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How to Give a Horse a Tetanus Shot

| Updated September 26, 2017

Things You'll Need

  • Tetanus serum

  • Empty syringes with needles at least 1 1/2 inches long

  • Skin disinfectant

  • Cotton ball or swab

  • Halter

  • Lead rope or cross ties

  • Human helper (optional)

Horses and ponies are prone to developing the potentially fatal infection tetanus from injuries due to fencing, stabling or coming into contact with rusty equipment. The American Academy of Equine Practitioners recommends that all equines (horses, ponies, donkeys and mules) be given a tetanus vaccine when they reach 3 or 4 months of age, one month after that, and then once a year for the rest of their lives.

Make sure the horse has a halter or bridle on and is securely tied. Although many horses do not seem to mind the pain of a vaccination needle, one should always be prepared in case the horse is panicked by the sudden needle prick. Having a friend hold onto the horse's head and talking to the horse can help keep the horse distracted.

Determine how much serum to give. The amount will be different depending on how large your horse is and what brand of serum you are using. Dosage amounts will be less for regular vaccinations than for emergency booster shots. The dosage amounts will be on the serum instructions from the manufacturer. If you do not have them, call your vet for a dosage. Do not guess.

Choose and clean the injection site on the horse with the disinfectant and cotton. A tetanus shot is an intramuscular injection, so "Horse Owner's Veterinary Handbook" recommends that you choose a place in the top half of the neck to give the shot. The next best place is the rump. You do not have to worry about raising a vein. Scratch the area gently with your fingernails or firmly pat the area in order to let the horse know more sensation in that area is on the way.

Jab the needle part of the empty syringe into the tetanus serum and draw the plunger slowly up. Move the needle up into the air and tap the side of the syringe to loosen any air bubbles. Slightly press the plunger until liquid drips or squirts from the needle tip. This gets rid of any air bubbles and will help you make sure you have not hit a vein in Step 5.

Place the needle so that it is 90 degrees from the injection site. Insert the needle firmly into injection site. If blood is seen at the needle tip, withdraw the needle, because you have hit a vein. Pull back the syringe plunger and see if any blood comes into the syringe. You do not want to put the tetanus shot into a vein. It will not hurt the horse, but will render the vaccine useless. The tetanus bacteria live in the muscles and not in the blood, because the bacteria do not grow in the presence of oxygen (which is in the blood). Wait for the horse to calm down and insert again. When you are certain the needle is in the muscle, push the syringe plunger with your thumb.


  • Foals only need a 1/2-inch long needle. Professor Cynthia A. McCall states that a quick jab is less painful than a slow insertion of the needle. Use a twitch on the horse's upper lip if the horse is restless. Call a vet if the horse becomes injured and you do not know the horse's vaccination history. You may need to give two shots--one on either side of the neck or one on either side of the rump.


  • Never give a horse a shot when it is not tied or held. Never place the needles in regular trash. They need to be disposed of in special biohazard bins that may be available from your pharmacy, doctor or veterinarian.