I would like to talk about a very serious subject in this week’s blog: Rabies. Dr. Lacher and Dr. King recently heard about a case of Rabies in a pony in North Carolina and asked me to share some information about Rabies and its management in horses. I was all ears since I too have to be vaccinated for this deadly disease.
Rabies is a virus of mammals which affects the nervous system. The virus is transmitted from an infected animal to other animals through bite wounds, typically from a fox, skunk, raccoon or bat. Once the virus enters the animal it seeks out a nerve to bind to and follow to the brain. The virus is on a search and destroy mission until it reaches the brain, only then does it branch out to other tissues like salivary glands.
We were all taught not to approach the dog foaming at the mouth, it might have Rabies. If a raccoon or fox is seen during the day and is acting aggressive most of us would worry about Rabies. What if your horse was mildy colicky, had a slight lameness or was having difficulty urinating? These are all symptoms of Rabies in horses. And there is the biggest problem with equine Rabies cases. Many of us do not recognize it is Rabies until it is too late. The pony in North Carolina had a wound it was itching and wouldn’t leave alone. In this case, as in many other equine cases, lots of people were exposed to this horse before anyone realized it might have Rabies. This means all these people had to go through post exposure vaccination! That would not make for happy neighbors.
Rabies is definitely a case of the best defense is good offense: vaccination. The rabies vaccine is very effective. It cannot be said with 100% certainty but no one Dr. Lacher or Dr. King could find knows of a single case of rabies in a vaccinated animal. This makes it among the most effective vaccines we have, which is good since we also have no known treatment. It is recommended that horses be vaccinated yearly for rabies. Due to some unique features of the equine immune system it does not respond to the rabies vaccine for very long. Studies have shown that most horses can fight off an exposure for 14-16 months following vaccination making yearly vaccination very important. Humans, dogs and cats do a much better job responding to the vaccine and can remain immune for many years. It is still recommended that dogs and cats be vaccinated at least every 3 years for public health reasons.
You come out to feed in the morning and find a raccoon acting strangely near your horses. What should you do? First, do not try to come near any wild creature acting oddly. Call Animal Control. Move your horses to a safe area as far away from the raccoon as possible. Call Springhill Equine. If your horses are up to date on their rabies vaccines we will administer a second vaccine as soon as possible. If your horse has not been vaccinated a quarantine will be necessary for 6 months! If you suspect your horse may have rabies, call us immediately and limit contact as much as possible. The moral of this story is to vaccinate for rabies. It’s cheap, easy and effective!
On a personal note, my broken foot continues to heal well. Dr. Long at Newberry Animal Hospital says I might get my splint off this week. I sure hope I do since I am so tired of being locked up in the Clinic. I have a new appreciation for horses on stall rest. It’s NO fun!!!!