Spring Cleaning Stable Style (Vaccinations etc.)

Spring Cleaning Day saw Rachel vaccinate Shadow for the first time.

Vaccination day at the farm was quite the busy chore.  Or should I say, chores?  Protecting our animals is a great responsibility and, in my opinion, a great pleasure.  We purchase these animals to provide ourselves with pleasure.  It is only fitting we pay them back by taking care of their needs and doing for them what they can’t do for themselves.

So last Friday we headed out to the farm for the spring teeth floating, sheath cleaning, and vaccinations.  Oh yeah, let’s not forget the deworming paste.  That awesome goo most horses hate.  I don’t blame them.  When one spit it out and some landed on my face I got to taste it.  YUCK!!  Rachel had her first experience cleaning geldings’ sheaths and was instructed, by Dr. Roberts, in the fine art of injecting horses, and shooting Strangles vaccine spray into their nasal cavities.  Fun stuff.

Not being a veterinarian, it isn’t always easy to know which vaccinations to give the horses.  So, the best advice I can give is to ask your vet what is best for your horses.  My horses will be travelling all over the province this year.  They will mostly be taking part in trail rides, mountain trips, and gymkhanas.  My big guy, Colonel, will be in a clinic at the Mane Event, and will hopefully be able to do a few more horsemanship clinics over the summer.  Armed with their itineraries, I am able to tell the vet where they will be going, what they will be doing, and how many other horses they will be around.  In the case of mine, they will be around lots of horses, most of which are strangers to me.

It is important to realize many many owners do not vaccinate.  As with children in school, these people don’t believe in it for one reason or another.  So, when I vaccinate I am doing it with these people in mind.  I don’t want my horses catching what they may carry, and I don’t want my horses making other horses sick.  Pure and simple, I am being responsible to my horses and theirs.

Due to my horses travelling, they received a large spectrum of vaccines:

  1. WEE, EEE, Tetanus, Flu and Rhino – 1 Shot
  2. West Nile Virus – 1 Shot
  3. Strangles – Live Intra-Nasal Vaccine, Pinnacle

So what does all this mean?  Let’s start off by defining the diseases we vaccinated for:

Western Equine Encephalomyelitis: Encephalitis is most easily described as an acute inflammation of the brain.  Western Equine Encephalitis, or WEE is a disease carried and transmitted by mosquitos in western areas of the United States and Canada.  Other than death, some of the possible outcomes of WEE are; Mental Retardation, Behavioural changes, paralysis and Focal Neurologic deficits.  Fortunately, WEE is a dead-end disease in horses and humans.  It is transmitted only by mosquitos and arthropods.  Once infected, there is not enough of the disease in the horse, or human for even a mosquito to catch were it to suck blood from the infected host.  Horses infected with WEE will not pass it to other horses.1

Eastern Equine Encephalomyelitis:  Is similar to WEE in that it is mosquito born, is zoonotic in nature (can’t be transmitted from horses to horses or horses t0 humans), but it differs from WEE in that it is fatal in 90% of cases.  WEE is only fatal in about 50% of cases.  The virus, as stated, is Mosquito born and is most prevalent in Eastern regions of the United States and into the midwest.2

West Nile Virus Encephalomyelitis:  Very similar to WEE and EEE, West Nile Virus has the highest survival rate of the encephalomyelitis diseases.  Symptoms are virtually the same.  Again, this is a zoonotic disease that is dead end in nature.  The horse or human infected can not pass the disease on. While the survival rate for WNVe is about 67%, 40% of these animals showed residual affects 6 months after recovery, i.e. behavioural and gait abnormalities.  West Nile Virus encephalomyelitis has been reported in all parts of Canada, the United States and Mexico.  Due to its prevalence, vaccinating for West Nile should be part of the vaccination program for all horses. Horses account for 96.3% of all mammalian cases of WNVe.3

Tetanus:  This is your everyday tetanus.  The tetani organisms exist in the intestinal tract and feces of horses, humans and in soil. The spores survive in the environment for many years, so exposure is an ongoing risk.  The spores enter the system through the minutest of cuts and abrasions.  Any horse that receives a cut, puncture would or undergoes surgery 6 months after vaccination, should be given a tetanus shot immediately.  Vaccinated horses should have the vaccination annually.  Tetanus, though not communicable, can be deadly to humans and horses alike.4

