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General Equine Vaccinations



  • Rabies is a well-known cause of fatal disease in many mammals. The virus is transmitted through bite wounds by affected animals such as foxes, skunks, racoons and bats, though other mammals may transmit the virus.
  • In 2001, five cases of rabies in horses were diagnosed in Ontario. In 2002, one case of rabies in a horse occurred.
  • Rabies is a rapidly progressive disease that is preventable by vaccination. Rabies vaccines are licensed for use annually in horses and must be administered by a licensed veterinarian.


  • Tetanus or lockjaw is an often fatal disease caused by the anaerobic bacteria (grows in low oxygen conditions), Clostridium tetani. The spores of Cl. tetani are commonly present in the soil and can contaminate puncture wounds, crushing wounds, open lacerations, surgical incisions and the umbilici of foals.
  • Upon gaining entrance to the body, Cl. tetani produces a powerful neurotoxin, which blocks neurotransmission, resulting in unopposed muscle contraction and spasm (tetany).
  • All adult horses should initially be vaccinated for tetanus twice, three to six weeks apart, using tetanus toxoid and boostered annually or as recommended by their veterinarian.
  • Tetanus antitoxin (technically not a vaccine) is administered to non-immunized horses (or ones where their immune status is unknown) that sustain a wound that has become contaminated. It is prepared from the blood of healthy, hyperimmunized horses and provides immediate passive immunity lasting 7-14 days).

West Nile Virus (WNv)

  • West Nile virus (WNv) is spread by mosquitoes and causes encephalitis in humans and horses.
  • It is present in mosquito pools and birds in every county of the province of Ontario. In 2002, 108 confirmed or probable cases of WNv in horses were reported. In 2003, only ten equine cases were diagnosed.
  • Since WNv is a fatal disease in 30% of horses showing neurological signs and up to 40% of survivors can have residual neurological deficits for a period of months to permanent disability, it is important to protect horses against this virus.
  • Depending on which vaccine is utilized, one or two vaccinations are required for primary immunization with a yearly booster recommended.
  • In high exposure areas, depending on which vaccine is chosen, some veterinarians recommend booster vaccinations every 4-6 months during the mosquito season. One modified live vaccines only requires a yearly booster to provide 12 months of protection. Three pharmaceutical companies now manufacture a WNv vaccine.

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