Recent Rabies Cases Highlight Importance of Vaccinating

Recent Rabies Cases Highlight Importance of Vaccinating

Vaccinating your horse against rabies is the best way to help protect him from contracting the invariably fatal disease.

Photo: Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief

Recent equine rabies cases should serve as reminders that the disease is a real threat to the lives of horses, and that the disease can surface at any time. While the total number of equine cases is still being tallied for 2013, the number of confirmed equine cases in 2012 reached 47.

“We know there were dozens of cases of equine rabies throughout the country in 2013, including cases from as far east as Vermont, as far south as Texas, as far north as Minnesota, and as far west as Colorado,” says Megan Green, DVM, Large Animal Veterinary Services maanger for Merial. “It is heartbreaking to see a horse suffering from rabies, especially since there are relatively low-cost vaccines widely available. Rabies is completely preventable if the proper steps are taken, but it is 100% fatal if preemptive action is ignored.”

Besides the cases in horses, thousands of other animals have been diagnosed with confirmed rabies over the last few years, 92% of which were wild animals.

“The numbers of rabid animals in the wild should be concerning to horse owners because all it takes is one bite from an infected animal for a horse to contract the fatal disease,” says Green. “Most horses are kept in areas where it’s impossible to prevent every skunk, fox, or raccoon from wandering near enough to come into contact with the horse.”

The onset of rabies is marked by variable clinical signs, which can include aggressive behavior, colic, lack of coordination, hyperexcitability, depression, convulsions, or paralysis. The incubation period can take anywhere from two weeks up to 15 months, but once clinical signs appear, death can occur in less than one day.

There is no way to diagnose rabies in live animals; veterinarians who suspect rabies must send the horse’s brain to a diagnostic laboratory where it is examined for the presence of lesions that are characteristic with rabies.

Vaccinating your horse against rabies is the best way to help protect him from contracting the invariably fatal disease.

“As spring approaches and horse owners start thinking about vaccinating, they need to keep in mind the risk of exposing their horses to rabies,” says Green. “Horse owners invest significant time and resources into their horses and consider them to be part of the family. The minimal cost to vaccinate is worth so much more in peace of mind knowing a horse is protected from a tragic and preventable death.”

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