Rabies is a deadly virus spread through the bite of an infected mammal such as a bat or other wildlife. Rabies infections will lead to death within a few days of symptoms being detected in an animal and pose a serious risk to you and your family. Although rabies infection in horses is uncommon, it does happen and is a very serious concern. There is no treatment for rabies, so prevention is the only way to keep you and your horses protected. Rabies vaccinations have been used in horses for years and are a safe and effective way to fight this dangerous disease.
With Polk County receiving rabies alerts from the Florida Department of Health in July and August, the time is more important now than ever to get educated about rabies and ensure your horses are up-to-date on their vaccination status. Consult with your veterinarian for specific guidance regarding vaccination timelines and boosters for your horses.
Rabies has been mostly eliminated in domestic animals in the United States, but can be hard to control due to wild animal exposure. Horses that live outside 24 hours a day are at a greater risk for rabies, but the disease is still fairly uncommon. It affects between 30 and 60 horses per year and is contracted by passing the rabies virus into an open wound or mucous membrane. At the time of publication, the recent rabies alerts for Polk County indicate two foxes and 1 bat have tested positive for the disease.
This disease in horses is not necessarily easy to diagnose, as the symptoms can be confusing and nonspecific. Typical symptoms can include colic, obscure lameness, paralysis, tremors, fever, depression and aggression, but could also appear as a lack of eating or drinking and teeth grinding.
Once infected, it is possible for the horse to take up to six months to show symptoms. This is not usually the case, however, as most show symptoms within 2-6 weeks. Once clinical symptoms are present, however, the horse will typically die within three to five days. While vaccinations do not entirely prevent the disease, rabies is uniformly fatal in unvaccinated horses. Unvaccinated horses that have been exposed to the virus must be euthanized or be quarantined for six months. Vaccinated horses that have been bitten or exposed should immediately be given a rabies booster, followed by 45 days of observation.
Now is the perfect time to check in with your veterinarian on your horses’ vaccination status. Take caution and protect against risks when you can.