Equine Rabies Cases Reported in 2013

Equine Rabies Cases Reported in 2013

Rabies brings significant heartache to horse owners and can be avoided with just one simple step—vaccination.

Photo: Erica Larson, News Editor

With 12 cases of equine rabies already confirmed in 2013, horse owners should be vigilant about vaccinating their horses against this fatal disease. Those equine cases are among the hundreds of cases discovered this year in other species, including bats, cats, dogs, cows, foxes, raccoons, and skunks.

“In 2011, which is the last year for which we have complete data, there were 44 confirmed cases of rabies in horses,” says Megan Green, DVM, equine specialist for Merial’s Large Animal Veterinary Services. “But what really should be a concern for horse owners is the number of cases in wildlife as most horses are kept in areas near wildlife habitats. I’m sure every barn owner has seen skunks, foxes, raccoons and the occasional bat in and around their barns.”

Besides the cases in horses, in the past several years, there have been thousands of incidents of animals with confirmed rabies, 92% of which were in wildlife: 2009 saw 6,694 cases, 2010 saw 6,155 cases, and 2011 saw 6,037 cases.

The fate of horses that contract rabies is dismal, as rabies is always fatal. Clinical signs include, but are not limited to, going off feed, depression, excessive salivation, difficulty swallowing, lack of coordination, aggressive behavior, hyperexcitability, colic, convulsions, or paralysis. These signs are similar to other diseases affecting the horse’s nervous system, but in the case of rabies, become so severe, the horse is euthanized or dies within days.

Because there is no way to diagnose rabies in live animals, horse owners and the treating veterinarians who suspect rabies face the task of sending the horse’s brain to a diagnostic laboratory where it is examined for the presence of lesions which are characteristic with rabies.

“Horse owners have significant emotional and financial resources invested in their horses over long periods of time and consider their horses to be family,” says Green. “Their vision for the animal’s end of life tends toward retired days grazing in green pastures—not convulsions, paralysis and a painful death.”

Rabies brings significant heartache to horse owners and can be avoided with just one simple step—vaccination.

“The cost associated with a rabies vaccination is minimal, but the peace of mind it buys is priceless,” says Green.

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