Ensure Young-Horse Health

Use vaccines with proper timing early to help protect foals against disease.

Mares do many things to help protect their foals. Maternal antibodies in the mare’s colostrum, for instance, can help protect foals against common equine diseases. But after the foal’s first few months of life, these maternal antibody levels drop and may no longer offer protection. That’s why it’s important to take preventive action with a vaccination program to help ensure the health of these young animals.

“Preventive health is absolutely paramount,” says Dr. Beth Davis, associate professor and section head of equine medicine and surgery at Kansas State University. “Owners should be working with their veterinarian very early on to establish a good preventive health program for their foals for that entire first year of life. This includes a vaccination program, to help minimize the chance that they are going to have any problems in the future.”

In accordance with the American Association of Equine Practitioners guidelines, core vaccinations for foals include eastern and western equine encephalomyelitis, West Nile, tetanus and rabies. And if your horses travel to shows, racetracks or other locations where they might be exposed to other horses, you should consider risk-based vaccines for protection against equine herpesvirus Types 1 and 4, as well as equine influenza virus. AAEP guidelines recommend that vaccines be administered to foals at 4 to 6 months of age.

When designing a vaccination schedule for foals, remember to help provide protection against diseases that pose a serious threat early in their lives. A joint study under way by Kansas State University and Zoetis is analyzing the benefits of vaccinating even earlier in the foals’ lives, as early as 3 months.

“We’d like to determine whether rather than waiting until 6 months to start vaccinations if foals could have an immune response a little earlier,” Dr. Davis says. “If a horse owner is planning to have a young animal that is going to be in a high-risk situation – whether that’s a sale, show, different farm or location or an environment where there are mosquitoes and a risk of encephalitic disease – earlier vaccination could help protect them in the face of these challenges.”

“Having this information on whether you can vaccinate earlier would be valuable for horse owners, especially those who may have foals born later in the season,” says Dr. Kevin Hankins, area veterinarian, equine technical services, Zoetis. “Since they would only be 3 to 4 months of age right in the height of mosquito season, these foals could be exposed to diseases like West Nile before receiving their vaccinations.”

When you establish a vaccination program with your veterinarian, remember to avoid vaccinating during times of high stress, or shortly before times of stress, particularly at weaning, or a few days before traveling, regardless of your horse’s age, Dr. Hankins says.

“These times of stress can reduce their immune response and weaken their protection against something they could come in contact with,” Dr. Davis says.

“Also, the labels on all vaccines state that they should only be administered to healthy horses,” Dr. Hankins says. “So, not only do owners need to ensure that these vaccines are given during stress-free times, but also when your horses and foals are at full health to help offer the best protection possible.”

Courtesy of America’s Horse Daily