’s latest reader poll asked the question "If you knew rabies had been found in wildlife in your area, would you vaccinate your horse for it?"

  • 79% of respondents said they already vaccinate against rabies annually.
  • 16.5% said they don’t currently vaccinate but would if it was found in wildlife in the area.
  • 4% still wouldn’t vaccinate.

The high vaccination rate is very encouraging and is a good sign, considering that rabies, while rare, is 100% fatal in horses and is preventable with early vaccination.

Here are some reader comments (with some additional commentary from me):

Develop a strong immune system instead try to avoid all the drugs

  • Keeping your horse healthy is a good disease prevention measure, but it is not good enough for prevention of rabies. This is a foolish approach to rabies prevention.

Used to yrly. vaccinate in MI, but vets here in KY don’t recommend it/My Vet keeps telling me it is not necessary, same with my daughter horses. I disagree.

  • This, and a few other comments about veterinarians not recommending vaccination is very surprising and concerning. Rabies vaccination is considered a "core" vaccine in North America and it makes no sense for veterinarians to be actively discouraging vaccination.

Too many adverse reactions…bad outbreak, might reconsider/There have been too many adverse reactions to the vaccine, I won’t take the risk of vaccinating.

  • Adverse reactions can occur with any vaccine, but they are quite rare with rabies vaccine. Sometimes, horses react when they are given a variety of vaccines at the same time, and it might not be rabies vaccine with that caused the problem. Often, the risk of adverse reactions is just used as an excuse not to vaccinate, even if the horse has never had a problem. 

Vaccination is necessary when horses are turned out nearly 24/7

  • Yes. It’s also necessary when horses are inside 24/7. Wildlife (especially bats) easily and often get into barns.

I don’t vaccinate yearly because I test titers and they remain high for many years.

  • Titre testing is not useful because we don’t know what a protective titre is. You can take a titre and get a result, but that doesn’t mean the horse is protected. Also, if your horse is exposed, it would be considered unvaccinated by government officials if it had not been recently vaccinated, regardless of titres.

I would be especially diligent to vaccinate if aware of a wildlife outbreak of rabies/I have only vaccinated when there have been cases of rabies, otherwise, I don’t.

  • I have a couple of problems with this type of approach. Firstly, you only recognize an outbreak AFTER a large number of animals get sick. Waiting until someone reports an outbreak doesn’t help you if your horses are among the first ones affected. Also, rabies isn’t a disease that mainly occurs in outbreaks. It is a sporadic disease, where single cases or small numbers of cases pop up all the time. Only worrying about it during an outbreak doesn’t help.

I would vaccinate my dogs and cats, but not my horse.

  • Why? If there is a risk of the dogs and cats being exposed, there’s a risk of the horse being exposed. (Maybe they like their dogs and cats more!)

I can’t buy rabies vaccine only vets can get it so I don’t give rabies shots.

  • So, if I can’t do it myself (translation, if I can’t do it very cheaply), I won’t do it. Not a good infection control program.

NEED ANOTHER CHOICE! I run titers. Vac. is indicated every 3-5 years

  • Nope. Vaccination is safe and effective. Standard recommendations are for yearly vaccination. Could we extend that, as is now done with dogs and cats (in which 3 year vaccines are now widely used)? Probably, but we don’t have the data to guide us. We can make some reasonable guesses, but do you really want to use a vaccination program designed to protect against a fatal disease to be based on guesses?

The chances of my horses being bit by a rabid critter are slim to none. I don’t believe in vaccines

  • I don’t think anyone can say that the chance of their horse encountering a rabid critter is slim to none. People encounter rabid critters inside their houses, while walking down the street and in various other situations. I certainly didn’t plan on catching a rabid bat in my house, but it happened.
  • Not believing in vaccines is just ignorance. Vaccination is critical for protection against a wide range of diseases. Can adverse reactions occur? Sure, but they are very uncommon (internet rumour mills aren’t facts). Do vaccines prevent infections and save lives? Undoubtedly. What happened when people started avoiding MMR vaccines in kids because of now-discredited autism concerns? Lots of people got sick.

Live in UK, no rabies here generally

  • Good reason. Rabies vaccination isn’t needed in rabies-free countries.

Fortunately, there were also a lot of logical comments like:

  • I never go without this vaccination. it’s way to risky!!!
  • With all the wildlife around, it’s not worth risking an unintended encounter causing big problems.
  • Why would you take a chance and not vaccinate…
  • Ever since my uncle’s horse died of rabies, I have vaccinated all my horses annually.
  • Are you kidding? Who’d take a chance with rabies?

And as one person so eloquently put it "DUH!"

Apart from the extremely small small number of horses with known and potentially severe reactions to rabies vaccine (not just any vaccine, specifically rabies vaccine), and those living in rabies-free countries, all horses should be vaccinated.

Image: A Little Brown Bat (Myotis lucifugus) roosting under the eaves of a house (click image for source)

This Worms & Germs blog entry was originally posted on equIDblog on 15-Sep-10.