Minnesota Horse Tests Positive for Rabies

Minnesota Horse Tests Positive for Rabies

The owner of the horse reported smelling a skunk in the area about two months prior to onset of illness.

Photo: iStock

A horse in Benton County, Minnesota, tested positive for rabies on July 24, the Minnesota Board of Animal Health reported July 27.

The attending veterinarian initially examined the horse on July 18 and reported it was recumbent, but able to stand with assistance. Additional clinical signs included facial spasms, low-grade fever, and incoordination. The horse was reportedly eating and drinking normally. The owner elected to euthanize the horse after it failed to respond to treatment.

The owner of the horse reported smelling a skunk in the area about two months prior to onset of illness. Currently, other animals on the property appear healthy, including two unvaccinated horses, several barn cats, and livestock. The Board of Animal Health is investigating and will make recommendations to the property owner on what to do with the remaining animals.

Health Alert: Rabies

The Minnesota Department of Health advised post-exposure prophylaxis for the horse owner, three family members, the attending veterinarian, and a veterinary student who assisted with treatment.

In horses clinical signs of rabies 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. Thus, ruling out all other potential diseases first is very important in these cases to avoid potentially unnecessary euthanasia.

This is the first horse to test positive for rabies in 2017, and serves as a reminder that rabies should be a differential for any horse presenting with neurologic signs. To date, 14 animals have tested positive throughout the state including five bats, one cat, one fox, six skunks, and this horse.

Minnesota residents can call 651/201-6808 with questions about rabies exposure to domestic animals. If you have questions concerning rabies exposure in people, contact the Minnesota Department of Health at 651/201-5414.

The Board of Animal Health recommends all dogs, cats, ferrets, and horses be currently vaccinated against the rabies virus. In the event an animal is exposed or potentially exposed, pets should be rabies vaccinated within 96 hours of exposure.

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