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What Vaccinations Do Horses Need?

What Vaccinations Do Horses Need?

Regular vaccinations are an important component of any horse health program. But why?

Educating yourself on vaccinations can be a bit daunting, so we put together everything you need to know about vaccinations!

horse vet smiling at a horse
Why do we vaccinate?

Vaccines are meant to build and maintain immunity against certain diseases.

When we vaccinate our horses, it’s to try and prevent them from getting sick.

In the event they are vaccinated but still contract the disease, symptoms should be less severe and they may be less contagious to other horses. 

How do vaccines work?

Vaccines introduce a form of a disease into the horses system, this allows the animal to produce an antibody response to that disease.

The pathogen being introduced is modified so that it creates an antibody response, but is not able to reproduce enough to actually cause the illness or any symptoms of the disease in the animal.  

Are vaccinations safe?

Absolutely. The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) regularly reviews vaccine guidelines, assesses new vaccines on the market, and reviews the current situations with different diseases relative to horses. 

horse vet checking a horse's heart

What Vaccinations Do Horses Need?

Core vs. Risk-Based Vaccines

Core Vaccines

Core vaccines offer protection against diseases that are common to an area, have public health significance, are required by law, or are highly infectious.

These vaccines are very safe, effective, and are a low enough level of risk to be used in most horses. 

These are the vaccines that every horse should receive, at minimum, unless advised differently by your veterinarian.

The list of core vaccines all horses should receive are:

  • Easter / Wester Equine Encephalomyelitis
  • Rabies
  • Tetanus
  • West Nile Virus

Risk-Based Vaccines

Risk-based vaccines are given based on the risk that an individual horse is going to face that disease.

These can be dependent on location, amount of traveling your horse will be doing, age of the horse, and activity level of the horse. 

Examples of risk-based vaccines include:

  • Anthrax
  • Botulism
  • Leptospirosis
  • Potomac Horse Fever
  • Rotaviral Diarrhea
  • Snake bites
  • Equines Herpesvirus 
  • Equine Influenza
  • Strangles

These vaccines should be gone over with your veterinarian and discussed to decide what is best for your horse.

Do not just have your horse vaccinated for everything under the sun. This can be extremely costly and unnecessary if your horse is not at risk. 

a vet holding horse vaccinations

Types of Vaccines

  • Toxoid
    • Toxoid stimulates the immune system to produce a long-lasting immunity to a disease. Takes 2-3 weeks from the time the toxoid is administered for the horse to become immune.
  • Antitoxin
    • An antitoxin is a pre-formed antibody that provides immediate protection to the horse. Once the antitoxin has left the body, the horse is no longer immune. 
  • Modified Live
    • A modified live vaccine contains a virus that has been altered so that it may stimulate a response from the horse’s immune system, but should not be capable of reproducing enough to cause the disease. This vaccine stimulates the best and most long lasting immunity. 
  • Killed
    • A killed vaccine contains a dead version of the pathogen. There is no risk of it causing the disease and it is still able to stimulate a response from the horse’s immune system. Although this vaccine stimulates a poorer immunity it is safe to use in all situations. 

Although even some of the best vaccines are not 100% guaranteed, biosecurity and management of these diseases are still important.

A vaccination schedule should be discussed and implemented with your veterinarian to provide the greatest protection for your horse.


For complete and up to date information regarding your horses vaccination needs, visit the AAEP Vaccinations Guidelines.

For more information on the diseases that these vaccines protect against, check out the Merck Veterinary Manual

Disclaimer: The above information is not meant to replace a consultation with your veterinarian.