Wednesday, March 13, 2013

To Vaccinate...Or Not?

                                                by Laura Crum

            I’ve recently read some interesting posts on this very controversial subject (thanks Mel at Boots and Saddles blog—listed on the sidebar.) I’m not why this subject is such a hot button topic, but it is. Just trying hanging out with a mom group—as I have spent the last twelve years doing-- and start talking about your views on vaccination. Half the group will automatically hate you.  Because people seem to fall into two camps regarding this topic. Either vaccinations are evil and of the devil and all their kids are unvaccinated (and yours should be, too), or not vaccinating is evil and of the devil and all their kids are 100% up-to-date on ALL vaccinations (and yours should be, too).
            Animal people are not quite as rabid (oops, didn’t mean this as a pun) as moms, but there is still a tinge of this emotion in conversations about vaccination. “My horses are vaccinated for EVERYTHING!” (Implication being that yours should be, too.) Since my views are somewhere in the middle on this subject, I can be hated by both sides.
            Anyway, brave person that I am, I thought I’d post about my latest conversation with my vet on the subject of vaccinations. I will preface this discussion by saying that I no longer vaccinate my horses on a yearly schedule, let alone twice yearly or whatever is recommended now—so that those of you who are so inclined can begin working on your scathing comments about what a bad horse mom I am. I had my vet out last week to have a look at a large swelling on Henry that I thought was a reaction to a tick bite (my vet concurred). And once I had the poor vet here, I picked his brain about vaccinations.
To be honest, I told him what I was doing and why and asked him some specific questions. So here’s what I said:
“All the horses I have here right now are fifteen or older. They’ve all been vaccinated many times in their lives. I happen to believe that there is a downside to vaccination, in both people and animals. I have seen plenty of vaccine reactions in my life and have heard of many more. I am choosing to vaccinate these older horses only when I think there is a real need.”
And then I went on to talk about the actual risk that these particular horses have. They’re not being hauled to competitions, they probably have pretty good titers, due to being vaccinated many times in their lives, however they ARE exposed to wildlife and mosquitos. I asked my vet if he had ever seen any West Nile in his practice or any rabies.
The answer to both questions was no. In all his years of practicing in this community, he had seen neither—he had not heard of any other vet having a case. He was aware that both diseases were theoretically present here.
I then asked him if he was OK with my not vaccinating my horses—in line with my belief that vaccine reactions probably pose a greater risk to the health of this particular older horse herd than the diseases I would be vaccinating against.
He laughed. I waited, having no idea what he would say.
“I’ve got this one client with an older horse,” he began.
Uh-oh, I thought. He’s gonna tell me how she didn’t vaccinate and the horse died of something. I said as much.
He laughed again. “No. The other way around. Last year she had me hit this old horse with the whole barrage of vaccines. The horse colicked an hour later and almost died. We had to send him to surgery. He recovered, but it was hard. And this year? This year when the time rolled around, she called me to come out and give him his vaccinations again.”
“You’re kidding me?” I said.
“Nope. I tried to convince her of more or less what you’ve been telling me; I suggested we at least skip a few of them, but she wanted him to have them all. An hour later he was down. Colicked again.”
“Oh no,” I said.
“Yep. He got through it OK—he’s fine now. But I wish I could convince her that the downside of those shots is greater than the upside—in his case.”
“So you don’t have a problem with what I’m doing?”
“Not at all.”
“What about the rabies and West Nile?”
“It’s your call, but I have not seen a case in this county.”
I thought about it. I have seen so many horses get sick from vaccines. I’ve known horses to founder and/or get sore-footed. When I hear of someone whose horse gets sore footed every time it is vaccinated and still they persist in vaccinating for a disease that their vet has NEVER SEEN, well, it reminds me of a person who is so scared of being struck by lightning that they won’t leave their house. Never mind that living solely indoors is causing them many real health risks. Never mind that these risks are far more likely to do them harm than the remote chance lightning would strike them. They still persist in staying in the house.
So, with my vet’s blessing, I will vaccinate my older horses only when I see a clear risk. A disease that is actually causing trouble in our area. Mind you, I would vaccinate young horses if I had them. Much of what I am doing comes from the fact that I know my horses have been vaccinated many, many times. Odds are their titer levels are acceptable. But even if this is not so, it’s my call that the risk of negative vaccine reactions in the older horse may be more significant than the benefits of the vaccine’s protection.
On the other hand, if any of my horses got a significant wound, I would booster for tetanus. If there were known cases in my area of any disease for which there is a reliable vaccine --I would booster for that disease. My vet has agreed that he will let me know if there is any vaccine he feels my horses should have. So I’m not neglecting this issue. Nor am I cheaping out. I am happy to pay to give my horses the best possible care. I am making a considered decision—with my vet’s agreement.
So there you go—all of you who are firmly in the vaccinate-for-everything camp can feel free to give me your thoughts. I love a good discussion.



