Rabies is a viral disease caused by Lyssavirus, which affects all warm-blooded animals including horses and humans. Rabies is endemic in wildlife, so there is a risk of exposure throughout Florida. Rabies is uncommon in horses, and it is 100% fatal once clinical signs appear. Clinical signs are related to the central nervous system and can include aggression, muscle tremors, convulsions, depression, lack of appetite, circling, ataxia/incoordination, self-mutilation, shifting lameness, or even recumbency. These signs can be similar to other viral diseases, infections or colic, so it’s important to contact your veterinarian if you notice any abnormal behavior.
The incubation period for rabies varies, and it can even take up to one year before clinical signs are evident in an exposed mammal. The most common way for a horse to be exposed to the rabies virus is through bite wounds, so careful disinfection of any wounds with gloves is essential.
Prompt quarantining and veterinary attention for any horse exhibiting neurological signs are critical. A rabies diagnosis is confirmed by examining the brain. This is an important step to identify any exposure and start prophylactic treatment for any people working with the horse. There is no treatment for rabies infection once clinical signs are observed. The key to rabies is prevention!
The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) recommends yearly vaccination for all horses, donkeys, and mules. The vaccine is effective at preventing rabies but needs to be administered before exposure to the virus to be effective. Rabies is zoonotic. This means that it can be transferred to people so vaccinating your horses is a great way to protect your family. Talk to your veterinarian about setting up an appointment to get your horses vaccinated.
This column is sponsored by Polk Equine, and the opinions expressed herein may not reflect those of CFAN or of its advertisers.
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.