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Ask the Vet, Sallie S. Hyman VMD, DACVIM: How do I Handle a Vaccine Reaction?

Vaccine Reactions

Occasionally a horse will have a reaction at a vaccination site. This will usually occur within twelve to twenty-four hours after a vaccination.  Common reactions symptoms included lethargy (feeling tired), heat, pain, and /or swelling at the vaccination site, fever, loss of appetite, stiff neck, and unwillingness to put the head down to graze or eat from the ground. 

These reactions are usually to the adjuvant in the vaccine (the part of the vaccine that helps to stimulate the immune system) not to the agent (bacterial or viral) that you are vaccinating against.  With the advent of newer adjuvants, these reactions are becoming less frequent.  Combination vaccines also help to decrease the amount of adjuvant that your horse is exposed to by decreasing the overall numbers of shots he receives.  Still, some horse will react no matter what. 

What should you do if your horse has any of these symptoms?

First, call your veterinarian and let them know your horse had a reaction.  This is important information for your vet to have in your horse's record.  Next time, the vet may try a different brand of vaccine next time, or perhaps try a different vaccine site.  The vet can also keep track of how many horses have reacted to a certain vaccine and report this information back to the vaccine manufacturer.  Input from horse owners and veterinarians helps to drive quality control and improve vaccine performance and safety.  

Your veterinarian may advise you to give your horse a dose of a non-steriodal anti-inflammatory agent such as flunixin meglumin (Banamine®) or firocoxib (Euioxx®).  Carefully follow the dosage and time schedule your veterinarian advises.

Next, do what you can to make your horse comfortable.  If your hose is sore at the injection site, you can put a warm compress on the area.  Be careful not to make it too hot! You can do this one to two times a day.  This is also very helpful if the area has become an abscess. Place your horse's feed, hay, and water at a level that is comfortable for him.  You can do this by placing them on an overturned muck tub, or hay bales, or hanging a hay net, whatever gets it to the right height.

What about complications?

If the vaccination site turns into an abscess, have your veterinarian examine your horse. An ultrasound may be performed to see how large the abscess is, where it is located, and how much fluid is present. If may be necessary to drain the abscess with a needle or to make a small incision to open it up.  A sample of the fluid can be collected at  that time for analysis and culture.  Antibiotics may be prescribed.  Luckily, most resolve without major incident.

Vaccination is an important part of keeping our horses healthy.  The benefits far outweigh the occasional vaccine reaction occurrence.  However, if it does occur, you now have the knowledge to handle the situation.

Registered 2011 Equestrian Collections; Author:  Sallie S. Hyman,  VMD, DACVIM, CVA  

Information in this article is for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for evaluation by an equine professional.  In particular, all horse owners should seek advice  and treatment from a licensed veterinarian for their horses' medical care.         



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