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Boosting Your Horse’s Immune System

To compete at your highest level, you need a good horse. Not only that, your good horse must be healthy if he's to perform at his best. Keeping a horse healthy isn't something that just happens. Horse owners must constantly monitor their horse for the most minor changes in appearance, attitude and performance. Furthermore, being proactive can save a great deal of headaches down the line. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Although there are dozens of areas to pay attention to in order to keep your horse going strong, the immune system is one many horse owners take for granted. Too often, owners feel that after administering the initial vaccinations, they're set. But there are a myriad of opportunities out there for your horse to get sick and just as many ways to prevent it. So, here are a few guidelines, from the obvious to the obscure to keep your horse's immune system as strong as possible so he feels good, looks good and performs to the peak of his ability.

Vaccinations are the primary weapon to give your horse's immune system a fighting chance. Consult your vet for a complete rundown of the necessary vaccinations for your area.

Vaccinations
Many horse owners go in for their spring shots and that's it. But understand what you're vaccinating for, and you'll be more likely to do what's necessary.

Eastern and Western Encephalomyelitis
This acute viral disease of rodents, birds, horses and man is transmitted by the mosquito. The vaccine is a combination of killed viruses. Initial vaccination is followed by a second dose in two to three weeks or four to six weeks, depending on vaccine used. An annual re-vaccination is given thereafter. Horse owners across the country should vaccinate for this.

Tetanus
This is a vaccination all horse owners should administer. If your horse gets a wound of any kind, tetanus is a threat. As much as we'd like to think our horses are safe, in reality, they are very prone to injury. The vaccination is a modified toxin that stimulates an immune response. The initial vaccination is followed by a second dose in four to six weeks. It is given annually thereafter. If you fail to re-vaccinate on a yearly basis, you must administer two doses as if you are initially vaccinating the horse.

Rhinopneumonitis
This is a standard vaccination your vet should administer. Rhino is a viral disease with three faces: respiratory disease, abortion, and a disease of the nervous system that can cause paralysis. It was once thought all of these problems were caused by the same rhino virus, but there are two rhino viruses involved in this disease: equine herpesvirus-1 and equine herpesvirus-4. EHV-1 protects horses against abortion and possibly the paralysis form. EHV-4 protects horses against the respiratory form, which accounts for more than 46 percent of respiratory disease in the horse, according to recent research.

Influenza
An acute, highly contagious viral disease affecting the upper respiratory tract of the horse. The vaccine is a combination of the two most common strains of influenza as a killed virus. Initial vaccination is followed by a second dose in three to four weeks. For horses who are actively showing and/or in contact with many horses in a high traffic situation, this should be given every three to four months, according to the manufacturer. The vaccine provides protection for three to four months.

Rhino/Flu Combination Vaccine
This is a vaccine containing influenza strains and rhinopneumonitis EHV-4. This combination vaccine is excellent for performance horses or horses in a high-exposure situation (such as boarding stables or ropings) who need rhino/flu vaccines every three to four months.

Strangles
This is one most team ropers who travel much or board their horses should consider. This contagious bacterial disease of the horse affects the upper respiratory tract with abscessation of the lymph nodes, especially in the upper neck and throat region. A killed bacterin is available. Initial vaccination is followed by a booster in three weeks and a third booster in six weeks from the initial vaccine. Annual re-vaccination is given thereafter. Another vaccine for strangles recommends initial dose repeated in three to four weeks and annually. Be aware, however, this is not to be given in the face of an outbreak or at a facility where there was a confirmed case for one year after the case was diagnosed.

Rabies
This vaccine was recently approved for horses. It contains a killed virus to protect against this disease, which affects the central nervous system and results in death. This disease has been on the rise lately and is transmissible from horse to human, thereby posing a severe public health problem. This is an annual vaccine only.

Potomac Horse Fever
This is a seasonal disease seen generally in the summer months. It had been reported in 33-plus states as of summer 1998. The disease is characterized by high fever, severe diarrhea, malaise, depression, anorexia and very often a severe founder that can effect all four feet. It has a high mortality rate. There is now an annual vaccine for the prevention of this disease. It is best to give one in early spring. Initial vaccination is followed by a booster in three to four weeks and annual re-vaccination thereafter.

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West Nile Virus
If you're not aware of this threat, you must have been living under a rock. West Nile Virus (WNV) is recognized for its inflammatory effects on the brain and neurologic system of humans and horses. This virus also affects birds, some dying as a result. Birds serve as carriers for the virus; mosquitoes feed on birds and then are able to infect a person or a horse with their subsequent bites.

Potentially any mammal can be infected by the virus if exposed to mosquito bites, but mostly this disease seems to be confined to birds, horses and humans.

Horses and humans are considered dead-end hosts, meaning they are not infective to others. Symptoms of WNV include the following: stumbling or tripping, muscle weakness or twitching, partial paralysis, loss of appetite, depression or lethargy, head pressing or tilt, impaired vision, wandering or circling, inability to swallow, inability to stand up, fever, convulsions, coma and death. Fort Dodge and Merial both have different vaccinations to combat this disease. Consult your vet for the one that's right for your horse.

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