Ask the Vet: DIY Vaccinations



Q: I own two off-track Thoroughbreds that live at home. I have been considering self-vaccination for my mare and gelding. Can you share with me pros and cons of not having my veterinarian do this task?

Vet Vaccinating Horse


A: Believe me, I totally get why you and other horse owners might want to go the route of vaccinating your horses yourselves. Hopefully this list of self-vaccinating pros and cons will help you make the decision that is right for your individual situation:


  • It’s cheaper. No farm call, physical exam, or intramuscular (IM) administration charges.
  • It’s more convenient. You don’t have to call the veterinarian and try and schedule an appointment that doesn’t interfere too much with work, school, and other obligations.


  • Choosing not only the correct vaccines (EEE? WEE, WNV? Rabies? Tetanus? Influenza? EHV1? EHV4?) but also the most up-to-date strains and appropriate format (intramuscular? intranasal?) can be challenging.
  • Chances are that the place you buy your horse’s vaccines from stored and handled them properly, but are you willing to take that chance? Exposure to light, temps outside 35-45°F, and freezing could result in lack of efficacy, vaccine failure, and even an increased risk of adverse reactions.
  • Aseptic technique is to be followed when handling and administering vaccines. Your vet has been trained in this technique – have you?
  • Adverse vaccine reactions can range from local soreness or swelling, hives, fever and lack of appetite, to anaphylaxis, a severe, whole-body allergic reaction to a chemical. If your vet is at the barn when your horse has the reaction, he or she will have the products and skills to treat them. If not, your horse’s prognosis could be much worse.
  • If your vet were administering the vaccines, he or she would perform a physical examination of your horse to ensure it is healthy enough to be immunized. This exam may even include checking the teeth and body condition scoring. By self-vaccinating, your horse is missing out on this important examination.

If you’re enrolled in ColiCare, the colic surgery reimbursement program offered by SmartPak, then vaccines MUST be administered by a veterinarian to comply with annual wellness requirements. That’s how firmly SmartPak believes in the value of having a veterinarian involved in the preventive care of your horse.

To read more about vaccine technology, labeling, storage and handling adverse reactions, and core vs risk-based vaccines, I encourage you to read the 2012 Vaccination Guidelines published by the American Association of Equine Practitioners and available on its website Whichever method you decide, I applaud you for wanting to protect your horses from infectious and sometimes contagious diseases.

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Dr. Lydia Gray is the Medical Director and Staff Veterinarian for SmartPak Equine in Plymouth, MA, where she directs the research and development of products and provides horse health and nutrition education to a wide variety of audiences. Dr. Gray’s work has appeared in more than a dozen general and trade publications and she speaks frequently around the country. She is the proud owner of a Trakehner gelding named “Newman” that she competes in dressage and combined driving.


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