Rabies: Louisiana Horse Owners Cautioned

Louisiana horse owners are being urged to get their animals vaccinated for rabies by the Louisiana State University (LSU) AgCenter extension veterinarian.

A horse in Jefferson Davis Parish recently was diagnosed with rabies, said Christine Navarre, DVM, MS, DACVIM, professor and LSU AgCenter extension veterinarian.

In addition, a dog in Lafayette Parish was diagnosed with the disease this year, she said. And two skunks were found to have the disease, one in Lafayette Parish and the other in St. Martin Parish.

"Rabies is endemic in Louisiana," Navarre said.

Cat and dog owners are required to have their animals vaccinated by law.

"There are laws covering pets, but not livestock," the LSU AgCenter veterinarian said. "However, the American Association of Equine Practitioners has added rabies vaccination as part of their core recommendations."

The cost is no more than other vaccinations, she said.

Navarre said horses can contract the disease if bitten by an infected animal. Symptoms in a horse vary widely but include depression, refusal to eat, wobbly gait, lying down, and appearing to have stomach pain. "They don't always get the aggressive form, but they can," she added.

The only way a positive confirmation of the disease can be determined is to euthanize the animal and conduct analysis of the brain tissue, she said.

Rabies records compiled since 1986 by the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine and the state Office of Public Health show that skunks are the main carrier of the disease, followed by bats. Navarre said bats and skunks, if rabid, could easily bite a horse. Skunks with rabies lose their fear of larger animals and are active in daylight hours, she said.

In 2009, rabies was confirmed in five animals, including three bats in Calcasieu Parish, a bat in Vermilion Parish and a cat in Iberia Parish.

Navarre said rabies can be cyclical, often depending on weather conditions that affect wildlife.

The largest number of rabies statewide in one year was 82 confirmed cases in 1994, and the lowest was in 1998 with only three cases.

--Bruce Schultz

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