No more vaccines

Our 2 and 1/2 year mini donkey, Tony the Terror, has had anaphylaxis twice with vaccines. The first was last winter before we moved. He reacted with sweating, trembling, and was in a daze. Luckily, the vet was still there and she reversed it quickly. Since he needed a health certificate to move, we had brand of vaccine used. This past summer, our new vet here gave him a single booster from a different brand of vaccine. He reacted, again. She said, “No more vaccines and keep him away from strange horses.” This means he doesn’t leave the farm, which is fine with us. Any new animals will be quarantined until vaccinated (we do that anyway). Thankfully, we’re not showing horses, so the other animals will be infrequently coming and going (maybe just local trails). We’re not planning on moving again, so we should be fine. He’s a very young animal, though. That means up to 40 years protecting Tony from infectious diseases. We already aggressively treat him for flies and mosquitoes during the summer because donkeys seem to react worse to fly bites than horses. Now, it’s more important. Fortunately, the fly season is much shorter here.

Has anyone owned an equine that couldn’t be vaccinated?


Has your vet tried premedicating him with dexamethasone?

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She didn’t suggest this. I assume she has a reason. The violence of the reaction concerned her. He didn’t stop breathing, but it was scary.

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Dex, and splitting the vaccines up. I’d also only vaccinate in the spring and skip fall vaccines.

Some horses can’t tolerate a certain vaccine but are fine with the others. One of mine doesn’t do so well with the equine influenza vaccine.

The reason I say this is that there’s a LOT of diseases that are really, really rough that we vaccinate for that you just really can’t prevent through isolation


I have known several horses over the years that could not tolerate vaccines.

After a certain point, I was very reluctant to advocate experimenting with what worked and what didn’t work for them. Fortunately, most of them were older horses, probably already had a history in place of Developed immunity. We just never did vaccines with these horses ever again. Not worth it.


I forgot which one she last tried, but it was a single. Since there’s no urgency because he doesn’t leave the farm, it’s not worth the risk. We’ll see what the plan is this summer when vaccines roll around again. She might want to try West Nile or rabies in the future, if there’s a local issue, I don’t know. However, she said “no vaccines, ever” last summer. That might be the plan. Donkeys can be sensitive. This is an awesome vet. I trust her.


we have had two horses die from West Nile, one was about 12 years ago, the other about 6 years afterwards…both horses had been vaccinated for West Nile, after the second death it was recommended to vaccinate every six months

Our horses are usually stalled at nights where we do have an overhead spray system

Seeing a horse die from West Nile is not a pleasant time, it is a drawn out event


Wow, that’s horrible! I don’t know how bad it is up here. The vaccine is once per year.

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Unfortunately, the things that can make him really sick or kill him aren’t off the farm :frowning: I agree it would be worthwhile to explore how he can get the core vaccines. Rabies, tetanus, west nile, and the encephalitises all come to you. They’re not transmitted horse to horse, and isolating won’t prevent them. At the absolute very least, rabies is so important, since that one is transmittable to people, and there’s no getting better.

There are several things that can help him tolerate his vaccines. Has anything at all been tried?


Which brands have been used? @FjordBCRF has been around the block a few times working to get her Fjord safely through vaccines so could give some insights.

It’s such a risk to not vaccinate for at least rabies and tetanus (and tetanus isn’t really a vaccine like the others, since it’s for a bacterial infection, and rarely causes issues). The encephalitis diseases would likely kill him too, but won’t impact human health.


if you see random dead crows or blue jays it is Very likely West Nile is the problem


I would seriously research a rabies vaccine he might tolerate. You shoulder significant liability if he is unvaccinated. Tetanus and West Nile may harm him but Rabies is highly infectious to humans. You, your family, your vet.


Just went through a new approach this weekend.

@moonlitoaksranch - This was year 3 for me with a vaccine reactive horse. In Charlie’s case, he would get extremely high fevers, up into the low 105’s when the banamine would start to wear off.

I was very reluctant to split them due to him being reactive to everything, which was the case last year in the fall when we attempted. He reacted just as badly to rabies on it’s own as he did to the Vetera 6 way in the spring. Once that happened, my vet and I both were of the opinion it was not worth trying any more on their own.

Charlie has done fine with the flu/rhino intranasal on its own but that is probably the least of what I would worry about in your situation. I would be really reluctant to not vaccinate at all for everything others have mentioned. Rabies and Tetanus are not THAT rare for a horse to get, between my trainer and a friend who is a vet tech…they dont have good stories.

I DO recommend getting a history of what brands he’s had. We tried toe Zoeitis Core this past Thursday and it was a huge success. It covers rabies, tetanus, West Nile, and Eastern and Western equine encephalomyelitis. We did not pre-treat with any meds and while it isn’t ideal for many, I stayed the night at the barn and took his temp every 60-90 mins. He topped out between 1AM and 6AM with a low grade 102.1 fever and that was the worst of it…no medicine at all. And we only have to do the Core once a year. We are forgoing Potomac Horse Fever for the moment which is one some people give around here and some don’t because of its low efficacy.

The other thought would be pulling titers. There isn’t an established method to tell if a number gives an immunity or not for each disease, but some people do it and establish a low/medium/high way to gauge. I talked to my vet about it again this go around and he also said the down side is its very expensive for not having definite data ~$200/pull for each disease in my area. If I were in your shoes, I might consider that for the diseases that don’t have the horse vectors.

Good luck to you and Tony the Terror!! I know the stress this causes.

Here is Charlie’s thread. There is a pretty good linked document on the titers.

Edit to add - I got Charlie as a 3 year old in 2020.


As others have said the really nasty stuff they can get without ever being exposed to another ill horse. WNV is a horrible death. It’s worth it to use trial and error to find a solution, especially when the equid is so young.


There was a vet in an area I lived who gelded my mule. While we waited for the sedation to take affect we discussed vaccinations and she was actually telling her clients that once a horse has had several rounds they really don’t need to vaccinate.

Not all horses are vaccinated and live long, healthy lives. I wonder if he would react to Tetanus vaccine? I would be leery about letting that slide.

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Thank you.

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That’s true. We’ll see what she says this summer.

Understood, thank you.

Thank you! Another young one, too.

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I think it’s reasonable to accept a certain degree of risk with an animal this sensitive. But Rabies could be fatal to not only the donkey but anyone/any animal that comes in contact with him. I’d try to find some way to safely vaccinate him for that, at least.