Vaccinating is one of the most essential acts you can do to protect the health of your horse. But before you stick that needle in your horse, it is important to know what you are doing.
UNDERTAND WHAT THE VACCINE IS FOR
There are many diseases that can be prevented using a vaccine - - Influenza, Tetanus, Encephalomyelitis, Rabies and more. Talk to your vet about diseases common in your area and develop a plan that covers all your bases. You need to evaluate your geographic area and your horse's life stage to determine which vaccines you should use.
READ THE LABEL
There are many varieties of vaccines and ways to administer them. Read the manufacturer's directions to determine the type of vaccine, the expiration date, how to handle it and how to administer it.
Knowing the type of vaccine (live, killed or modified) tells you how to handle them and dispose of the syringe. Live vaccines, for example, require the syringes and containers be burned after use. Modified vaccines should not be used with disinfectant as it will cause the vaccine to become inert.
Read the label before you leave the store or the vet leaves the farm. Know ahead of time if the vaccine needs refrigeration, the light and heat exposure requirements and when it expires to ensure the horse gets the optimum use of the vaccine.
Most vaccines are administered subcutaneously (Sub-Q) or intramuscularly (IM). It is important to know how to administer them. An outline is provided below for a Sub-Q and IM injections. If you have any questions, ask your veterinarian.
KNOW THE SIDE-EFFECTS
First, it is important to remember to vaccinate HEALTHY animals. Not only can their immune system work to create immunity most effectively but the horse can recover from the side effects faster.
Biological organisms used to vaccinate horses are kept in a floating serum that makes administering them easier. Serums can be a variety of fluids, including proteins and sugars. In humans, for example, the serum for the influenza vaccine is egg-based.
Most reactions to vaccines are mild, including swelling at the injection site or muscle soreness. But recognizing a severe allergic reaction is important to your horse's well-being. Talk it over with your vet, read the label and know what to expect but hope it doesn't happen.
GIVING AN INTRAMUSCULAR INJECTION
1. Secure your horse with a sturdy halter and lead rope with a quick-release knot or crossties.
2. Clean the injection site (any large, muscular area) using your grooming brushes to remove dirt, dust and debris.
3. Take out your vaccine, syringe and needle. Attach the needle to the syringe with the plunger completely down and insert the needle into the bottle. Pull the plunger out to draw the necessary amount of vaccine from the bottle. Read the directions to determine how much to administer
4. IM vaccines can be given in any area with a large muscle mass. The neck is recommended. To start, run your hand flat against the grain of the hair along the crest, shoulders and jugular groove to draw a central "triangle" with your thumb where you will safely inject the horse.
5. Pick an area on the neck within the triangle where you will give the injection. Hold the syringe in one hand while you stroke the area with the other hand.
6. Pinch the skin on the horse's neck to draw the horse's attention away from the poke and tighten the skin. Hold it until you are done vaccinating the horse, using one hand to give the shot.
7. Insert the needle into the muscle in one quick, steady motion. Some needle-shy horses might find it easier if you "bump" their neck a few times and then stick the needle in.
8. Before injecting the vaccine, pull back gently on the plunger to check for blood. If your vaccine turns pink you've hit a blood vessel. Pull the needle out halfway, push the syringe at an angle and push it back in to redirect the needle and check for blood again.
9. Once you have determined the vaccine will go into muscle, push the syringe plunger down completely. Use the finger holds on the syringe to bring your fingers together. Don't push the syringe while you push the plunger or it will be harder to inject.
10. When you have injected the entire contents of the syringe, pull the needle straight out and release the fold of skin. Place your thumb over the injection site and press firmly for a couple seconds to stop any bleeding. Then firmly rub the injection area to encourage the vaccine to distribute.
FOR A SUBCUTANEOUS INJECTION
1. Complete steps 1-7 written above.
2. While holding the pinch of skin, hold the needle vertically to the horse's neck.
3. Insert the needle into the fold of skin alongside your other hand and draw back to check for blood. If you hit a blood vessel, pull the needle straight out and try again.
4. Depress the plunger entirely and remove the syringe in a straight, quick manner.
5. Release the fold of skin and hold your thumb over the site and then rub the area.
It is important to remember which vaccines are administered and when, so keep detailed records! Write down the horse's name, the date, the vaccine name and the diseases vaccinated for.
Immediately after you give the shot, dispose of the syringe and needles properly. Your vet can dispose of needles for you so keep them in a container with a lid. Remember to burn the syringes and containers used to store live vaccines or, again, give them to your vet to dispose for you.
For safety sake, also remember to wash your hands when finished vaccinating your horse. And give your horse a treat for behaving nicely for you. That will put a positive note on the experience for them, preventing your horse from becoming needle-shy.