Rabies is a serious viral disease that affects many mammals, including horses. Understanding the causes, symptoms, and prevention of rabies in horses is essential for horse owners and handlers to protect both the equine population and themselves. In this article, we will explore the various aspects of rabies in horses, including its transmission, diagnosis, prevention, treatment, and the importance of public awareness.


Rabies is a zoonotic disease caused by the rabies virus, belonging to the Rhabdoviridae family. It affects the central nervous system of mammals, leading to severe neurological symptoms and, ultimately, death. While rabies is commonly associated with dogs and wildlife such as raccoons, bats, and foxes, it can also affect horses.

Rabies is an important disease to understand because of its potential to spread rapidly and pose a significant threat to public health. The disease is almost always fatal once clinical signs appear, making prevention and early detection crucial. 

Rabies is a neurological disease that causes encephalitis ( inflammation of the Brain). The disease can affect all mammals including Humans. Although rabies occurs rarely in horses, it’s inevitably fatal.


It is caused by the rabies virus. 

FAMILY:        Rhabdoviridae

GENUS:      Lyssavirus


The Rabies virus is usually transmitted by the bite of an infected animal in its saliva.  If the saliva gets in the mouth, nose, eyes, or a cut on a person or animal, the virus can be transmitted without a bite.  An animal’s bite can be infectious before the animal looks at all sick.  The most common source of rabies in human cases worldwide is dogs, but in                             

  the USA and Canada, it is bats.  It can be hard to tell if a horse has been bitten by another animal, especially a bat, as the wound may be tiny and covered with hair.  People can be bitten by small bats without realizing it, especially if the bat bites them while they are sleeping.                                                                                     


 Typically, 2 to 6 weeks, although longer incubation periods have been reported


     Clinical Signs

  • Highly variable
  • In unvaccinated horses, rabies is rapidly progressive with death occurring 5-7 

 days following the onset of clinical signs.

• Insidious onset is the hallmark of equine rabies. Frequently reported initial 

 clinical signs include lameness, colic, dysuria, priapism, and neurologic abnormalities.

Physical signs may include:

  • Fever
  • Anorexia
  • Blindness
  • Dysphagia
  • Hyperesthesia – manifests as self-mutilation
  • Muscle twitching
  • Lameness
  • Paresis and/or ataxia  Incontinence
  • Paralysis – ascending
  • Sudden death

Behavioral signs: 

  • Dumb form: depression/stupor 
  • Furious form: mania – these horses are extremely dangerous   

            RISK FACTOR                                                                                                                                 

  • Unvaccinated horses
  • 24-hour access to pasture
  • Resident in an endemic area


There is NO effective treatment for rabies, therefore rabies prevention, including vaccination, is critical. 

Any bite wound from a potentially rabid animal, be it in a person, pet or horse, should be cleaned vigorously right away with large volumes of soap and water for 15 minutes, then disinfected with alcohol, povidone iodine or a quaternary ammonium compound to eliminate as much virus as possible from the wound. If your pet or horse is bitten, contact your veterinarian.  If a person is bitten they also need to be given antibodies against the virus right away, and then vaccinated several times.  For adults this requires 5 injections in the upper arm over several weeks. 

Rabies Vaccines  Rabies vaccines for horses are readily available.  All horses should be vaccinated against rabies.  Foals from vaccinated mares should receive their first rabies vaccine at six months of age, and another at seven months of age.  Foals from unvaccinated mares should receive their first rabies vaccine at three to four months of age, followed by a booster four weeks later.  All horses should be vaccinated at 12 months of age, then once a year after that. Broodmares should be vaccinated once a year, ideally 46 weeks before foaling or before breeding.  A licensed veterinarian must give all vaccines, including rabies. If the vaccine is not given by a veterinarian, the horse will be treated as unvaccinated. For more details visit our website

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