Most people are familiar with the furious form of rabies thanks to Stephen King’s iconic rabid dog, Cujo. However, there are two presentations of rabies, the more recognizable “furious” form and the less common “dumb” form. Rabies is a zoonotic disease that can affect humans, horses, and other mammals. Rabies is caused by a virus that travels along nerve pathways to reach the central nervous system and brain and is almost always fatal. The virus is transferred when the saliva from an infected animal enters through mucous membranes, like the eyes or mouth, of another animal. Transmission can also occur through open wounds or a bite from an infected animal.
Rabies is difficult to diagnose in horses. Horses typically present with the dumb form with signs that include ataxia and lameness and progress to profuse salivation and inability to swallow. They may also express distress, extreme agitation, and rolling behavior which can be interpreted as colic.
Prevention through vaccination is the best protocol to avoid infection. Rabies is considered a required core vaccine for horses by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP), and National Association of Public Health Veterinarians (HASPHV). California regulations allow veterinarians, registered veterinary technicians (RVT) under supervision, and veterinary assistants under direct supervision, to administer the rabies vaccination legally. Having your veterinarian administer the rabies vaccination provides legal documentation of the vaccination in case of infection or if your horse were to bite a human. This also provides vaccination support through the manufacturer in case of side effects or infection after vaccination.
In California, rabies most commonly occurs in wildlife including bats, skunks, and foxes. The California Department of Public Health has designated San Mateo and Santa Clara counties as rabies declaration areas indicating the presence of rabies cases in the county. Vaccinating for rabies protects both your horse from acquiring a fatal disease and the people interacting with your horse from being exposed.
Starwood Equine recommends vaccinating for rabies as part of your horse’s annual core vaccines. If you would like to decline the rabies vaccination, a waiver can be signed and returned to firstname.lastname@example.org or in person at your next appointment. Additional information is available at the California Department of Public Health rabies webpage and the US center for disease control and prevention of rabies webpage.
Starwood Equine is committed to keeping you informed of diseases with emerging frequency on the Peninsula. Over recent years, there has been published evidence that leptospirosis is an increasing threat across the USA. In fact, an increased incidence of leptospiral infection has been reported in Northern California this year, after our recent high rainfall and flooding.
Leptospirosis is a serious bacterial infection that is primarily spread by the contamination of water sources by the urine of wildlife. Rodents, raccoons, deer, dogs and skunks can all carry the infection. Additionally, since leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease, there is potential risk to humans who come in contact with an infected animal.
The bacteria are primarily transmitted by direct contact of infected urine and intact mucous membranes. Horses often ingest the bacteria in water that has been contaminated. The bacteria can affect the liver, kidneys, and eyes of the horse. It is the leading cause of uveitis (ocular inflammation) in horses and can cause severe pain and blindness. It can also cause pregnant mares to miscarry.
There has been a canine vaccine on the market for many years. Zoetis introduced an equine vaccine for this disease 2.5 years ago. The vaccine requires one booster a few weeks after initial vaccination and can then be performed yearly. We encourage you to take the survey below (click the image) and then discuss whether the vaccine is right for you and your horse with Drs. Kelly and Kristy.