Joyce Reynolds-Ward said...

I vaccinate but my horse is in a training barn and goes to a couple of shows a year. I'd feel different if we were on our own property and we weren't going anywhere--though I'd still do the tetanus.

We do have West Nile locally, and rabies is circulating here in bats. So I have the vet do West Nile, Strangles and Rabies, then we do Fiveway later.

It's a choice and in your case, probably a good one. I'm not in a closed herd so different situation entirely.

Laura Crum said...

Joyce--I really agree that its on a case by case basis--its not that there is a right or a wrong choice. I also think that some individuals (who are prone to vaccine reactions) should be treated differently that individuals who are not so prone. My big concern was West Nile and rabies--and I resolved to make that decision based on whether my vet had seen or heard of a case in our area. When he said he had not--that made up my mind. Though I have been told that both diseases are "present" here. But if there have been no cases known to my vet, then I think the probability of my horses coming down with the diseases is in the "lightning strike" category.

Unknown said...

I actually agree with your stance on vaccinations.
Last year the vet who came out for vaccinations gave all of my horses the live strangles nasal serum. Three reacted to it. Not as bad as some horses do, but one is/was old enough to have me worried.
Fast foward to my new vet who says pretty much what yours said. An older horse who isn't traveling will get along just fine without yearly vaccines unless there are documented cases in the area.

With that in mind, there were three stables in our town that had an outbreak of strangles last year. So perhaps it was the right thing to do, this time.

What I will do this year I am unsure about yet. I have been taking them all to the arena down the road to ride in. Which puts them in indirect contact with many other horses. Even the old guy goes some to get some exercise, so keeping him safe is important. At least one of my horses will be competing this year, so yes he will be vaccinated. He is the only one who did not react to the vaccine last year.
I guess I will leave it to my vets discretion. He knows my horses, he knows where they go and what they do. If he thinks they need it then we will, if he says no, then we won't. I do trust him help me make the right decision.

Laura Crum said...

Cindy D--I have been told that the strangles nasal vaccine is problematic (by my vet). I did give it to all my horses several years ago when strangles was very active in our area.

I agree with you--find a vet you trust and let him help you make the right choice. I am personally uncomfortable with vets who say that all horses must have all vaccines--that blanket approach doesn't work for me. But it sounds like your vet has a very reasonable point of view.

ORSunshine said...

I, too, have my guys at home. I will vaccinate for rabies, as we've had cases close enough to us last year to cause unease. But mostly, I won't as we won't be going anywhere this year. Except for my filly shipping out to me. She's getting the works this Friday, even though she's coming with a shipper-friend who does not stop at mare motels, but at private facilities. Lessening the risk is most important to me, as the EHV-1 outbreaks recently are a bit too close to home.

With my dogs and cats, I take the same approach. My seniors are only vaccinated for rabies, because we must legally. With the others, we vaccinate on schedule when they're young, and not so much as they age, depending on titer testing. I learned my lesson the hard way. When we lived in Oregon, my vet recommended over-vaccinating for parvo. I now have an Aussie with pancreas issues that is suggested to be caused by over-vaccination as a young pup.

It's good to know about the strangles nasal vaccine today, so I can make a more informed, long-distance decision on Friday. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I do vaccinate, but carefully. Since all of my horses have had EPM, and one has had Lyme, they are prone to inflammatory reactions to the adjuvants - rather than really the vaccines themselves - so I work with my vet to do the ones that are important in our area. I never use the 5-way or 7-way - I think those are for owner convenience rather than the wellfare of the horse.

