Colorado Horse Bitten by Rabid Skunk

Colorado Horse Bitten by Rabid Skunk

Local human and animal health agencies are urging residents to have their horses vaccinated against the disease,

Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse

In mid-February a Longmont, Colo.-area horse was bitten by a skunk, which later tested positive for rabies, according to Boulder County officials. The skunk is the first animal in Boulder County to test positive for rabies this year.

"Fortunately, the horse in this situation had previously been vaccinated (against rabies) and it is under the care of vets from the Colorado Department of Agriculture," a representative from Boulder County Public Health (BCPH) told The Horse.

Still, local human and animal health agencies are urging residents to have their horses vaccinated against the disease, a BCPH statement said.

“Rabies in ground-dwelling animals increases the risk of rabies exposure to pets and livestock,” Lane Drager, BCPH Consumer Protection Program coordinator, said in the statement.

Commercially available rabies vaccines for horses are safe and extremely effective. According to the American Association of Equine Practitioner's vaccination guidelines, adult horses should be vaccinated annually, and mares in foal should be vaccinated four to six weeks prepartum or before breeding. Veterinarians should administer an initial series of three vaccines to foals and naive horses. Thereafter, horses should be vaccinated annually.

Health Alert: Rabies

In horses rabies' clinical signs are variable and can take up to 12 weeks to appear after the initial infection. Although affected horses are sometimes asymptomatic, an infected horse can show behavioral changes such as drowsiness, depression, fear, or aggression. Once clinical signs appear, there are no treatment options.

Rabies can only be diagnosed postmortem by submitting the horse's head to a local public health laboratory to identify the rabies virus using a test called fluorescence antibody. So, ruling out all other potential diseases first is very important in these cases to avoid potentially unnecessary euthanasia.

About the Author

Erica Larson, News Editor

Erica Larson, News Editor, holds a degree in journalism with an external specialty in equine science from Michigan State University in East Lansing. A Massachusetts native, she grew up in the saddle and has dabbled in a variety of disciplines including foxhunting, saddle seat, and mounted games. Currently, Erica competes in three-day eventing with her OTTB, Dorado, and enjoys photography in her spare time.

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