Equine influenza and tetanus

By Wendy Talbot on 15 February 2017

Vaccinations are essential to help protect your horse from diseases such as equine influenza. The vaccinations you are probably most familiar with are tetanus and equine influenza, but some horse owners also choose to vaccinate their horses to reduce the risk of other diseases such as equine herpes virus (EHV), strangles and equine viral arteritis (EVA).

equine influenza

How do vaccinations work?

Vaccinations help support your horse’s immune system to ward off diseases and infections. They do this by priming the immune system to respond quicker and more effectively if the disease is ever encountered. Vaccination is important for all horses but some, such as youngsters and older horses with other disease challenges, for example Cushing’s, will often have compromised immunity making vaccination all the more important. Vaccinations provide protective immunity against diseases such as tetanus and will also reduce the spread of contagious diseases such as equine influenza.

What is tetanus?

Tetanus is a potentially life-threatening disease caused by a bacterial infection. Deep wounds, such as the classic nail in the sole of the hoof, provide ideal conditions for the tetanus bacterium to flourish and produce a harmful toxin. Tetanus infection can happen fast and sometimes the initial wound is not recognised. The signs to look out for are progressive stiffness – your horse may be stiff around the wound or may be reluctant to move at all. As the disease advances your horse may look startled, have erect ears and tail, head spasms, a high temperature and heightened reflex actions.

How can I prevent tetanus?

Vaccination is the best way to protect your horse from tetanus. An unvaccinated horse with progressed clinical signs is unlikely
to survive the disease, even with veterinary help. Vaccination is an extremely effective preventative and confirmed case of tetanus in vaccinated horses are rare. Good management is also important. Make sure you check your fencing regularly and clear potentially harmful items from your horse’s stable, paddock and yard. Examine your horse’s hooves and limbs daily to help identify any cuts or scrapes that could be at risk from infection.

It’s important to call your vet immediately if your horse has a deep wound. A tetanus antitoxin and/or a booster tetanus vaccine can be administered at this stage, depending on the length of time since the horse’s last vaccination.

How can I prevent tetanus?

Vaccination is the best way to protect your horse from tetanus. An unvaccinated horse with progressed clinical signs is unlikely
to survive the disease, even with veterinary help. Vaccination is an extremely effective preventative and confirmed case of tetanus in vaccinated horses are rare. Good management is also important. Make sure you check your fencing regularly and clear potentially harmful items from your horse’s stable, paddock and yard. Examine your horse’s hooves and limbs daily to help identify any cuts or scrapes that could be at risk from infection.

It’s important to call your vet immediately if your horse has a deep wound. A tetanus antitoxin and/or a booster tetanus vaccine can be administered at this stage, depending on the length of time since the horse’s last vaccination.

What is equine influenza?

Equine influenza or ‘Equine ‘flu’ is a very contagious virus. It is spread from horse to horse via virus particles in the environment, or through the contamination of equipment and clothing.

It causes respiratory disease, which can give your horse nasal discharge, fever and a cough. Your horse may also lose his appetite, have enlarged glands at his throat and some have muscular pain – in fact, symptoms can be very similar to a human with flu! Your vet may want to take a nasal swab and a blood sample to check your horse has equine ‘flu and not a different respiratory disease.

How can I prevent Equine influenza?

The best way to protect your horse from equine influenza is by vaccination. It is important that all the horses on the premises are vaccinated as this helps the vaccine to work as effectively as possible.

It is important to keep your horse’s vaccinations up-to-date; not only to prevent your horse being at risk from infection, but also if a booster vaccination is missed, your horse will need to have the primary course again, resulting in unnecessary expense.

Good management and hygiene are also essential to reduce the spread of the disease. It’s advisable to sterilise shared stable, lorries, trailers and other equipment regularly. Potentially affected horses should be isolated as soon as possible. Consider implementing a quarantine period for new horses to reduce the spread of flu and other respiratory diseases.

References

http://www.aaep.org/info/equine-influenza

McFarlane (2016) Immune function in aged horses. Vet Clin Equine 32 (2016) 333–341

http://www.aaep.org/info/tetanus

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Dr Wendy Talbot BVSC Cert EM (Int Med) DECEIM MRCVS


Wendy graduated from Bristol University in 1999. She then went on to complete a residency at Liverpool University and holds a European Diploma in Equine Internal Medicine. After working in practice for 13 years, she joined Zoetis in 2012 as the National Equine Veterinary Manager.