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Posted: 03/21/2023
Beautiful, healthy horse standing near a blossoming tree in spring

Core Vaccines for Your Horse

Hay is for horses … and so are vaccines! Even companion animals like horses – that may be the only one of their kind at their facility – are at risk for disease. Wild animals, pests, cold weather and other risk factors can spread diseases that affect horses all the same. Here we’ll talk about the 5 core vaccines every horse needs and why.

Woman resting her head against horse's head

Do Horses Really Need Vaccines Every Year?

Absolutely. Horses, like all animals, are susceptible to acquiring diseases from other horses, mosquitoes, environmental conditions and elsewhere. Vaccines work to build immunity in your horse against a variety of diseases they may encounter. They offer protection by decreasing the severity of a disease and make the horse less contagious than they would be without the vaccine.

There are 5 core diseases most horse owners vaccinate for each year, and several others that a veterinarian may recommend based on where you live, where the horse goes (shows, trails, etc.), its breeding status, and other factors.

Can You Vaccinate Your Own Horse?

Other than rabies vaccines (which must be administered by a licensed veterinarian in some states), you can absolutely vaccinate your own horse. It’s vitally important to ensure your vaccine supplier stores and ships their product properly, and be prepared with a skilled handler to assist you. Research the proper prep and administration for your vaccine(s) and don’t forget to watch the animal closely in case they have an adverse reaction to the shot.

The 5 Core Vaccines for Horses

  1. Eastern/Western Equine Encephalomyelitis (EEE/WEE): Encephalomyelitis, sometimes called the “sleeping sickness,” can come from viruses that attack a horse’s brain and/or spinal cord. Mosquitoes spread this disease but it’s also found in birds and mice. Unvaccinated horses can develop infections of the central nervous system with a moderate fever, reduced appetite, impaired vision, muscle twitches and limited coordination (sometimes the animal experiences limb paralysis and may not be able to stand) among other symptoms. Foals can receive a primary dose between 4-6 months of age, and adults need to be revaccinated annually ahead of mosquito season.
  2. Tetanus Toxoid: Tetanus comes from bacteria in soil and animal droppings and can survive for some time outdoors. The bacteria multiply in the intestines after the horse ingests contaminated soil/droppings and produce a neurotoxin that attacks the nerves that control your horse’s muscles. Symptoms can begin up to three weeks after an infection through muscle stiffness and spasms. Their tails often sick straight out with tetanus, and they exhibit possible trouble moving and eating. Many tetanus cases end in death, but if it’s caught early, tetanus can be treated with antibiotics. Regular vaccination is an easy way to prevent this infection and especially death. The 2-dose series can be given 4-6 weeks apart with annual follow-ups. Always read package labeling carefully for specific instructions on animal ages and timing of the first dose.
  3. West Nile Virus (WNV): WNV travels from infected birds to horses via mosquitoes and leads to illness within 3-14 days. Though it can’t pass between horses and/or humans, WNV can initially linger for weeks or months and may leave permanent neurological side effects for your animal. Symptoms include a wobbly gait, hind limb weakness and possibly paralysis, blindness, lip droop, teeth grinding and more. 
  4. Rabies: While Rabies exists mainly in racoons, skunks and bats, this neurologic disease can impact all mammals and is a highly fatal infectious disease. Vaccination is the best way to prevent fatality, which occurs less than 2 weeks after a rabid animal bites your horse. Chances are you won’t witness the bite, and it can be difficult to find bite marks, however clinical signs usually progress quickly. The horse may not be able to stand, looks uncoordinated or shows muscle weakness, colic, self-mutilation and more.
Some states require that Rabies vaccines be given by a licensed veterinary professional. Many make it illegal to sell or buy. Some states, while not restricting the sale of the vaccine, refuse to recognize its validity unless administered by a professional. Please check your state and local laws before purchasing. Click the link below for more information:

Risk-Based Diseases

Your veterinarian may suggest additional vaccines to protect your horse from diseases specific to your location, living situation, climate, etc. The vet may recommend a slightly different vaccination schedule depending on your horse’s needs, too. For those with a higher risk, some vaccines may be repeated with shorter intervals, but always consult with your vet to finalize a complete vaccination protocol.

  1. Equine Influenza: This common infectious disease impacts a horse’s respiratory tract and is easily spread through droplets when the animal coughs. While a cough is the obvious sign your horse has influenza, they may show other symptoms similar to humans when we have the flu: fever, nasal discharge, tiredness/weakness and a low appetite.
  2. Equine Herpesvirus (Rhinopneumonitis): Respiratory infections like pneumonia can come from the highly contagious Equine Herpesvirus. The virus can also lead to neurological symptoms – many of which are similar to other diseases mentioned above. This symptom overlap can make it difficult to differentiate between the diseases and therefore harder to treat anything successfully. Vaccination is the best way to prevent this problem and the spread of any disease. The virus can also cause abortion, so it’s often recommended for pregnant mares during gestation.
  3. Strangles: Another respiratory disease, strangles, is also very contagious and spreads via direct or indirect contact with an infected horse. Animals can shed the bacteria that causes strangles via their nose and saliva for up to 6 weeks after their initial infection. They’ll have a dry cough, act depressed and may have up to a 104F fever.
As always, talk to your veterinarian about these and other risk-based vaccines (Botulism, Equine Viral Arteritis, Leptospirosis, Potomac Horse Fever, and more) that could make sense for your unique situation.

Best-Selling Equine Vaccines

Several products come manufactured as 5-way or 7-way vaccines and include protection against the core diseases listed above (EEE/WEE, West Nile Virus, and Tetanus Toxoid). Many also include some non-core/risk-based vaccinations (equine influenza, equine herpes viruses, etc.).

  • Prestige 5+WNV Horse Vaccine is the first 5-way plus West Nile Virus combination vaccine. It’s approved for healthy horses 6 months of age or older, and calls for a 3-4 week booster and annual revaccination.
  • Vetera Gold XP Horse Vaccine delivers 7-way protection with just one dose and is safe for horses as young as 4 months old. Like the Prestige 5-way vaccine, Vetera Gold calls for a 3-4 week booster and annual revaccination.
In addition to one of the 5- or 7-way vaccines, many horse owners also add a rabies vaccine. Consider one of these best-selling products in your vaccine protocol.

  • IMRAB Large Animal Rabies Vaccine works to protect healthy horses, cattle and sheep 12 weeks and older against rabies viruses. Repeat annually for horses.
  • Rabvac 3 Rabies Vaccine is ideal for horses as well as dogs and cats. Horses must be at least 3 months of age, and need an annual booster.
Some states require that Rabies vaccines be given by a licensed veterinary professional. Many make it illegal to sell or buy. Some states, while not restricting the sale of the vaccine, refuse to recognize its validity unless administered by a professional. Please check your state and local laws before purchasing. Click the link below for more information:

Don’t Risk Your Horse’s Health. Get Equine Vaccines Today.

PBS Animal Health carries a wide variety of equine vaccines and we’re a trusted, reliable source that ships fast and safely. In fact, we go to great lengths to ensure your vaccines are temperature-controlled from the time they arrive on our loading dock until you receive them in the mail.

We also make it easy to compare horse vaccine products in this quick-reference chart with direct links to product pages when you’re ready to order. If you want to know more about our vaccine shipping process, contact us at +1 (800) 321-0235 or

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