I have heard on the news over the last week or so about a couple of cases of Rabies in horses here in Colorado. Should we be vaccinating the horses for Rabies?
The short answer is yes, here at MVS, we are currently recommending rabies vaccines for all of our equine patients.
There are many different “variants” of rabies, but here in Colorado we are concerned about only two. Bat rabies is carried in insectivorous bats (they eat only insects) here in Colorado and there is a low incidence of exposure and therefore transmission of the disease. Skunk (or terrestrial) rabies is carried by skunks and has a higher chance of exposing domestic pets and horses. Here in Colorado we have always had an incidence of bat rabies (though never reported in horses before 2009). Since 2008 there have been an increasing number of cases of skunk rabies reported. This has also led to a small increase in the number of domestic animals that have been exposed and tested positive for rabies, including a small number of horses. Since 2009, El Paso, Adams, and Douglas counties have each reported a case of rabies in a horse.
For a small cost each year, a horse can be protected from this 100% fatal disease. The vaccine is effective at protecting the horses, and is also quite safe. For a disease like rabies, where there are very serious public health ramifications to you and your family, the rabies vaccine is a great idea. Although the risk of exposure is still small, a properly vaccinated horse is the only horse that will survive infection with rabies.
As a note, we spoke with the state veterinarian today, and they confirmed that a horse has to be vaccinated by a licensed veterinarian to be considered protected from the disease. Therefore, in the event of a suspected rabies exposure, if your horse was not vaccinated by a veterinarian, they will be considered unvaccinated by the State of Colorado!