CSU Veterinarians Recommend Rabies Vaccinations for Horses

Colorado State University (CSU) veterinarians say an inexpensive, widely available vaccine can help protect horses, livestock, and pets from exposure to rabies, which is being carried by an increasing number of skunks in the state.

Bats have spread rabies in Colorado for many years, but more skunks in Colorado have become infected, which has increased risk in horses. Contributing factors include skunk and wildlife habitat changes as well as human movement that can spread the disease into other areas.

CSU veterinarians recommend vaccinating horses against rabies once a year, as all warm-blooded animals, including humans, can be infected with rabies. Most animals die from rabies within 10 days of developing signs of infection.

"A rabies bite to an animal that has not been vaccinated is invariably fatal," Hendrickson said.

Horse vaccines range from $10 to $15, depending upon the number of animals vaccinated.

Rabies vaccines do not have to be administered to livestock or horses by a veterinarian, although it's often recommended to have an equine health professional vaccinate horses

"Symptoms of rabies can be difficult to distinguish from other illnesses, and you risk exposing animals and people while animals are being diagnosed," said Dean Hendrickson, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS, director of the CSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital. "The danger is especially high this year, and generally speaking, while it's rare for livestock or horses to contract rabies in Colorado, it is extremely important to work to prevent animals from contracting the disease."

Wounds from a rabid skunk bite may not be visible or easy to detect on horses. Clinical signs mimic other more common illnesses and could be confused with regular colic or a foot or leg injury. Rabies also can enter the body through cuts or scratches and can be spread to people through contact with saliva or bodily fluids.

Clinical signs are extremely varied, from colic to difficulty swallowing, depression with loss of appetite, a low-grade fever, lameness and/or incoordination, other neurological symptoms including convulsions, increased sensitivity to being touched, abdominal pain (straining to urinate or defecate), odd behavioral changes, nervousness, irritability, muscle contractions, and finally death.

If horse is suspected of having rabies, avoid human and other animal contact, find a veterinarian who can assess the situation and contain the spread of the disease.

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