Talk to any dog or cat owner and they competently discuss titers, three-year vaccines and the Rabies Challenge Fund (www.rabies challengefund.org) whose goal is to get rabies vaccines approved for five to seven years for companion animals. My sheep get the exact same rabies vaccine as my equines (horses and donkeys). For the sheep, the vaccine is considered effective for three years, but for horses it's just one year.
There are other vaccines that have short-term life spans for solid immunity. In addition, most killed vaccines do not provide immunity as quickly or for as long as modified live vaccines.
In my upstate New York area this past summer, at least three horses died of eastern equine encephalitis (EEE). None of them had been properly vaccinated. That is under-vaccination. Over-vaccination can be just as serious. Some horses have adverse reactions to vaccines and end up with laminitis, bleeding disorders or immune-related problems.
So what is the average horse owner to do' First, look carefully at what vaccines your horse needs. Discuss the many vaccine options with your veterinarian.? Plan a vaccination schedule so that your horse's immune system is not overwhelmed with multiple vaccines all at once. See Horse Journal's Guide to?Vaccinations.
Rabies is required by law in most, if not all, states for horses attending shows, fairs or traveling to parks for trail riding. No question there. While protective titers have been established, they can't substitute for proof of vaccination. So if your horse was bitten by a rabid skunk and wasn?t current on his vaccination, he would be quarantined even if he had a solid, protective titer. Currently, you have no choice about vaccinating yearly for rabies. Sadly, rabies is a vaccine with a high rate of side effects. Horse owners need to jump on the Rabies Challenge Fund bandwagon and get horses changed to a three- or five-year approval.
EEE and WEE are serious, often fatal diseases that have effective vaccines. Titer studies suggest that these vaccines may be effective for at least three years. Since these are life-threatening illnesses, your horse should be boostered or have a titer checked yearly. Titer checks require a blood sample and are often more expensive than a booster vaccine.
Now things move into the realm of realistic risk. For example, the equine herpes virus (EHV) outbreak this year in the western half of the United States may have been limited by the use of effective modified live vaccines. The protective antibodies for this virus tend to last six to 12 months. This vaccine should definitely be on your list if you show frequently or plan to breed your horse.
As a concerned horse owner, look at your individual horse's risks?based on lifestyle, activities, age, health, etc. Decide how frequently you need to booster vaccines. If you run titers on your horse, consider sending a copy of the results to Dr. Jean Dodds at Hemopet, 938 Standford St., Santa Monica, CA 90403. With at least 500 sets of equine titers she can begin to develop protocols and possibly influence requirements for equine vaccinations.
Deb Eldredge DVM, Contributing Veterinary Editor