Many new horse owners are completely unaware that horses need to be vaccinated regularly, just as other pets do. However, since a horse is so large, providing these animals with preventative health care may be even more important than it is for dogs or cats. After all, you can't exactly tuck a sick horse into a corner of the bedroom at night to keep an eye on him. When horses are sick, their owners often end up bunking on a nearby hay bale.
Luckily, there are plenty of measures already in place to help you keep your horse as healthy as possible. You should begin by having your veterinarian give your healthy horse a health exam. This allows him to easily spot minor changes in your horse's physical appearance and blood work during future exams that may be caused by illness or disease.
Next, ask your veterinarian to immunize your horse to protect him against common illnesses. All horses should receive a flu vaccine, just as people do. This vaccine does not protect your horse for long periods of time, so you will need to have him revaccinated at least two times each year. If you compete in events, your veterinarian may recommend giving your horse this vaccine four times a year, instead.
Another deadly virus, equine encephalomyelitis, is also avoidable with a yearly vaccination. Since this virus is spread by mosquitoes, even horses that do not compete should receive the vaccine. However, horses that travel to competitions may need to be vaccinated for several different strains of the virus, since mosquitoes in different areas spread different forms of encephalomyelitis.
Mosquitoes also spread another lethal disease, the West Nile virus. Since horses spend a lot of time outdoors, a vaccination against this virus is essential. You will need to ask your veterinarian to immunize your horse at least annually to protect him from West Nile. Some of the vaccines for West Nile do not protect horses as long as other vaccines, so you may want to ask if you should have your veterinarian administer the shot twice a year, instead.
The fourth essential vaccination horses should receive is the tetanus vaccine. Unlike people, who usually receive this vaccine once every ten years, horses should be immunized against tetanus once a year. Although some infected horses recover from a case of tetanus with medical care, the majority of these animals die a painful death. Luckily, the vaccine can help you prevent this deadly disease from even occurring.
It is probably no surprise that horses also need to be dewormed regularly. After all, any animals that graze on land where other animals have been are susceptible to worms. While you may think that worms are not that big a deal, they can actually be deadly if left untreated. Your veterinarian will probably recommend using a dewormer on a regular basis. Be sure you understand how to use these products effectively, since some worms build up an immunity when dewormers aren't properly administered and rotated.
Finally, any horse owner should be sure to talk to a veterinarian about the signs of colic and what to do to treat colic until the vet can arrive. Colic is one of the most common problems that horses suffer from and is often caused by a build up of gas in the digestive system. However, blockages or severe cases of worms can also cause colic. If your horse shows any sign of pain, including biting or kicking at his stomach, pawing the ground, sweating, pacing or lying on his side, take away his food and call your veterinarian immediately. Then, get him on a lead and walk him back and forth until help arrives.