I do E/W encephalitis and West Nile - they are present in my area and are very serious diseases. I always do tetanus and also rabies - rabies is also present in my area and interaction with rabid wild animals is always possible due to our pasture turnouts.

I no longer do strangles - I've heard of problems with abscesses at injection sites with the injectable version, but my horses have never had a problem with the intranasal one - except hating to have it done! Red has already had strangles so has some immunity and my horses don't regularly go to other locations such as shows where they might be exposed. I also don't usually do flu/rhino for the same reason, but did just do a precautionary special EHV-1 vaccination due to the outbreak very near us and the possibility that the vaccination could improve the outcome if one of my horses became infected.

So I think it's a matter of using some thought, and everyone's situation is different.

Laura Crum said...

OR Sunshine--My vet said that when he practiced back east (I do not know where) that he did see cases of rabies. But not since he has ben here. Rabies and West Nile are what I was worried about here, and if my vet ever hears of a case in our area, he has promised to let me know. My horses have ALL been vaccinated for both rabies and West Nile in the past, just not in the last couple of years. Sounds like you and I have roughly the same approach.

I agree, Kate. I think it requires some thought--and has to be decided on a case by case basis, taking into account both the individual involved and the specific vaccine and its risk/benefit.

Allenspark Lodge said...

Since we live next door to a riding livery with 30-50 horses cycling through, we vaccinate every year with at least a 3 way (E. and W. Encephalitis, and Tetanus) and we use our vet to do it. I could easily give the shots myself, but we live MILES away from any vets, and this lets the vet know our horses, and develop a vested interest in our herd.

We have heard horror stories of horse owners that couldn't get a vet up here in time for colic, or whatever.

If we really need him, he comes a running.


Laura Crum said...

Bill--I think that having a good relationship with one's vet is key. I had my vet out to look at something that I was pretty sure I understood without his help, just so that I could have the vaccination discussion with him face to face--for exactly the reasons you say. I want my vet to be interested in my horses and to feel he knows both them and me.

Also, I keep oral Banamine on hand for colic. With my vet's agreement, any time a horse shows even minor symptoms of colic, I give a dose of Banamine. Not only does it treat the colic before it escalates to a real problem, its also diagnostic. If the colic goes away, its all good. If it does not, or reoccurs when the Banamine wears off, this is diagnostic. You NEED the vet immediately. And by then you can usually have been in contact and lined up the visit.

Unknown said...

I think your pretty spot on. I think it depends on the horse, and what they are exposed to. I think that in general, vaccines can be harmful more than helpful, in people as well. I am personally only vaccinated with about a quarter of what they expect newborns to be vaccinated with. I had a bad reaction, so my mother took me home and did research about what ones are really needed by newborns!

I think that over vaccinating can lead to immunity of the vaccination, and that is so scary! So I think it should be on a case by case basis, the age of horses, what is in your area, what they are exposed to, and also, if your horse is an easy keeper!

Laura Crum said...

Marissa Rose--I had the same experience as your mom. My baby reacted to some of the shots and I did some research about what was really needed, and my child got a very modified vaccination schedule.

horsegenes said...

Being a boarder...I kind of have to do what the barn owners want. And the horses that I show and haul a lot I tend to go towards the upper end of the vaccination routine. I do break them up to spring and fall so they are not getting it all at one time.

BUT the Twisted Sisters... Every other year or so. They were vaccinated yearly for most of their lives so I don't feel that it is necessary to go over board now. I do vaccinate for mosquito carried diseases more regularly because they live in mosquito infested rice land. And we have had West Nile near by. But the rest...not so much.

hammerhorses said...

Honestly, my vet only recommended giving my horses their tetnus shots on a yearly basis as I wasn't showing and my horses never left my property. Now that I will be trailering out for lessons, they'll get a few more but I don't live in a particularly risky area, so thanks, but no thanks to a lot of the vaccines!

Laura Crum said...

