Two Michigan Horses Die From Rabies

Two horses have been diagnosed, and died as the result of rabies during the month of April in Michigan. The first horse was from Casco Township in St. Clair County, and the second was from Deckerville in Sanilac County. The first horse died due to rabies, a disease that affects the central nervous system, and the second horse was euthanitized after it began to exhibit symptoms of rabies.

The horse in Casco Township was bitten by a skunk two weeks before its death. The second case of rabies, in Deckerville, is presumed to be the result of the horse being bitten by a rabid skunk six months earlier. According to Steve Halstead, DVM, equine veterinarian for the Michigan Department of Agriculture, rabies may take up to six months before symptoms appear.

State health and agriculture officials are monitoring the increase in rabid skunks due to the fact there have been seven cases so far this year compared to only two for the whole year of 1998. Before the latest two cases of rabies involving horses, a horse has not been diagnosed with the rabies virus in Michigan for five or six years.

Halstead pointed out that horses are more susceptible to rabies than other livestock are, such as cattle or pigs. He said horses require lower doses of the rabies virus in order to become infected.

Unlike other domestic animals like dogs or cats, there has never been a documented case of livestock (which includes horses) transmitting the rabies virus to humans, according to Halstead.

Halstead added that the recent cases of rabies “are unusual, but not an epidemic. The message we want to get across is to vaccinate. We don't want it to get worse.”

As additional precautions to prevent rabies, Halstead recommends the following safeguards:

  • Never handle or approach wildlife. What may appear to be an orphan wild animal may simply be a young juvenile exploring the environment under the supervisio of an adult, and either of them may carry rabies or other serious disease. Call nuisance animal control agents for assistance.
  • Do not handle or approach unfamiliar dogs or cats. Call local animal control or law enforcement for assistance.
  • Don't leave table scraps or leftover pet food outside where it will attract wild animals.
  • Report any bites or potential exposures to local animal control or health officials.
  • Have all dead, sick, or easily-captured bats or other rabies-susceptible animals tested for rabies before exposure to people or pets occurs.
  • Be a responsible pet owner by keeping vaccinations current for all dogs, cats, and ferrets. Prevent them from having contact with wildlife.
  • Consult your veterinarian about vaccinations for horses and other livestock.
  • For more information about rabies, contact your veterinarian or local health department.

“Because rabies is so very serious, we should take all reasonable steps to prevent rabies exposure to people,” said Dr. David R. Johnson, Deputy Director and Chief Medical Executive for the Michigan Department of Community Health. “Prompt treatment for those who have been exposed can be lifesaving.”

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