Rachael Van Horn
Woodward, Okla. —
Jennifer and Rusty Colten of Laverne pay close attention to their veterinarian’s reminders when they come in the mail.
Each year, the couple gets a notice to vaccinate their horses, which they use for work on their ranch as well as for play days and show events with their daughters.
“We make sure to take those reminders seriously every year,” Colten said. “But also, we take precautions with other horses coming in contact with our horses.”
With the summer in full swing, the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture Food and Forestry is warning horse owners to be sure and vaccinate this year against Eastern Equine Encephalitis as well as West Nile Virus.
Both of these diseases are mosquito borne viruses and can be devastating to horses as well as humans, according to Buffalo Veterinarian Matt Halsey.
Halsey recommends the vaccinations simply because those two illnesses are vector borne and all horses, whether or not the owner hauls them anywhere, are susceptible.
Woodward veterinarian Kyle Taylor agrees with Halsey and adds that while people have been exposed to a lot of news media regarding West Nile, he cautions not to forget about the Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) and Western Equine Encephalitis (WEE).
“Don’t just go get a West Nile vaccine, make sure it is the combination and includes the Eastern and Western Encephalitis vaccines too,” Taylor said. “This time of year, what we tend to see is the Eastern and Western Encephalitis. The West Nile form of encephalitis is spread by the Tiger Mosquito and that usually begins about now and then is a risk until the fall.”
According to the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture Food and Forestry, symptoms of encephalitis include weakness, fever, incoordination, seizures, blindness and difficulty getting up,” said Assistant State Veterinarian Michael Herrin, D.V.M.
Local performance horse owner and expert, Elizabeth Squibb makes sure she has on file a yearly Coggins Test, which is a test performed by taking the horse’s blood and testing it for the presence of Equine Infectious Anemia another type of illness caused by a retrovirus.
She also vaccinates yearly for EEE and every other year for West Nile Virus because not only do her horses travel but her daughter’s boarding and training facility north of Woodward accepts nightly boarders for those people needing a “horse hotel”.
“With horses coming in, we are very careful and require that they have a valid coggins and health records when they board overnight here,” Squibb said.
Squibb also had some ancillary experience two years ago with another viral player on the field that showed up in the region and closed down numerous horse sporting events Squibb had planned to attend, she said.
That player was the Equine Herpes Virus, which is also known as Rhino pneumonitis, Taylor said.
Horses caught the virus while drinking from collective troughs or having nose to nose contact at horse sporting events, Squibb said.
That is why Colten and her family now take extra precautions when going to events with their horses.
“We make sure we use our own buckets and we don’t even share saddle blankets or brushes with outside horses,” Colten said.
But while the scare two years ago made the news, Taylor said he is not as concerned about that particular virus this year.
“I wouldn’t worry as much about the Equine Herpes,” Taylor said. “It is around, but the really bad ones are the Eastern and Western Sleeping Sickness.”
Taylor said most combination vaccines called the Rhino Flu Vaccine have the vaccine for the Equine Herpes in them and a yearly done of that vaccine will suffice.
However, Taylor said, for the Eastern and Western Encephalitis vaccines, he recommends that older horses and performance horses get a vaccination in the spring and the fall because of the different strains of mosquitoes involved in the transfer of each different type of encephalitis.