Now that long awaited foals are on the ground and learning to run, buck, and play, it is time to consider measures that you as an owner can take to help them have a long happy life. One of these preventative health measures is vaccination against diseases that can have devastating effects on the horse including Tetanus, Eastern and Western Equine Encephalitis Viruses (aka Sleeping Sickness), Equine Herpes Virus (aka Rhinopneumonitis), Equine Influenza, West Nile Virus, and Rabies.
These diseases are all potential pathogens that your young foal may encounter at some point in their life. Although in your own personal horse community diseases like Sleeping Sickness may not seem like much of a threat, yet there are still cases that occur annually in which the horses that are infected become gravely ill, and may have lasting effects from the disease if they are lucky enough to survive, not to mention the monetary costs of supportive care to be treated while ill.
The protective antibodies produced as a result of vaccination are not only helpful in preventing disease, but they can also be the difference in living or dying after expose to a particular pathogen. A good example of this is West Nile Virus, which was considered to be very deadly for horses in the years following its arrive to the United States back in the 1999. The mortality rate (e.g. risk of dying from having disease) is considered to be about 33% for horses that contract West Nile Virus infections, but what is more important is that over 90% of non-vaccinated horses when infected developed grave clinical signs such as inability to stand and/or complete loss of ability to eat/drink that resulted in their death or humane euthanasia. By simply vaccinating your foals you give them a fighting chance against a disease that has proven in recent years it is still very much a problem. From personal experience of cases I saw in Louisiana in 2012, the two horses that survived out of the three we treated for confirmed West Nile infections had been vaccinated, while the third had not. Despite full supportive care, this unvaccinated filly quickly became severely uncoordinated, lost the ability to stand and then began having seizure like episodes before the owner elected to euthanize and stop her suffering. In these aggressive diseases, preventative care such as vaccination is often our best treatment.
That being said the American Association of Equine Practitioners in an effort to promote the health of the horse has put together a list of core vaccines that all horses should have regardless of where they reside in North America. This includes Tetanus, Eastern/Western Encephalitis, West Nile, and Rabies. Additionally vaccination for Equine Herpes Virus (e.g. EHV- 1 and 4) and Equine Influenza is also recommended for horses that will be showing, racing, or are house in densely horse populated areas such as boarding and breeding facilities. Because these are common pathogens that are easily spread between horses it is also a good idea to give foals an early advantage by vaccinating them against these diseases.
To help get the most protection out of vaccinating your foal it is best to vaccinate at specific times in the first year of the foals life. Below is a table that outlines the current recommendations for foal vaccinations:
Since there are difference types of vaccination products for diseases like West Nile and Equine Influenza consulting with your veterinarian will be the most effective way to create a vaccination program that will best benefit your foal. Also every situation is different and your veterinarian can help determine other pathogens your foal may at higher risk for based on geographical location and how the horses on your property intermingle. Examples of some other diseases to ask you veterinarian about vaccination for would be Strangles and Botulism as these can be huge problems for foals in certain circumstances.