Rabies is a virus that can be transmitted to any mammal, including humans. A bite from an infected animal deposits the virus into the bloodstream. Most cases of rabies occur in wild animals such as raccoons, skunks, foxes and bats, but if a horse gets into a scuffle with an infected animal they can contract the disease. Rabies was originally known as “hydrophobia” (fear of water) because animals with rabies show a strange aversion to water. The brain and central nervous system are the main areas affected by rabies. Symptoms include confusion, disorientation, erratic behavior (like nocturnal animals wondering about in the daytime), headache, fever, discomfort and production of frothy drool. While the disease can potentially lay dormant for many months, once these advanced symptoms occur the animal typically only lives for a few days.
If you suspect your horse has contracted rabies you need to bring it to the vet immediately. There is no test for rabies other than to remove a sample of the animal’s brain for testing, which is fatal to the animal. The vet will quarantine your horse for at least 10 days to observe them for symptoms. Sadly no cure is available and the disease is almost always fatal. If a human receives a bite from an infected animal there is a series of vaccinations available, but they are not always effective. Veterinarians, veterinary technicians, and anyone who works with wildlife should get a rabies vaccine to protect themselves.
Vaccination is mandatory for all pet cats because the disease is so dangerous and easily passed to humans. Education about vaccination has fortunately helped reduce the prevalence of rabies, but it remains a concern for all pet owners and wildlife enthusiasts.