This month, a horse in Jefferson Davis Parish and a dog in Lafayette Parish have been diagnosed as having rabies. In addition, two skunks were found to have the disease. And while dogs and cats are required by law to be vaccinated against the disease, there is no such law covering horses.
"Rabies is endemic in Louisiana. There are laws covering pets, but not livestock. However, the American Association of Equine Practitioners has added rabies vaccination as part of their core recommendations." said Dr. Christine Navarre, of the Louisiana State University (LSU) AgCenter. She added that the cost of rabies vaccination is no more than other vaccinations.
Horses can contract rabies if they are bitten by an infected animal. Skunks and bats are the main carrier of the disease, according to records compiled since 1986 by the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine. According to Navarre, skunks and bats could easily bite a horse if they are rabid, since infected animals tend to lose their fear of larger animals and are active in daylight hours. Symptoms in a horse vary widely but include depression, refusal to eat, wobbly gait, lying down and appearing to have stomach pain. The only way a positive confirmation of the disease can be determined is to euthanize the animal and conduct analysis of the brain tissue.
In Louisiana, the highest number of infected animals recorded was eighty two in 1994, and the lowest was three in 1998. Last year rabies was confirmed in only five animals.