Updated tetanus vaccination guidelines

Read the latest vaccination advice for this life-threatening disease.

Tetanus is a life-threatening disease caused by the bacterium Clostridium tetani. The bacteria can gain access to the body through 'risk events', such as wounds, hoof abscesses and surgical incisions. 

All ages of horses can be affected and it is recommended that all horses in New Zealand are vaccinated against tetanus.

Tetanus toxoid is an extremely effective vaccine against tetanus

The ‘emergency’ back up tetanus antitoxin (TAT) dose, given to unvaccinated horses with high exposure risk, may be insufficient in the face of incubating infection. 

A TAT provides protection for less than 14 days and should be repeated in 7 days in high risk cases (e.g. complicated wound healing).

A recent review of evidence-based guidelines for tetanus prophylaxis was released at this year’s NZVA conference,  broken down by different classes of horses.

Following is a simplified approach:

  • Unvaccinated adults (over 12 months): 

3 doses: 1st and 2nd doses 4-6 weeks apart, then 3rd dose within 12 months. Booster doses within 5 years after that, UNLESS the horse suffers a risk event.

  • Vaccinated adults (over 12 months) suffering a risk event:

A toxoid booster should be administered if the horse suffers a risk event if it has been more than 12 months since the last toxoid booster.

  • Unvaccinated horses over six months of age suffering a risk event:

When an unvaccinated horse, or a horse with an unknown history, suffers a risk event, the horse should be administered a tetanus toxoid dose and a tetanus antitoxin to provide immediate passive immunity.

2nd and 3rd follow up booster doses should be administered at the correct timing.

  • Unvaccinated pregnant broodmares:

All mares intended for breeding should receive a complete tetanus vaccination primary protocol as per the first point. 

If a broodmare is pregnant and unvaccinated, she should be administered the first two doses 4-6 weeks apart during gestation, ideally starting no later than the eighth month of pregnancy. The third dose should be given within 12 months of the second dose.

  • Vaccinated pregnant broodmares:

These mares should receive a toxoid booster 4-8 weeks prior to their due date. This ensures adequate transfer of passive immunity to the newborn foal via colostrum.

  • Foals born to vaccinated dams:

If a foal has had adequate colostrum, documented by IgG levels, they do not require a TAT after birth. Their first toxoid dose should be given at 6 months of age, 2nd dose 4-6 weeks later and the 3rd dose within 12 months of the second dose, and every 5 years after that.

  • Foals born to unvaccinated dams:

A TAT is advised to be given at birth. The tetanus toxoid primary course can be started at 3 months old. Due to the foal being under 6 months, it is recommended that three initial doses 4-6 weeks apart should be given, followed by a fourth within 12 months of the third.

Please phone the clinic to book your horse in for their tetanus vaccine today.


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