Attention! This is a potentially life-threatening condition for your horse. Time is of the essence, contact your veterinarian immediately.Find a Vet


Hydrophobia, Lyssavirus

Rabies is a fatal viral disease that affects the central nervous system of humans and other mammals, including horses. The disease causes progressive inflammation of the brain and spinal cord (known as encephalitis), resulting in death. Rabies occurs in most parts of the world, including Europe, Africa, the Americas, the Middle East and most of Asia. Rabies is not present in Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Japan, Singapore, Papua New Guinea and the Pacific Islands. However, there is a similar and related virus present in Australia, known as Australian bat lyssavirus, which is a type of lyssavirus, similar to Rabies. Both viruses belong to the Rhabdoviridae family.

Due to the availability of a vaccine, rabies in horses in North America is relatively uncommon. However, horses that aren't vaccinated against rabies are at risk of the disease. There is no known treatment to Rabies. The disease is 100 percent fatal to all infected animals, including humans. This is why it is very important to vaccinate horses for Rabies on a yearly basis.

Clinical Signs of Rabies

The clinical signs of rabies are variable, depending on where the infection occurs in the brain. Most frequent signs include sudden behavioral changes, followed by progressive paralysis, coma and death. The course of the disease is quick, lasting 4-7 days, sometimes less. Rabies always ends in death.

How Rabies is Spread

Horses are exposed to the rabies virus through exposure to saliva of an infected (rabid) animals---which usually occurs often from bites. Any mammal can become infected with rabies, but the most common hosts of threat to horses include raccoons, skunks, wild dogs, foxes, opossums, bats, or mongooses.

Horses are usually bitten on the muzzle, face, and lower limbs. Once bitten, the virus migrates via nerves to the horse's brain, where it initiates rapidly progressive, invariably fatal encephalitis. Rabies exposure and transmission occur only when the virus is introduced into bite wounds, into open cuts in skin, or onto mucous membranes from saliva or other potentially infectious material such as neural tissue.

How Long Until Horses Get Rabies

The incubation period for rabies in horses varies from 2-10 weeks depending on what part of the body is bitten. The average incubation period in horses is 12 days.


Behavioral changes
Extreme agitation
Head tilt or pressing
Ascending paralysis
Tail weakness
Inability to get up
Bladder incontinence
Teeth grinding
Drawing lips back and forth
Excessive salivation
Pharyngeal paralysis
Abnormal vocalization
Erratic drinking
Loss of appetite


  • History
  • Clinical signs
  • Necropsy - Hemorrhagic malacia in the spinal cord.
  • Fluorescent antibody test - of the brain

While waiting for your veterinarian

  • Horses suspected of having rabies should be handled with care, and all those in contact with the horse should wear protective gear including eye goggles, face shields/masks, and gloves during interaction with the animal.



Report diseaseRabies is a reportable disease, meaning that if you suspect that your horse has this disease, by law you need to report it to your veterinarian, or a state or federal veterinarian.
If horses are exposed to a rabid animal that are currently vaccinatedShould receive immediate revaccination by a licensed veterinarian. The horses will need to be keep on strict observation (as directed by public health officials) for 45 days for development of clinical signs of rabiesAAEP Guidelines
If unvaccinated horses are potentially exposed to a rabid animalHorse owners should contact their public health official immediately as they will have established requirements and conditions for the monitoring and/or disposition of exposed, unvaccinated animals. These officials will dictate what options are available for the exposed horse. (These options may include isolation and immediate post-exposure immunization of the horse). Alternatively, the horse can be euthanatized immediately.AAEP Guidelines


  • Ensure that adult horses are vaccinated once a year.
  • Fence off horse pastures using woven wire fencing that limits wild or domestic animals from entering.



Scientific Research

General Overviews

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Risk Factors

  • Non-vaccinated horses
  • Horses living in areas with recent history of a rabies outbreak.

Causative agent