By James Beaty
McAlester veterinarian Dr. Paul Sells says a horse brought to his office has been confirmed to have rabies.
The owner brought the horse into Sells’ Oklahoma Vet Med office at 12 N. 14th St. when he observed it not eating, twitching and stumbling, Sells said. When the horse did not improve and tests for common equine illnesses tested negative, “The owner elected to euthanize him Wednesday,” Sells said.
Sells said he sent part of the horse to the Oklahoma Disease Diagnostic Hospital for testing.
“They transported it to the Oklahoma State Department of Health,” Sells said, where testing confirmed the illness. He said he got the results back late Friday afternoon.
“We got a positive test,” Sells said.
It’s the first positive rabies test for a horse in Pittsburg County in 2012 and in 2013, according to records maintained by the Oklahoma State Department of Health. The only confirmed case of rabies in Pittsburg County in 2012 were two cases involving skunks, according to health department records.
However, two neighboring counties, Latimer and McIntosh counties, had one case of confirmed rabies in horses each in 2012, records state.
The horse infected with rabies came from a few miles south of McAlester, Sells said. He is not certain how the Pittsburg County horse developed rabies, but he has a theory.
“Most likely it was bitten by a rabid skunk,” he said.
Sells said horses are curious animals, and he’s seen them “run” skunks around in a pasture. Some horses will put their noses to the ground to check out or try to push a skunk, which is, unfortunately, how they sometimes get bitten.
Sells said the horse he saw had no obvious bite wounds, but he said a wound could have healed between the time it had been bitten and the time the horse contracted the illness.
“It can be a two or three-month incubation period,” Sells said.
The horse had not attacked anyone, according to Sells. He said there are two forms of rabies, the “furious” form and the “dumb” form, where the animal is obviously ill, but not aggressive. This horse had the “dumb” kind, he said.
Sells mentioned that cattle can get rabies too. Since the illness is commonly transmitted through saliva, though, it’s more common for people to come into contact with the saliva of a horse.
Most people don’t come into contact with the mouths of cattle, Sells noted. It would be more common to come into contact with a horse’s mouth while doing things such as putting in a bit, or removing it, or checking the mouth for obstructions.
Sells wanted to remind horse owners that equine rabies vaccinations are available. Owners of other pets, such as dog and cats, should be aware that rabies have been confirmed in Pittsburg County, he said.
If the source of the illness was a skunk, it’s possible the animal is still out there, Sells said.
“The main thing is people don’t think about vaccinating for rabies on horses,” Sells said, noting the American Association of Equine Protection recommends that horses receive the vaccination
It usually costs around $15 to have a horse vaccinated by a veterinarian in the McAlester area, Sells said, although prices may vary from office-to-office.
Contact James Beaty at firstname.lastname@example.org
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