Do You Vaccinate Your Horse for Rabies? Readers Weigh In

Do You Vaccinate Your Horse for Rabies? Readers Weigh In

Rabies is an American Association of Equine Practitioners' core vaccine, which means it’s one that the association recommends all horses receive annually.

Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse

A horse in South Carolina tested positive for rabies in January, becoming the first confirmed case in that county for 2016. The incident left two people who cared for the horse exposed to rabies, and authorities referred them to their health care providers for consultation.

Rabies is an American Association of Equine Practitioners’ core vaccine, which means it’s one that the association recommends all horses receive annually. The AAEP says core vaccines “protect from diseases that are endemic to a region, those with potential public health significance, required by law, virulent/highly infectious, and/or those posing a risk of severe disease.”

Rabies is fatal to horses and poses significant risks to humans. After reporting on this South Carolina case, we asked readers on our Facebook page if they vaccinated their horse for rabies. Our readers responded with both wisdom and concern.

Several people commented that they do vaccinate their horse(s) for rabies:

“I’ve always had my horses vaccinated against rabies,” said Valerie McIntyre.

Susan Enlow pointed out that there are many types of wildlife in her area that could contract and spread the zoonotic disease. “I always vaccinate for rabies,” she said. “Bats and skunks are abound in Kentucky. The example with possible barn cat exposure is entirely possible. Bat-to-cat-to-kid is a scary path.”

Jennifer Jacobson said she vaccinates her horses regularly. “Because there are only recommendations and no laws for (rabies) vaccinations for horses, I get my horses done (regularly),” she said. Others mentioned that the cost of the vaccine was worth the investment in order to minimize the risk of their horse contracting the disease. “It’s a small cost to protect my animal,” Lisa Swanson commented.

“My horses do not have problems with the rabies vaccines, so there is absolutely no reason not to give it,” said Angela Moore. “Here in North Carolina, foxes, raccoons, skunks, and bats are all considered vectors for the disease. It’s such cheap insurance, and it prevents a great deal of unwanted expense and stress in the event that there is a scare.”

Sally Colby Scholle sought out information from her veterinarian about taking precautions against the disease. “Here’s how my vet put it: If he examines a horse with neurologic signs and knows that horse has been properly immunized (for rabies), rabies can be ruled out,” she said. “I try to do as few vaccinations as possible, but rabies is one I won’t skip. We had a goofy raccoon in the pasture a few years ago—we shot it, took it (very carefully) to the state vet lab, and it was rabies-positive.”

A few people voiced their concerns about the rabies vaccines: 

“Every time my horse has had the rabies vaccine, she has had lower extremity swelling, even when we split the dose,” said Susan Dean.

Sandy Wallis shared her concerns about vaccinating her older horse, who has experienced a bad reaction to the vaccine before. “I worry that I would be putting him at risk by vaccinating him, due to his age and past reaction,” she commented. “It’s a tough decision, because it could go wrong whatever I do.”

To address these concerns, The Horse contacted Joie Watson, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM, chair of the Department of Medicine and Epidemiology at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine.

“It is best to protect your horse from rabies using a currently approved vaccine at the recommended dose and interval,” Watson said. “If your horse develops any kind of vaccine reaction, consult with your veterinarian about it so that a rational plan for future vaccination can be made. Some types of reactions are more serious than others. It is likely (though not guaranteed) that if a horse has been vaccinated multiple times in their adult life that they have a protective titer to rabies that may last far longer than one year.”

A couple readers commented on why they don’t vaccinate their horse for rabies:

“I’ve asked about it,” commented Nina Amelung, “but there have been no cases (in horses) in 10+ years in Idaho.” She said because of this, her veterinarian feels the vaccination is unnecessary. “I still ask every year, though,” she said.

Editor’s note: Although no equine causes have been reported in Idaho recently, rabies is present in state. Visit the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare rabies webpage for more detailed information.

Louisa Bowe is located in an area where rabies isn’t prevalent. “We’re lucky in the U.K. as rabies has been eradicated and, therefore, we don’t vaccinate our horses,” she commented. “If we wish to go to Europe with our pets though, it is a legal requirement that they must be vaccinated against rabies,” she added. 

You can find additional information about rabies and how you can protect your horse by going to our “rabies” subtopic page or searching for “rabies” on TheHorse.com.

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