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We generally don’t think about horses when someone mentions rabies. The first images that come to mind are “mad” dogs frothing at the mouth, or wild animals such as skunks, foxes, raccoons and coyotes becoming aggressive and attacking people.
But humans are more apt to become exposed to rabies through an unvaccinated horse or pet than by a wild animal. Rabid horses generally don’t become aggressive and bite (although some do), but they can still expose any person who comes into contact with their saliva.
The initial signs of rabies in horses are often vague and vary greatly. A rabid horse may exhibit anything from lameness to colic, agitation or depression. Some horses become very dull and sleepy. The signs may be mistaken for poisoning or some other disease with neurologic symptoms. The horse owner or veterinarian may not suspect rabies, and often several people are inadvertently exposed when trying to examine or treat the horse.
If the first symptom is lameness, the horse owner may call a farrier. If you are that farrier, it is important to keep the possibility of rabies in the back of your mind.
Several regions of the country, especially Texas, experienced higher numbers of rabies cases during 2011. Dr. James L. Alexander, a regional zoonosis-control veterinarian with the Texas Department of State Health Services, says that by September 15, 2011, there had been 773 confirmed rabies cases statewide, compared with a total of 773 for the entire year of 2010. (A…