Horsegenes and Stephanie--Sounds like we are all on the same page. And you know, whatever you do, sometimes you have trouble. I was reminded of this this morning, when, after typing this post and feeding a perfectly healthy group of horses, my son came running up to the house about an hour ago saying that Henry was stuck in the fence. And stuck he very definitely was. I had half an hour (which seemed like an eternity), of waiting for strong friends to arrive, and the whole time I was praying Henry would be OK, and trying to keep him from struggling and damaging himself. And eventually we got him out and he seems fine. But it took all four of us. I've kept horses out here for twenty years and never once had a seriously cast horse (one that I couldn't easily get out). And this winter I've had two badly cast horses. Fortunately Henry was only down for maybe an hour or so and doesn't seem traumatized, unlike Gunner, who was probably down for half the night. But still--I've got relatively safe corrals, and everything has always been fine in this, no matter what you do, when you have horses, stuff happens.

Susan said...

The last time I vaccinated a horse, his neck swelled up and he almost suffocated. That was over 20 years ago. We've had a couple horses get sick with who knows what. Within a week they were better. I rely on my horses immune systems to take care of them, but they are healthy and not under stress.

If I had children, they would not be vaccinated. My sister stopped after her daughter ended up in the emergency room hours after receiving shots.

We have immune systems for a reason. Eat healthy, avoid toxins and stress so your immune system isn't overloaded and your body can handle disease like it was designed to do.

Laura Crum said...

Susan--I agree with some of your points--but I will vaccinate for, for instance, tetanus. I have seen a horse dying of tetanus--which is easily preventable through vaccination. I think vaccines can serve a good purpose. I just think that we are overdoing them currently. As I said, I would/will vaccinate if there is a clear risk of my horses contracting a serious disease for which there is a reliable vaccination. I also think that titer levels from two properly spaced vaccinations last MUCH longer than people suppose. My friend titers for rabies every year on her dog and after eight years since his last shot, the dog's titer levels are still just fine.

Martine said...

The range of vaccines given in Ireland is much more limited than what you guys give over there. I was appalled several years ago when the FEI decreed that the FLU vaccine should be given twice a year. What this meant for us, with a horse that might possibly some day go international, even at junior level, was that he should have his vaccinations twice a year - completely unnecessary, in my view. Even my vet agreed with me that it was nuts, but in order to have an FEI passport, he had to have a valid record for the previous twelve months.
Fast forward to now. The same horse no longer competes, but travels a fair bit. Yeah I will keep vaccinating annually as long as I keep exposing him to strange "herds" but that whole six month thing is just insane, yet it was the decree issued from our supreme governing body.
I can speak from the other side of the argument, too - we had two show-jumping ponies who were uptodate (annually) with their (flu & tet) vaccines but were infected with what I suspect was EHV at a big show. Both of them were out of action for a year, one of them never fully recovered. The issue there was not insufficient or improper vaccination on my part, but irresponsible horse owners bringing sick or infected animals to a show. If all so-called horse lovers take the responsibility to NOT travel sick or animals or animals which have possibly been exposed to disease then the risks are greatly reduced for us all... but is this going to happen when ribbons and trophies are at stake??

Laura Crum said...

Martine--That is such a good point. And true of people, too. If sick people/kids/animals stay home and rest (as is best for them to do) all of us would be spared great risk. But sick horses, or horses whose stablemates are sick, are routinely taken to competitions, sick kids are sent to school, sick adults go to work and/or to the store--creating a great risk for others. We never know what individual will get the disease badly--possibly fatally. And you are so right in what you say. I, too, am not holding my breath that others will prioritize this point of view and stay home if they or their kids/animals are sick...though I sure try to follow it myself.

Anonymous said...

Glad Henry is OK - that must have been scary.

Kellie said...

We do not vaccinate at this time, as our horses do not travel - except to the back 40+ and have no outside horses in.

I might reevaluate that if circumstances changed.

Kellie said...

Side note though, I did/do vaccinate my children since they are in school rubbing elbows with all kinds of germs/kids.

Kellie said...

Side note though, I did/do vaccinate my children since they are in school rubbing elbows with all kinds of germs/kids.

Joyce Reynolds-Ward said...

Just an interesting data point here--Mocha seems to have fewer coughs in the years I do the flu vaccine twice a year. I don't think that's a universal, though, just a Mocha thing. I've only done it in alternate years.

Our vet team is pretty good about suggesting we limit the amount of vaccines at one time. I think that's an issue if you're doing a lot of vaccines--don't give them all at once, give the horse a couple of weeks to settle before the next batch.

