Protect Your Horse with Veterinarian-Administered Vaccinations

With vaccines readily available at farm supplies stores, online pharmacies and other retailers, it’s sometimes tempting to save a few dollars by purchasing and administering them to your animals yourself.

There are hidden risks and costs associated with vaccinating animals yourself, therefore “cheaper” vaccines aren’t the value they first appear to be.

Ask your veterinarian to develop a customized vaccine program for your horse.  Having your veterinarian administer vaccines is always safer, easier and a better value in the long run than doing it yourself.

Here are several good reasons why your veterinarian is the best choice for administering vaccines:

Proper Handling of the Vaccine

Many vaccines require special handling and storage, for instance, protection from extremes of temperature or exposure to light to preserve its effectiveness.  Rely on a licensed veterinarian to store and handle the vaccine properly—and to make sure the vaccine isn’t past its expiration date!

 Safe Administration

A licensed veterinarian knows about safe administration:  clean environment, an appropriate injection site and good documentation. They also know the best time of year to vaccinate and whether vaccinations would react with any medications being administered to the horse.  Your veterinarian will document the vaccine’s serial number and administration date—especially important in the event of a manufacturer’s recall.  This is one instance when poor documentation could put your animal in peril.

Availability for Treatment of Adverse Reactions

Any injection can result in adverse effects—mild swelling at the injection site, lethargy and a slight fever for one to two days, the immediate outbreak of hives and life-threatening anaphylaxis.  If your veterinarian is administering the vaccine, he or she will know what to do to counteract a reaction—and they will have the medicine to do it.

When you think about the risks of doing it yourself, it only makes good sense to have a licensed professional administer vaccines.


The average horse owner is likely well-acquainted with his or her horse’s colic risk regardless of the season, but with cold weather come complicating factors that all owners should prepare for. 

The No. 1 cause of colic during winter is a lack of fresh, unfrozen water. Horses must drink 10-12 gallons of fresh water every day and can dehydrate quickly if water is unavailable. Horses that aren’t getting enough water are at a greater risk for conditions such as simple indigestion or impaction. A frozen water trough is the usual dehydration culprit, but occasionally horses choose to not drink water simply because it is so cold. Heaters for your troughs and buckets are therefore an absolute “must” to ensure continual access to water in the winter. Keep in mind that electrolyte supplements are not a suitable water substitute and do not mitigate the risk of dehydration. There is nothing wrong with adding (appropriate amounts of) electrolytes to your horse’s diet, but offer them in a separate container, leaving the main water supply clean and fresh. Horses might attempt to eat snow to compensate for some fluid loss, but snow is largely composed of air and will not provide the volume of water necessary to hydrate a 1,000-pound animal. 

The treatment for a case of dehydration is fairly obvious: fluid replacement. On the farm, your veterinarian will most likely pass a stomach tube through the horse’s nose and administer oral fluids as well as an intestinal lubricant such as mineral oil. In cases of moderate or severe dehydration, intravenous fluids can be administered via catheter for a much quicker delivery route, but most veterinarians will choose to administer these types of treatments in a more controlled clinic setting. Use of oral or injectable anti-inflammatories such as flunixin meglumine (Banamine) and phenylbutazone (Bute) is also commonplace. 

The second colic risk factor associated with winter is exposure to cold temperatures. A horse with a full hair coat should have no trouble staying warm on the coldest of winter days, even without a blanket, as long as he remains dry and has access to shelter. Blankets are useful for horses that have been body-clipped because they have lost the added layer of insulation the hair provides, but blankets must be applied responsibly. Always replace or remove a soaked blanket immediately because the moisture will freeze, trapping the cold and causing the horse to lose precious body heat. If your horse wears a blanket, there should be at least two or three on hand so a soaked article can be traded out for a dry one. 

Increasing the forage in a horse’s diet will help prevent impactions and will also reduce the risk of hypothermia (low body temperature). Horses require more calories in the winter just to stay warm, and the body’s fermentation process for digesting hay and roughage also generates heat that helps maintain body temperature. The best colic prevention in this situation is to allow a horse 24-hour forage access so the fermentation process never slows or stops. Adding grain and sweet feed supplements (if warranted) is fine, but they do not provide the same warming and digestive benefits as a continual forage supply. 

Shelter is equally important, even to those horses that are accustomed to being outside all the time. A permanent structure built to withstand the force of strong winds and the weight of excessive snow accumulation is ideal, but temporary structures such as canvas or vinyl canopies with steel frames will also work if secured properly. 

If you observe your horse experiencing mild hypothermia (a body temperature lower than 99.5°F, signs of lethargy, and a reluctance to move), remove him from the elements so he can thaw out and recover; the sooner he gets out of the cold, the better. For owners that don’t have a barn, a garage can be a temporary substitute. You can also use warm water baths and blankets to speed up the warming process. 

Nothing seems to function quite as well when it’s really cold, and horses are no exception. Hypothermia or dehydration- induced colic episodes are common occurrences for horses living in winter climates. The good news is that with a few management and husbandry changes, these episodes should occur to a lesser degree and with far less frequency.  

About the Author: Scott Leibsle, DVM, is a deputy state veterinarian for the Idaho State Department of Agriculture, in Boise. 

Article provided courtesy of AAEP Media Partner, The Horse.