Katie Hennessy

Taking rabies precautions for your equine

RABIES IS A NEUROLOGICAL disease of horses and all mammals. Although it occurs infrequently in horses, it has considerable public health significance. Rabies is a zoonotic disease, meaning it can be transmitted to humans. Rabies is always fatal once the animal or human shows clinical signs of the disease, and so the risk should be taken seriously.

Exposure occurs through the bite of an infected animal, typically wildlife such as raccoons, skunks, bats, and fox. Although infected cats and dogs can also transmit the virus. Bites typically occur on the muzzle, face and lower limbs of the horse, but you may not notice a small bite or may think it’s a scratch. Infection can also occur if the virus is introduced into open cuts on the skin or onto mucous membranes from saliva or other infected neural tissue. Once the horse is infected, the virus migrates through nerves to the brain, where it progresses to a fatal encephalitis.

Clinical signs can include mild agitation, increased saliva production, behavior changes, abnormal movement, seizures, and self-mutilation. Most commonly, only a few of these signs are noted. Any horse that dies without explanation or that has neurological signs should be tested or examined for rabies. The official test can only be carried out on the brain of the animal following euthanasia or death.

If you are concerned that your horse has been infected with rabies, or is showing any clinical signs that could indicate rabies, then care must be taken when handling the animal (wear gloves and skin-covering clothing). If it is possible, confine the horse and minimize exposure to humans and other animals until the horse has been examined by a veterinarian.

The best way to protect your horses and family is through annual vaccination. Vaccination is an inexpensive and effective method of preventing rabies infections. The American Association of Equine Practitioners recommends vaccination for all horses living in rabies-endemic areas.

Be safe, and discuss vaccination and prevention strategies with your veterinarian.



BIO: Dr. Katie Hennessy graduated from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in 2008 with a degree in large animal health and equine medicine. She completed an advanced internship at The Equine Medical Center of Ocala and is currently the owner and practicing veterinarian at Polk Equine. Her expertise ranges from small and exotic creatures to large animals, specializing in equine medicine.

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