Share On

Jump To

Jump To Section

Share On

Jump to
    Add a header to begin generating the table of contents

    Jump To

    Jump To Section

    Creating A Vaccination Program For Cow Residents At Your Animal Sanctuary

    Three empty syringes on a yellow surface.
    Photo by Karolina Kaboompics from Pexels
    vet review seal

    Veterinary Review Initiative
    This resource has been reviewed for accuracy and clarity by a qualified Doctor of Veterinary Medicine with farmed animal sanctuary experience as of June 2024.

    Check out more information on our Veterinary Review Initiative here!

    Vaccines can play an important role in helping to keep residents healthy, but it’s important to work with your veterinarian to establish the most appropriate vaccine protocols based on the specifics of your resident population and your region. You can read a bit more about working with your veterinarian to establish a vaccination program for your residents here. Even though many vaccines can be purchased and administered without a veterinary license, this does not mean veterinary involvement is not necessary! Some vaccinations are considered “core vaccines,” but there is no standard cow vaccination program. Instead, your veterinarian will consider your residents’ risk of disease, the consequences of disease, and the safety and efficacy of available vaccines. Because sanctuary residents should not breed, commonly used vaccines that protect against certain reproductive diseases may not be necessary for sanctuary residents. Your veterinarian will be best able to advise you. 

    In addition to consulting with your veterinarian regarding which diseases you should vaccinate against, also be sure to consult with them regarding which specific products to use (which may be different for young calves than for mature residents). There are products available that offer protection against a combination of the pathogens/diseases listed below, and some vaccines are only available in combination with other vaccines. Other vaccines may only be available as monovalent vaccines (which only protect against one pathogen/disease). In some cases, both monovalent and combination products may be available, in which case, you should follow your veterinarian’s recommendations regarding what is most appropriate. Be sure to follow label instructions (or your veterinarian’s recommendations) regarding any age restrictions, the frequency of boosters, and how to reduce the risk of adverse side effects. They can also offer guidance regarding whether or not multiple products can be administered on the same day or if they should be spaced out. Because cows tend to be more sensitive to heat stress than some other species, you’ll want to avoid administering vaccines on days that are hot and humid. It’s also important to find ways to keep the process as stress-free for residents as possible.

    Ongoing Communication Is Key!
    Once you establish vaccination protocols in consultation with your veterinarian, be aware that they may recommend delaying or avoiding certain vaccines in cows who are ill. Be sure to check in with them for specific guidance.

    While an appropriate vaccination program can help minimize the risk of certain diseases, it is just one aspect of disease prevention. Biosecurity, diet, housing, cleaning practices, and veterinary care (amongst other things) also play a crucial role in keeping residents healthy. Below, we’ll offer general information about some of the vaccines that tend to come up most often when caring for cows in sanctuary spaces, including whether or not they are considered a core vaccine by the American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP), but you should defer to your veterinarian for specific recommendations for your cow residents. They may strongly recommend other vaccines that are not listed here based on the diseases that are prevalent in your area. 

    Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis (IBR) – Core Vaccine

    IBR is a viral disease caused by the highly contagious Bovine Herpesvirus 1 (BHV 1). This virus is ubiquitous in cow populations and can cause significant inflammation of the upper respiratory tract. In addition to causing respiratory disease, it can also cause reproductive issues, conjunctivitis, and encephalitis. Monovalent IBR vaccines are available, but combination products that protect against other core respiratory viruses are more commonly used.

    Parainfluenza 3 (PI3) – Core Vaccine

    PI3 is a common viral respiratory infection of cows. On its own, PI3 infection usually causes mild to moderate disease but can lead to more serious secondary bacterial infections. PI3 vaccines are only available in combination with other vaccines.

    Bovine Respiratory Syncytial Virus (BRSV) – Core Vaccine

    BRSV infection can cause respiratory illnesses, including viral pneumonia. Infection can also predispose cows to secondary bacterial pneumonia. BRSV vaccines are only available in combination with other vaccines.

    Bovine Viral Diarrhea (BVD) – Core Vaccine

    BVD can cause immune suppression which can lead to secondary infections, and it can also cause reproductive issues. In non-breeding individuals, vaccination against BVD is primarily intended to prevent immunosuppression that can contribute to the development of bovine respiratory disease (BRD) complex. Monovalent BVD vaccines are available, but combination products that protect against other core respiratory viruses are more commonly used.

    Clostridial Diseases – Core Vaccine

    There are many clostridial organisms that can live in the soil and even in the gastrointestinal tract of healthy animals. The AABP considers vaccination against the following clostridial organisms to be core vaccines: Clostridium chauvoei (which causes blackleg),  C. septicum (malignant edema), C. novyi (black disease), C. sordelli (gas gangrene), and C. perfringens types B, C, and D (enterotoxemia and enteritis). However, your veterinarian may recommend vaccinating against additional clostridial organisms based on your region and your residents’ degree of risk. Some monovalent clostridial vaccines are available (for example, tetanus bacterin toxoids), but there are also a variety of combination products – be sure to talk to your veterinarian about which product(s) they recommend.

    Though vaccination against tetanus may not be necessary for all cow residents, it is important to ensure males are fully vaccinated before being neutered. 


    Though not considered a core vaccine by the AABP, they recommend considering vaccination for cows who have frequent contact with humans, so vaccination is a good idea for sanctuary residents. In many states, only a licensed veterinarian can administer rabies vaccines. While proper documentation is important whenever a vaccine is administered, it is especially important for rabies vaccines. You want to have the date the vaccine was administered, the vaccine brand, and the serial number in your resident’s file. If you live in a state where the vaccine must be administered by a veterinarian, be sure to ask them to provide appropriate documentation for your files.


    In addition to the diseases discussed above, your veterinarian may also recommend vaccinating your cow residents against infectious bovine keratoconjunctivitis (IBK, often called “pinkeye”). The primary bacteria responsible for IBK has historically been Moraxella bovis, and there are multiple M. bovis vaccines approved for use in cows in the U.S. More recently, M. bovoculi has also been implicated in IBK, and conditionally approved vaccines are available to protect against this. The efficacy of M. bovis and M. bovoculi vaccination in the prevention of IBK is a topic of debate. While your veterinarian may recommend vaccinating your cow residents, be sure to also implement other strategies to help prevent IBK (of particular importance is fly mitigation). In addition to monovalent vaccines, combination products are available that protect against both M. bovis and certain clostridial diseases.

    A Quick Note On Dosing
    Because cows range in size depending on their age and breed, caregivers may wonder if smaller individuals require smaller doses than other cows. The answer is that they do not. While you may need to wait for a very young calf to reach a certain age before they receive certain vaccinations (following label instructions or your veterinarian’s recommendations), everyone who is eligible for vaccination will receive the same dose as other members of their species regardless of their weight.


    AABP Vaccination Guidelines (Non-Compassionate Source)  

    Cattle Vaccine Basics | University Of Minnesota (Non-Compassionate Source) 

    Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis (IBR) | MSD Animal Health (Non-Compassionate Source)  

    Pinkeye Vaccination Programs | University Of Wisconsin-Madison (Non-Compassionate Source)  

    It’s Pinkeye Season Again | Penn State Extension (Non-Compassionate Source) 

    Non-Compassionate Source?
    If a source includes the (Non-Compassionate Source) tag, it means that we do not endorse that particular source’s views about animals, even if some of their insights are valuable from a care perspective. See a more detailed explanation here.

    Article Tags

    About Author

    Get Updates In Your Inbox

    Join our mailing list to receive the latest resources from The Open Sanctuary Project!

    Continue Reading

    Skip to content