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Rabies In Horses

March 11, 2013

By Dr. Mark Russell Assistant Professor-Animal Science

So far this year in Arkansas (as of March 1), there have been 23 reported cases of rabies. 21 of these cases have been skunks, while 1 has been in a cow and 1 reported case in a dog. Though it is unlikely your horse will become stricken with rabies during its lifetime, as owners we should always be cognizant of the signs of not only our horses having rabies, but also other animals that could come in contact with the horses. Further, rabies is especially dangerous, given the fact that rabies can be spread to humans quite easily.

How does a horse get rabies?
• In nearly every case of rabies, it is spread from one animal to another in a bite
• Horses are curious animals and will often walk up to another animal acting bizarre and will most often get bit on the nose or somewhere on the face.

What does a horse look like with rabies?
• Surprisingly, horses that come in contact with rabies, will not show signs until 2 -6 weeks. In more rare cases, a horse may not show signs for up to one year.
• Signs include:
o Change in behavior
o Dull
o Aggressive
o Ataxia
o Head pressing and/or circling
o Difficulty swallowing
o Muscle tremors or convulsing

Treatment?
• There is currently no treatment available
• Most horses die within 2-4 days after contracting rabies if not euthanized
• If horse has been exposed to an animal with rabies and vaccination is more than 30 days old, re-vaccinate and hold in quarantine for 45 days. If there was no previous vaccination, it is recommended the horse be held in quarantine for 6 months.

Prevention
• Vaccination is the best prevention for your horse. It is also recommended to have dogs and any barn cats that may come in contact with your horse to be receive vaccination as well. It should also be noted that just because a horse has received a vaccination for rabies, does not guarantee the horse will not get it.
• Foals and weanlings less than 12 months of age are administered an initial series of three vaccines (the timing is dependent on the vaccination status of the mare). Thereafter, horses are vaccinated annually (even if the vaccine is labeled as a three-year product)

Sources: AAEP, Dr. Stacey Oke, TheHorse.com, Colorado State University Extension, and University of Kentucky Animal Science Department.

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