Thursday, June 12, 2014

What I Learned About Giving Equine Vaccines

I vaccinated all my horses on Monday.  Everyone took it very well, being much more concerned about the plastic bag they came in than the actual needle itself.  I cleaned each area twice with an alcohol swap. Scrubbing once and then the second was used in a singular swiping motion to remove any bacteria.

This is the first time I have vaccinated my own horses. I have done my own dogs for years, and I have assisted while my horses were being done. I understand about intramuscular, and I know that the injection sight must be clean for these sorts of injections.  I have injected antibiotics many times, so I was not uncomfortable with what I was doing.

In the past, with a vet doing the  job,  I have had different reactions for the same vaccines on the same horses.  One year they all reacted poorly to the shots.   The next year I used a different vet and none of them reacted at all. Or if they did it was so minor I didn't catch it.

This year they reacted again.  The mares more so than the geldings.  The first year it was Killian that reacted the worst. This year I think it is Sassy.  Trax's was pretty mild.

I did some research.....and some thinking.

This is one of the things I found:

A common mistake is to give an IM vaccine too high 
in the neck, causing the vaccine to enter the nuchal ligament rather than the muscle. Also 
if given too close to the skin, there can be an inflammatory reaction since skin and 
subcutaneous (beneath the skin) tissues of horses are very sensitive to most vaccines.

While I was careful to make sure I was in the muscle, it is possible that I did not go deep enough. The mares both have some swelling at the injection sight.  The geldings do too but it is very minor.  Also I think I was up too high.  I'm not sure why I didn't inject where I would normally give an antibiotic shot.  Wait...yes I am.  I will tell you why in a minute.

I also suspect that I may have miscalculated my dosage. I don't know this for a fact. I have not even read anything that supports my theory, but it is just a feeling I have.   I also think that since the reactions they have right now are the exact same reactions they had for vet #1, I suspect that he also made the same mistakes as me. Especially since I did everything exactly as I remember him doing, including vaccinating up higher on the neck.

On day 1 they just had some soreness and swelling in the neck.  Day 2, three out of four have swelling around the jaw.  If they have been standing around or sleeping for a while it takes them a minute to work the soreness out enough to graze. Sassy's appetite is lower than usual, but she is still eating the stuff she loves, and everyone else is eating just fine.  This is a repeat of 2 years ago.

Interestingly enough, I put the spotted ponies out to pasture and of Trax went right to work. Melody had to "limber up" but eventually was grazing just fine.  I decided that the Red horses needed out too, so I shut the front gates and just kicked them out to roam.  Funny how they suddenly felt much better and had plenty of energy to run to the fence and start a fight, go to the neighbors fence and try to steal alfalfa through the chain link fence, scratch their big fat butts on our little tiny trees, check every single gate for an escape route, go start another fight, go stare at Steve Wonder the Alpaca,  and stopping to snack between each new adventure.  When I put everyone away with a fresh flake of hay, they all dove right in, so that was a promising sign as well.

I fully believe that giving them the chance to graze or move about not only helps them work the soreness out, but it keeps them from dwelling on how they feel.  Tomorrow I will put the reds in the pasture and the spots out to play.   I did read something somewhere that said it is best to exercise right after vaccinating to help keep them from getting sore. I don't know if that is true. I did the exact opposite thinking it would be best to give them time to rest.

I realize that by writing this post and sharing on line I open myself up to a whole lot of criticism, and that is fine.  You can't say anything to me that I have not said to myself.  I feel bad that they are sore, but I would have felt a whole lot worse if mosquito season hit (next month) and they ended up getting very sick because I had not vaccinated at all.  Yes I admit that I did my own to save some money.  I know a gazillion people, all who take excellent care of their horses,  who do the same thing.  My equine fund has taken a couple of major hits that I am still recovering from.  I hate having to cut corners, but sometimes you do what you have to do.   I know that my horses are going to be okay, although I still feel sick that they don't feel good right now.   I don't know if I will try this again next year, I will cross that bridge when I get to it.

I suppose I could have just kept all this information to myself.  I even thought about doing just that.  However, I didn't, for a reason. I wanted to share what I learned so that others my benefit from my less than stellar experience.


  1. I'm too scared to give my own vaccinations. Plus, I don't think I could poke them with a needle.
    You are monitoring your horses and you know them best. Plus, if they are having the same reactions as they did when a vet gave them, that is saying something right? Not that you did anything wrong, but stuff happens.

  2. It doesn't sound like you did anything wrong. These all sound like typical vaccine reactions to me, as in, actual reactions to the vaccine cocktail, not how it was administered. Soreness, stiffness and minor swelling at the site are all common. The more things are in the cocktail, the more likely to have reactions. The 5 or 7 way shots may seem appealing from our point of view, but they are hard on the horses. Breaking things up into multiple shots is easier on them, especially if you can space them out. Exercise does help reduce stiffness and soreness. You'd know if you hit the nucal ligament, you'd have much worse problems.

    Vaccines are a really touchy subject. I am a strong believer in them, but I also believe we way over-vaccinate. The most compelling argument for yearly vaccination that I have ever heard is that it is usually the only time the animal is seen by a vet. To my mind that is not a good enough reason. Mine all get vaccinated as youngsters, but by them time they hit 3-4, I don't do them every year. You'll have a hard time finding any hard data about how long vaccines last in animals and that is actually one of the things that convinces me that they DON'T need them every year. The drug companies are under no obligation to publish data that would show that the vaccines last a lifetime. If there was any data that showed they do need yearly boosters, they would plaster the world with it. If they published data that showed long term immunity, they would lose billions in vaccine sales. Their silence on the subject says a lot in my opinion.

    Anyway, sounds like your crew is doing fine. The issues you are seeing are not anything you caused or vet #1 caused. If you saw different reactions between vets and yourself, it is probably from using different manufacturers or combinations. West Nile is notorious for causing reactions all by itself. Don't beat yourself up over it, if they are all bright eyed and standing now, they will be fine:)

    1. Thanks DD, it was a 5 way and someone else mentioned that they often changes formulas from year to year (on my next post) so I should account for that as well.

      I often wonder how important it really is to vaccinate. I just don't know the right answer for that. It is so hard to believe what is put out there by people who are most likely motivated by their own profits. However, mosquitos will be on us with a vengence very very soon, and while most horses in my area are well cared for and vaccinated, not all are, and I do worry that something will be carried from one pasture to the next.

      They are doing much better today. Thanks!

  3. We vaccinate too. I have a tip to pass along - it has nothing to do with the soreness you had a problem with. My vet told me to use alcohol straight from a squeeze bottle on the neck, no swab. This eliminates the possibility of pushing a trace of cotton in when you push the needle in.

  4. No criticism from me! I try to walk a line with vaccinations where you do the crucial ones and avoid the not so crucial ones. I do think those multi ones are hard on a recipient of whatever species. As for yearly, well we used to do our dogs yearly but now they say every three years is ok (we don't have rabies here) and yet some vets still send out booster notifications each year. My older Lab was 5 last year, and since she is a bit of an itchy, allergic sort of dog, I had a titre test done rather than just vaxing automatically. She hasn't been done since she was one, yet her titres were fine. I wish we did more titre testing. I'm sure we will in the future.

  5. no critique here, they sometimes react.the fact that you have put such thought into how and why so it has less chance of recurrence speaks volumes about your willingness to learn and improve the quality of life for your horses