Flu:  Equine Influenza is probably to most common infectious diseases amongst horses.  Highly contagious, this disease will spread through a herd like wildfire through a dead forest.  Unless the horses are living in a completely closed herd they should be vaccinated.  Vaccination for the flu should take place every six months, standard herd, every three months for horses attending lots of shows.  The flu mainly affects younger horses up to about 5 years old.  Older horses tend not to be affected, due to built up immunities, unless they are constantly bombarded by infected horses.  The flu is passed through mist like spread caused by coughing and sneezing and by contact with the faces of infected horses. Vaccines should be selected based upon their proven efficacy.  Veterinarians should be able to select the best vaccine for your animals.5

Strangles:   Strangles or S. equi is a disease which affects the upper airways and lymph nodes of the horse’s head.  Younger and Older horses are the most susceptible to S. equi.  Strangles can be introduced to a

Rachel administers Strangles Vaccine to Shadow

herd through many pathways.  The most common is the introduction into a herd of an infected animal.  Once an animal in the herd has the disease transmission can occur through even more pathways.  Nose to nose contact is the most common method by which Strangles will be transmitted, but it can also pass through contact with contaminate water, contaminated feed buckets, hands, clothing, and faces of humans to name a few.

Vaccination for S. equi is not a guarantee horses will be immune to Strangles.  What it will do is limit the severity of the disease should a vaccinated animal contract it.  Animals, having had the disease in the past 12 months, do not require vaccination.  Having recovered from Strangles, horses tend to be immune for 1 to two years.  Vaccinating a horse after recovery can actually cause purpur haemorrhagica resulting in limb and/or head swelling and small haemorrhages of the gums.  After being exposed to this disease an animal may take 3 – 14 days before becoming ill.  This is why it is so important to quarantine new animals, or animals returning from activities with other horses of unknown origin or exposure.  There is only one type of vaccine approved for Strangles in Alberta.  It is a modified live virus vaccine administered intra-nasaly.6

As with all biosecurity measures we take to protect our horses, vaccination is not the be all and end all in combating disease.  It is one tool in a very large tool box.  Relying solely on vaccination to keep your animals healthy is as foolish as not vaccinating at all.  We cannot hope to vaccinate for every possible disease with potential to seriously harm or kill the horses.  Indeed, there are disease for which there are no vaccines.  The only way we can hope to protect our animals is to put all biosecurity tools to work for us.

I highly recommend reading the articles linked to in the footnotes.  These will explain, in much more detail, the diseases, their symptoms, and precautions to take to avoid them.

In order to ensure the horses have a broad spectrum deworming program, our veterinarian makes suggestions of which deworming products we should use at which time of year.  So, on top of vaccinations each horse was given that aweful tasting dewormer.  Not even apple flavoured to entice them to actually want to take it.

Colonel sucked the dangly parts in and Rachel couldn't find them with her hand all the way in there.

The best part of the whole day, for me, was watching Rachel finally get a grip and inject Shadow with both vaccines and with the Strangles intra-nasal vaccine.  The funniest part was

watching her as she was taught how to clean the geldings’ sheathes and go for that elusive bean.  Of course Colonel had to be difficult.  The horse that will usually drop with a rub on the inside of his leg decided to suck the dangly parts so far in, if something had spooked him it would have fired out his butt end.  That’s my cooperative quarter horse.

All of the horses were checked for sharp teeth.  Those needing floating, and minor adjustments alike, were taken care of.  I love a vet, or any contractor for that matter, who will not do unnecessary procedures just to make a buck.  So while the vet took care of the front end, Rachel took care of the hind end and all the horses were taken care of in one day.  Unfortunately, for Rachel, although Colonel was fairly clean, she still has to get that elusive bean….  SATURDAY is right around the corner.


Suggested Reading: Vaccinating Your Horse


  1. American Association of Equine Practitioners: Eastern/Western Equine Encephalomyelitis []
  2. American Association of Equine Practitioners: Eastern/Western Encephalomyelitis []
  3. American Association of Equine Practitioners: West Nile Virus []
  4. American Association of Equine Practitioners – Tetanus []
  5. American Association of Equine Practitioners: Equine Influenza []
  6. American Association of Equine Practitioners: Understanding Strangles []


  1. […] bird of Ontario.  Even in Alberta we have some nasty mosquitos.  In previous articles here, here, and here, I have discussed various equine diseases which are spread primarily by mosquitos and […]