By: Katie Jones, CVT
For many, when they think of rabies affecting their animals dogs and cats are at the very top of that list. Rabies cases in horses are rare, and can be preventable. Horses exposed to the virus are more sensitive and susceptible to the disease.
Rabies is caused by a virus of the rhabdovirus family. Rabies is a zoonotic disease that is spread through the saliva of an infected animal and is easily spread from one animal to another; including humans. It is believed that any warm blooded mammal is susceptible to this awful disease.
With any suddenly rapid progressing neurological signs, rabies should be considered. At onset additional signs infected horses can begin exhibiting are depression, anorexia, and ataxia. As the disease progresses, other signs that may show include:
- Repetitive twitching
- Hypersensitivity to touch and sound
- Hypermetria (a condition in which voluntary muscular movement overreaches the intended goal)
- Proprioceptive deficits (lack of physical awareness of limbs and their placement)
- Regional pruritus (itchiness)
- Periods of violence interspersed with periods of normalcy or depression
- Normal, increased, decreased, or absent spinal reflexes
Rabies is a fatal disease with death typically occurring 3-5 days after onset. There are no treatments or tests for live animals. A postmortem test is currently the only definitive diagnosis for rabies. There are vaccinations available through a veterinarian as a preventative for contracting rabies. Horses can be vaccinated as young as three months of age, but must be boostered yearly to continue the coverage. Although the rabies vaccine is not a required in horse, the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) lists it as part of the core group of annual vaccines. Increased chances of exposure can be linked to:
- Presence of wild animals in area
- Presence of known rabid animals in the area
- Horse traveling to areas with frequent rabies cases
The number of horses infected with rabies each year in Minnesota is extremely low. With statistics like this, it is extremely easy to choose not to vaccinate your animals, but with the virus being lethal yet preventable, is it not worth the risk.
Below is a map of Minnesota showing the positive Rabies cases for 2014.