USDA Working to Reduce Wildlife Rabies

The Unites States Department of Agriculture is dropping bait cubes laced with oral rabies vaccine throughout Appalachian states in an attempt to slow the spread of raccoon-strain rabies in the wild and to domestic animals.


The current bait drops are part of a program initiated by the USDA in 1997 to establish a rabies-free barrier in the Eastern United States.


Stephanie Thompson, DVM, field veterinarian with Merial pharmaceutical company, said reducing rabies infection rates via oral vaccine will indirectly benefit horses as well as the direct effects it has on wildlife.


"There are a wide variety of animals that carry rabies, and they are often animals that horses come into contact with," Thompson said. "Rabid animals behave in ways that are often not normal--they might hang around the horses more, the horse is curious, puts its head down to investigate, and gets bit."


Vaccinating horses against rabies can help limit potential exposure for human handlers as well, Thompson says, as equine rabies can have a wide variety of clinical signs that can look like many other ailments, including colic, choke, lameness, and neurological problems. As people work to diagnose the horse, they can be exposed to the rabies virus.


"The best thing to do is minimize our exposure by making sure our horses are vaccinated," said Thompson. "It's something we can do easily, and the vaccine is highly effective."


Between 1999 and 2005, there were 332 diagnosed cases of equine rabies in the United States.


The fishmeal polymer bait cubes for wildlife will be dropped using twin-engine aircraft in rural areas and via ground vehicles near areas of dense population. The USDA requests that if you see a bait on the ground, please leave it undisturbed. The oral vaccine is safe for contact by humans and pets, including dogs and cats. A dog eating a large amount of the baits might experience an upset stomach, but there are no long-term health risks.


For additional information concerning the raccoon oral rabies vaccine program, please visit or contact USDA's wildlife service toll free at 866/487-3297. For more information on rabies infection rates and geographic distribution, see


For more information on rabies in horses, see and

About the Author

Erin Ryder

Erin Ryder is a former news editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care.

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