May’s wet weather has really put a damper, pun intended, on my daily horse care regimen. At Rocking E we’ve run the gamut of weather-related problems such as sore feet and bruised soles, pulled shoes lost forever in ankle-deep mud, horses colicking at just the sound of distant thunder, and mud-covered wounds spotted too late. But, the most prevalent issue we’ve seen as a consequence of all the rain has been the influx of biting insects. Ticks, flies, and mosquitoes–oh my!
If you haven’t already vaccinated your horse this spring, now is the time to do so. Mosquito season is upon us and it’s going to be a doozey. Many horse owners call their vet out each spring to administer yearly vaccines to their horse companions, but the vast majority do not know what they’re vaccinating against and why! Don’t be that horse owner… Learn about the vaccines your horse needs and why, so that you can better protect him from disease in the future.
Let’s review the two major diseases transmitted by mosquitoes that can be vaccinated against:
1. West Nile Virus. This well-known virus can infect humans as well as horses, though it cannot be passed between species. According to the Oklahoma State University Extension Service, West Nile encephalitis is essentially an infection of the brain caused by a virus transmitted by mosquitoes. Certain types of mosquitoes feed on infected wild birds, thus becoming carriers of the virus. There is no treatment for West Nile, but there is an annual vaccine that drastically reduces the spread of the virus. Primary vaccines for unvaccinated horses require a booster shot four to six weeks later, and vaccinated horses may receive annual dose. However, many vets suggest a second West Nile vaccination be given around July or August, right before the peak of mosquito season.
2. Eastern/Western Encephalitis. Also known as “sleeping sickness,” or EEE and WEE, these two viruses are usually fatal to horses. Similar to West Nile, the viruses originate in wild birds and rodents, and are transmitted through carrier mosquitoes. Initial symptoms include fever, loss of appetite, seizures, and blindness, progressing to staggering and general unsteadiness. Vaccines should be administered annually in the spring before insect season arrives. Unvaccinated horses should receive an initial vaccination and then a booster four to six weeks later.
Creating a vaccination schedule with your veterinarian is the very best form of action to protect against these diseases.
Besides vaccinating your horse, you can prevent their spread simply by keeping the mosquito population at bay in your horse’s living area. Dump any stagnant water that might have accumulated after rainfall. Mosquitoes breed and thrive in stagnant water found in water tanks, pet dishes, old tires, or planters. Some types of mosquitoes need only a tablespoon of water to hatch eggs. Stock up on fly spray next time you go to the feed store, but remember to check the label for mosquito control as well as flies. Spray your horse at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are at their peak. If possible, bring your horse inside a barn in the evening and turn on a fan to deter biting insects from flying close by. If your horse tolerates a fly sheet, then consider making an investment in a good fly sheet– they also provide ample protection from insects.
With a solid vaccination schedule and insect control regimen, you can dramatically reduce the risk of mosquito borne diseases for your horses this summer season.