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.