While the incidence of rabies in horses is low, the disease is invariably fatal and has considerable public health significance. According to the new AAEP Guidelines, it is recommended that rabies vaccine be a core vaccine for all horses.
With fewer than 100 cases of rabies reported in horses, donkeys and burros every year, it’s easy to disregard the disease. But while the incidence of rabies in the United States is low, the fatality rate is high – 100 percent. That’s why the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) has made rabies a core vaccine, meaning rabies vaccination is recommended for every horse, every year, regardless of geography or lifestyle. Over the past 20 years, the number of rabies cases in both wildlife and domestic animals has increased. Typically, more than 9,000 total cases of rabies are reported in the United States every year. The rise of rabies is due, in large part, to the increased urbanization of areas where the disease is endemic in wildlife populations.
Just because your horse doesn’t live in the woods doesn’t mean he’s out of the woods. Horses in barns are just as likely to be exposed to rabid animals as pastured horses are. Rabid animals can easily find their way into closed barns, climb up rafters and even enter stalls.
Horses contract rabies through the bite of an infected (rabid) animal, such as a raccoon, fox, skunk or bat. These bites typically occur on the horse’s face and muzzle or lower limbs. It’s easy to mistake a rabies bite as simply a scratch, or not notice it at all. In one retrospective study of 21 horses with rabies, bite wounds weren’t found on any of the horses.
Once bitten, the horse’s peripheral nerves transmit the virus to the brain where it initiates rapidly progressive, invariably fatal encephalitis. The incubation period — the time between the virus’ entry into the body and the onset of clinical signs — averages two to nine weeks, but may be as long as fifteen months.
Rabies is out there: The bat in the trees, the fox on the bridle path, the skunk in the pasture, the raccoon under your trailer. And while the odds are low your horse will get rabies, the odds are virtually zero that he will recover from rabies. So why risk it? Consider asking your veterinarian for EquiRab™ rabies vaccine and vaccinate every year.