Remind horse owners to safeguard against rabies

While dogs are vaccinated against rabies without question, the majority of equines—often at higher risk—are not vaccinated

According to veterinary research published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the American Horse Council, horses are nearly four times more likely to contract rabies than dogs. Across the U.S., the majority of horses are not vaccinated for rabies and often run a higher risk of exposure than dogs, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Everybody is at risk for developing rabies,” said Bonnie R. Rush, DVM, MS, DACVIM, Interim Dean at Kansas State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “[Horses are] at higher risk for being exposed probably at pasture, but being in a stall does not preclude exposure. The consequences of interacting with a horse that has rabies are significant.”

Horses can be exposed to rabies most commonly through bats, raccoons, foxes, and skunks. Two examples of public equine rabies cases include the 2008 Missouri State Fair; and the 2006 Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, which required the notification of more than 150,000 people for potential rabies exposure.

Rabies is the deadliest among the five core equine diseases, which also include Eastern and Western equine encephalomyelitis, tetanus, and West Nile. Horses are continually exposed to wildlife and mosquitoes that transmit core equine diseases. Whether kept in a barn or pasture, remind horse owners that their companions are not spared from dangerous disease risks. As such, core disease vaccinations are recommended annually as part of overall equine wellness, according to the American Association of Equine Practitioners core vaccination guidelines.

“Any of the core diseases can be a death sentence for an exposed horse—and alarmingly, with exposure to an animal infected with rabies—family members, friends, and any other persons exposed are also at risk of losing their lives to rabies disease, which is always fatal,” said Kevin Hankins, DVM, MBA, senior technical services veterinarian with Zoetis. “A horse owner’s best defense against these devastating diseases is through annual core disease vaccination.”

Dr. Rush offers insight that illustrates equine rabies risk. More information on core and risk-based vaccination needs can be found at

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