.


American Association of Equine Practitioners: Vaccination Guidelines, 2020

Michigan State University Extension: Equine Infectious Anemia: The Ramifications of a Positive Test, 5/23/2012

Penn State Extension: Vaccines for Your Horse, 3/26/2018

The Horse: Equine Vaccinations Do’s and Don’ts, 8/17/2022


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