Rabies in Horses

Rabies in Horses

Tuesdays with Tony

Look at this lovely picture of a bunch of happy youngsters living in a beautiful field. It looks like horse heaven. Look closer. These kids are all carefully (well, not so carefully) investigating a skunk. “They better be careful,” you say. “They’re going to get a snootful of skunk,” you opine. And they did. All of them. That’s not the point of this twist on a pretty picture. Rabies is the point. The skunk you see in this picture tested positive for Rabies. Luckily, every curious yearling you see in that picture was vaccinated for Rabies. I know I’ve talked about Rabies before, and now I’m going to do it again, because Rabies is no joke. 

Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic

Out of the clear blue sky

When you humans think about rabies, at least if you’re of a certain age, you think Ol’ Yeller, and other similarly traumatic childhood movie experiences. For those of you who aren’t old enough to have seen this classic, a kid’s beloved dog gets rabies after saving the humans from an attack by a wolf. The dog starts to show all the classic signs you think of when you think rabies. He starts to get mean, drools, hates water, all the things. It would be nice if rabies always let us know it was going to show up this way. A dramatic fight scene, an animal that’s acting weird, followed by classic symptoms. 

Because horses are horses, this is rarely how it works for them. More often it happens like it happened in the picture. A curious horse, an animal acting a little off, but not super weird, and no human in sight. If no one saw this skunk/horse interaction, all they would know is that all the yearlings smelled awful. 

Think about it for a moment. How much do you really know about your horse’s moment by moment life? Be honest. Not the answer you want to think is correct, but the actual answer. You know a whole lot about very, very tiny slices of your horse’s day. You have no idea about the ongoing middle of the night relationship with the deer, or the extensive meetings with racoons and opossums, and let’s not even get started on the fun with bats. And that is how horses get rabies. 


He’s colicky, sort of.

This is how horses often start with symptoms of rabies. They act very mildly colicky. Nothing dramatic, which is odd for a horse. They do drama so well. Just a few days of not feeling so great. Eating a little bit, laying around a lot. Just not quite right. After a few days, things start to change. That’s when they start displaying more “typical” signs of rabies like aggression. 

I’m going to let you in on a little behind-the-scenes knowledge. One of the first things my Docs learn in school is that rabies is great at camouflage. It can look like just about anything. So while I’m saying that mild colic is often how horses start with rabies symptoms, it’s really, really important to know that horses can do anything when it comes to rabies. In fact, one of the other symptoms often seen is an itchy wound on a leg. Seriously, an itchy wound on a leg. I don’t have enough toes to count how many times I’ve listened to my Docs cover itchy leg wounds. 

When it comes to rabies, that leg wound was actually a bite from an infected animal, and that itch is the virus traveling up the nerves to the brain. Other fun ways rabies has been reported in horses is vague lameness, depression, difficulty swallowing (with no other crazy rabies signs), incontinence, and sensitivity to touch. That’s the short list. Basically it can show up as anything! 


And now you get shots, too

So your horse has acted weird for a few days, and you’ve done what horse people do. You’ve talked with your friends. You’ve probably had friends come look at your horse. Hopefully, you’ve had your vet come look at your horse. Good news! Now you’ve all been exposed to rabies! You get a bunch of shots, your friend gets a bunch of shots, your neighbor gets a bunch of shots, your vet gets a bunch of shots. Everyone gets a bunch of shots. Yay!!! 

You need these shots pretty quickly and they’re expensive. I’m sure this is a great way to cement good relationships with your friends and neighbors. The good news is there’s a cheap, easy way to prevent all these fun times: vaccinate your horse.


One little shot

That’s right. Once yearly vaccination can prevent all this fun. The rabies vaccine is ridiculously effective with NO cases of rabies in properly vaccinated animals EVER reported. I don’t know what more I can offer you in a vaccine besides NO and EVER. That’s pretty strong stuff. The rabies vaccine has been available for a really long time, which makes this track record pretty darn solid. So be a good horse owner, call your vet, and vaccinate. 

Now I know some of you are going to say, but I can get the vaccines from a catalog, blah, blah, blah. To that I say, “Are you crazy? Do you have any idea what goes on around here to make sure vaccines are kept in their happy place so they maintain efficacy? You’re going to trust the cheapest source you can find for that kind of attention to detail?” To that I say, “You do you, but you is crazy.” I will also point out that to date, no catalog or tractor store has ever responded to a middle of the night emergency call. 

Know the best way to make sure you don’t have to worry about any of your horse’s vaccines? Sign up for a Springhill Equine Wellness Plan. Boom! Check that off the to-do list, and go ride. Great advice from this wise cat. 

Until next week,


Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!

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