Horse Vaccination – All You Need to Know

Equine vaccination is an important part of disease prevention and control. It’s not just the feed they eat that’s important or whether they get enough exercise, but disease prevention as well.

As a new horse owner, you may be wondering whether to vaccinate your horse and what types of vaccines do horses need.

I’m here to discuss these aspects and help you navigate the intricacies of equine vaccination, so you can ensure that your horse is protected against diseases that can be hard to fight off otherwise.

Do Horses Need Vaccination?

Yes, absolutely! Horses, like other farm animals and pets, require vaccination. And as a horse owner, it is your duty to make sure your horse is not only well-fed and fit, but also that it stays protected from viral and other preventable diseases.

There are plenty of reasons to get your horse vaccinated including:

  • Vaccines offer protection against life-threatening diseases like tetanus
  • General disease control, where multiple horses are housed in close proximity
  • Vaccination is mandatory if you want to enter your horse in a competition
  • Vaccine is mandatory for insured horses otherwise you can’t make an insurance claim and your insurer can deny your claim
  • Vaccines are safe and a good value for money, especially compared to the treatment costs that you may incur in an attempt to treat diseases that could have been prevented with vaccination

Overall, there’s no reason not to vaccinate your horse. Especially if you have multiple horses that interact with each other daily and can quickly pass on diseases one to another.

Make sure to set up a vaccination plan with your vet and follow it through. Many equine diseases are life-threatening or debilitating; you don’t want to go through the ordeal of seeing your horse fighting for its life.

When Should a Horse be Vaccinated?

As soon as your horse reaches 5 months of age, you can start its vaccination schedule. Some foals may need vaccination sooner than 5 months, at 3 months of age, especially if they have a low colostrum intake.

Make sure to follow the vaccination schedule recommended by your vet including any boosters that are needed.

But vaccination is recommended even for adult horses with an unknown vaccination history. Broodmares should also be vaccinated against rotavirus, EHV and other diseases.

Vaccines fall into two broad categories — core vaccines that are recommended by the American Veterinary Medical Association and AAEP and risk-based vaccines or optional ones.

After receiving the initial priming series of vaccines, some vaccines require annual boosters. It is your responsibility to ensure that your horses have all their vaccines up-to-date.

Below, I’ve summarized the most important types of vaccines horses will need.

What Type of Vaccines do Horses Need?

Horses need a host of vaccines to protect from a variety of diseases including those that are mosquito-borne.

Here are the core vaccines needed for your horses as recommended by the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP):

  • Eastern and Western Equine Encephalitis (EWEE)
  • Rabies
  • Tetanus
  • West Nile Virus (WNV)

Because these are highly infectious diseases and pose a risk of severe disease, I strongly recommend that you vaccinate your horses against them.

The EWEE and the WNV diseases are both spread by mosquitoes and even have similar symptoms including inflammation of the brain or spinal cord and neurological symptoms.

Tetanus is a bacterial disease that’s carried on soil and other surfaces, making horses highly susceptible to it.

Therefore, the tetanus shot should be part of the yearly vaccination program for your horse. These vaccines can be administered separately or as a single intramuscular shot.

Other vaccines, for which you should take a risk-based approach include:

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

I recommend that you treat risk-based vaccines seriously as well, especially if you take your horse off the farm to public places where they can get in contact with other horses.

Respiratory diseases like equine influenza, strangles, rotavirus, or rhinopneumonitis can be easily spread from one horse to another, so don’t neglect their administration just because they’re not part of the core vaccination.

You should also discuss risk levels with your vet, who can correctly determine if your horse needs a certain vaccine or not.

How Often Horses Should Get Vaccinated?

It depends on the disease you’re vaccinating against and the season you’re in. For example, the tetanus vaccine should be administered yearly.

Vaccines for diseases spread by mosquitoes (EWEE, WNV, etc.) should be administered before the beginning of the mosquito season (usually in spring), so that horses can build up immunity until the season kicks off.

Vaccines against Influenza/Rhinopneumonitis should be administered semi-annually. The vaccine can be administered nasally or as an intramuscular injection.

Another vaccine that should be administered semi-annually is the Potomac Horse Fever vaccine, while the Strangles vaccine should be administered annually.

Usually, your vet will send out vaccination reminders to keep you updated on the types of vaccines your horse needs and how often it needs them.

How do Horses React to Vaccine?

Adverse reactions after vaccination do occur, which is why your vet will usually keep your horse under observation for 20-30 minutes after the vaccine was administered.

Mild reactions include swelling and soreness at the injection site, fever, lethargy or even anorexia. Severe reactions are also possible such as urticaria, anaphylaxis or purpura haemorrhagic colic.

Although I wouldn’t worry about over-vaccination, it’s good to discuss the need for risk-based vaccines with your vet, so you can determine which vaccines are really needed for your horse.


Vaccines are an effective way to prevent diseases with a high mortality rate or which present with a high risk of severe diseases.

You need to make sure your horses are up-to-date with their vaccinations and that all core vaccines and necessary risk-based vaccines are administered on a timely basis.

Always work together with your veterinarian to develop an individualized vaccination program based on the age of your hose, geographical location, breeding status and other considerations.

avatar Noah
I’m Noah, chief editor at VIVO Pets and the proud owner of a playful, energetic husky (Max). I’ve been a volunteer at Rex Animal Rescue for over 2 years. I love learning and writing about different animals that can be kept as pets. read more...

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