Rabies, an always fatal zoonotic disease, is a threat to horses and show cattle as well as dogs and cats, says Gregg Hanzlizek, a veterinarian with the Kansas State University School of Veterinary Medicine’s Diagnostic Laboratory.
“We have seen two cases in horses and a couple of cases in sheep already this year,” Hanzlizek says. “And we had a few cases last year. Our rule is if you have an animal with a name, it should be vaccinated against rabies.”
Horses and other animals contract rabies by being bitten by an infected animal. But many owners might not realize they had been bitten before clinical signs of the disease manifested.
“Once clinical signs are present, the disease is 100% fatal in animals and humans,” Hanzlizek says. “We always tell animal owners that if their animal is behaving in a way that might indicate a brain issue to stay away from it and call their vet immediately. Most people are not vaccinated against rabies and exposure to infected animals poses a major risk.”
There is an effective treatment for humans to prevent the disease from developing, but it is expensive, has to be done immediately and makes the person pretty sick, he says.
In Kansas, skunks are the biggest carriers of rabies. Canine rabies has almost been eliminated because of routine vaccination, but some people have barn cats that are not vaccinated, and they bring the risk of infection into the barns and stables.
Hanzlizek says K-State recommends that rabies vaccinations be administered by a licensed veterinarian, who can also keep a record of vaccination dates and send animal owners a reminder when it is time for a vaccine booster.
“There are also different vaccines for different species,” he says. “And there are one-year vaccines and three-year vaccines. Veterinarians will keep records of what was given and when and keep your animals safe.”
Animals who have died or been euthanized after being infected should be buried or composted, he says.
“The virus doesn’t live that long outside a live host,” Hanzlizek says, “but it should be buried not sent to rendering.”
In a recent press release, Zoetis, an animal health company, says only one out of seven horses are vaccinated against rabies. The company stressed that rabies vaccinations are as important for horses as vaccines for other deadly core diseases, such as West Nile virus, Eastern and Western equine encephalomyelitis, and tetanus.
Zoetis recommends its Core EQ Innovator vaccine, which is the first and only vaccine to contain all core equine disease antigens in one injection. It is demonstrated safe and was shown to be reaction-free in 99.7% of all horses, according to field safety studies.
Hanzlizek says that there are a number of vaccines that can offer very effective protection against rabies and other core diseases.
“The important thing is not so much which vaccine you use as making sure that you use a vaccine,” he says. “Your veterinarian is your best source for information on what would be best for your animals.”