But then again, my horse has respiratory allergies (seasonal, not heaves yet, thankfully) and given that, I'd sooner be cautious.

Mrs. Mom said...

I'm with you on vaccinations Laura- the Locust Brothers got a select few, and their Dr thought I was nuts. Oh well.

The horses got more vaccines when we were showing, but now, they're at home, go no where, and see no other horses. And I only trim horses in private barns who see no other horses also, so I don't worry about tracking anything home on my boots or tools.

We do have rabies in our county, I believe 1 or 2 cases have shown up in the past year- year and a half. Considering the very high skeeter population, the only cases of WNV I've heard of were 1 in a horse 3 years back, and 2 people. So I don't worry over that either.

If things change, I'd get the bare minimum for the horses. With Phat Boy being compromised already, the last thing he needs is a massive vaccine reaction.

Laura Crum said...

Kate--Yeah--I was pretty scared while I was waiting for help. I didn't know if Henry was basically OK, or not. Turn out he was fine once we got him out. Whew.

Kellie--Makes sense to me.

Joyce--I agree. If I do give vaccines, I give one shot a session--to both kids and animals.

MM--Phat Boy is the perfect example. I'd be very hesitant to vaccinate a horse that had already foundered a couple of times due to other causes. Such a horse obviously has a touchy immune system.

Stilllearning said...

Very appropriate topic for me right now--with my 25 yo TB and his 30 yo buddy. Last year I questioned my vet about vaccinations for my foundered pony and she was not very open to cutting back on the shots. We got thru it with no reactions, but here I am, wondering again if they are necessary. Wondering if I need to talk to another vet...

Laura Crum said...

Stilllearning--I would talk to another vet. I had a vet who wanted to give every horse all the vaccinations--and after several vaccine reaction incidents, I switched vets. I don't like to work with a vet and ignore his/her point of view, but just like doctors, I need to be comfortable with that point of view. Reading through the comments on this post, its clear that others besides me have vets who agree about not over-vaccinating older horses. Personally, I am not going to vaccinate my older horses who don't go to shows for any disease that my vet has never even seen in his years of practicing here. I think that's ridiculous.

HHmstead said...

Your thoughts on vaccinations make sense for you & your animals. I think it's more about what your are doing with them, where they travel, & how exposed they may be. My mare travels, goes here/there/everywhere & is young - I vaccinate to my Vets direction~

Laura Crum said...

HHomestead--When I was hauling to competitions, with young horses especially, I gave all the vaccines as per the recommended shot schedules. So I agree with you.

jenj said...

I used to vaccinate for everything under the sun, because I was required to when I boarded. Now, I am more careful. We always do EEE, VEE, and WEE - there was a huge outbreak near us last year and a lot of horses died. West Nile is also prevalent in our area, and a friend's horse died from it, so I definitely vaccinate for that. Rabies and tetanus are both fatal if contracted, so they get vaccinated for that too. This year everyone got Rhino, since we will be showing and there's EHV-1 going around. I don't do flu since it's only good for 2 weeks - what's the point? I also have my vet do each vaccine in a different spot so if they start to swell, I'll know what caused it. Plus, I now give a dose of Banamine with vaccinations, since Red had a reaction to WNV.

I don't want to over-vaccinate, but there are some very real and very dangerous diseases out there that are fatal or very costly to treat. It's a tricky tightrope to walk.

Laura Crum said...

jenj--Believe me, if my vet had told me of ANY cases in our area of the diseases we were discussing, I would vaccinate. So, I'm on the same page. I often gave bute when I did vaccinate in order to mitigate vaccine reactions.

Unknown said...

I also believe that there is too much vaccinating going on. I also believe that this is more detrimental to our animals with all the mercury and formaldehyde that is used to preserve the vaccines. My 15 y/o horse has not left my yard in seven years and he reacts terribly to the vaccines. My 7 y/o horse I take out once a month to the local horse show and she reacts to the shots. Both have had their shots on a regular basis fact known for the 15 y/o been in the family for 12 years and the 7 year old I have owned for 5 years. My 7 year old has eye growths that the vet is still trying to figure out,and from everything that I have read should not be given any core vaccines at all.... I can send the html later if someone would like. SO, I am struggling this year with the do I or don't I..