All About Rabies in Horses

rabies in horses

Rabies is a serious disease that can affect horses and other animals, including humans. It is caused by a virus found in the saliva of an infected animal and is spread through contact with infected saliva or wound contamination. Rabies can be fatal if left untreated and it is essential to take steps to prevent this disease from occurring in horses.

How is Rabies in Horses Contracted?

Rabies is a virus that is contracted most often through the bite of an infected animal, including horses. Unvaccinated horses are especially susceptible to contracting rabies from other animals or humans. Rabies can also be contracted by coming into contact with saliva from an infected animal. This includes contact with an open wound on the skin, mucous membranes, or eyes.

Symptoms of Rabies in Horses

Horses infected with rabies usually exhibit a variety of symptoms. Common signs include:

  • Depression
  • Ataxia
  • Apparent weakness
  • Muscle tremors 
  • Spasms
  • Lameness
  • Paralysis
  • Colic
  • Urinary incontinence

Signs of the disease can also vary depending on the severity of the infection. 

Two forms of rabies exist in horses:

  • Paralytic rabies is the more common form of this disease in horses, with symptoms including dysphagia (difficulty swallowing) or choking, muscle tremors, ataxia (incoordination), weakness, or paralysis.
  • Furious rabies, on the other hand, is marked by aggression, excitability, and sometimes even the sensation of electric shock.


Diagnosing rabies in horses is often a complex process. It requires veterinarians to consider a variety of factors and look for signs that may indicate the presence of the virus. To make an accurate diagnosis, several tests are usually required, including physical examination, laboratory testing, and observation.

Veterinarians will typically look at samples from the nervous system and saliva for further testing. These tests can reveal if the horse has been exposed to the virus, but they cannot confirm a diagnosis of rabies.

Prevention is Better than Cure

Prevention is the best measure against rabies in horses. Vaccinating horses regularly helps to reduce their risk of contracting the disease and can be done as a one-time injection or as an annual booster, depending on your area’s needs. If a horse has not been vaccinated, it should receive two doses of vaccine at least three weeks apart. It is also important to keep all horses up-to-date on their vaccinations, as the immunity they receive from them decreases over time. Additionally, it is important to practice good horse management by avoiding contact with wild animals, checking fences and gates regularly for breaks or openings, and watching your horse closely for signs of infection.



There is no known cure for rabies in horses. Treatment of clinical signs or symptoms can only be done to alleviate the animal’s suffering and improve its quality of life. Treatments include anti-inflammatory drugs, sedatives and painkillers.


Are horses immune to rabies?

No, horses are not naturally immune to rabies, but there are vaccinations available that can help protect them.

How fast does rabies progress in horses?

The speed of rabies progression in horses can vary, but typically the virus progresses rapidly if it is left untreated. The horse may die within five to seven days after the emergence of symptoms.

How often do horses need rabies?

Horses should be vaccinated against rabies once a year, or as directed by your veterinarian. 

How do you test a horse for rabies?

The only way to diagnose rabies in horses is through laboratory testing. A veterinarian will take a sample of brain tissue from the horse and send it to a lab for analysis.

Can horses transmit rabies to humans?

Yes, horses can transmit rabies to humans. It is important to take precautions when handling a horse that may be infected with rabies, such as wearing protective gloves and washing hands after contact with the animal.

How long after exposure does rabies appear?

The incubation period for rabies can vary from 1 week to 1 year, depending on the severity of the bite. It is important to seek medical treatment as soon as possible after exposure, even if the horse appears healthy at first.


Rabies Has Many Faces

Rabies in Horses

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