Definition: viral disease of the central nervous system
Signs: infection produces no signs until the virus reaches the spinal cord and brain. Once that happens, the horse may show acute (also referred to as “furious”) signs such as aggression, agitation, hyperactivity and paralysis of the tongue and face. He might also show paralytic (or “dumb”) signs, such as depression, weakness, ataxia, recumbency, paralysis and excessive salivation. If not euthanatized, the horse will usually die within days.
Causes: The rabies virus is excreted in saliva of infected animals and usually transmitted through bites.
Diagnosis: No definitive laboratory test can identify rabies in a live horse. Diagnosis on a living horse is done through a history and observation of signs. Postmortem examination of the brain can confirm the diagnosis.
Treatment: Nothing can be done once clinical signs appear, which can take days, weeks or months. Immediately after known exposure, a previously vaccinated horse will be given a booster shot and monitored for a minimum of 45 days. In some jurisdictions, an unvaccinated animal may undergo a rabies post-exposure prophylaxis protocol (PEP), which entails immediate vaccination, followed by booster vaccinations, and a strict isolation period lasting a minimum of 90 days.
Click here to read a more in-depth article on rabies in horses.
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