Colic or Rabies — Similar Symptoms Can Place Horse Owners at Risk

In this story from Zoetis, a horse thought to have colic actually had rabies.

The horse in this article had raccoon rabies.

5:00 a.m. — “The horse was in extreme distress and the horse owners agreed: The only option to alleviate the suffering was euthanasia,” said Ed Murray, DVM, owner of Coosa Valley Equine Center in Pell City, Alabama. Murray shared his experience about a devastating case that stands out among his 47 years of being an equine veterinarian.

“The horse was admitted the day before for what the referring veterinarian thought was a colic episode. We had performed numerous ultrasounds, diagnostic tests and blood work; each time, the bloodwork and tests came back with very nonspecific results,” Murray said. “The horse had started to show signs of neurologic issues, but he did have elevated liver enzymes, which was concerning.”

“We were in surgery and a barn tech alerted us that one of the horses had literally chewed a volleyball sized hole in his side. We bandaged the wound to protect it from infection and to stop additional chewing. His condition deteriorated throughout the day and the ensuing night.”

“Here we were with a horse with an undiagnosed condition. We knew it was of neurological character, but through our diagnostics tests, thought it could be hepatic encephalopathy or an encephalomyelitis. We conducted an autopsy, but didn’t find anything of significance in the body and decided to send the brain matter in for testing. The next day was when we got the call from the state lab that this horse had rabies of raccoon origin.”

Murray’s firsthand rabies experience enforced Coosa Valley Equine Center’s mindset on the importance of rabies vaccination. “We’re not only going to recommend, but insist on rabies vaccination,” Dr. Murray said. Preventive care through annual vaccination is the only way to protect horses against rabies.

According to the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP), there are five potentially deadly core equine diseases—including rabies—that pose the greatest threat to your horse. Rabies is a zoonotic disease, meaning it can transfer from animals to humans, adding an additional threat to horse owners, clinic staff and anyone else exposed to the animal.

“The horse’s family, over 15 veterinarians and clinic staff members from two practices, and a few other horses on the farm were all exposed to rabies,” Murray said. “We are now committed to vaccinating all horses for rabies with Core EQ Innovator, and annual vaccination goes with the territory for the horses in our care.”

The first and only vaccine to contain all core equine disease antigens in one injection, Core EQ Innovator protects against West Nile virus, Eastern and Western equine encephalomyelitis, tetanus and rabies.

“The ease of administration and efficacy are a few reasons why we’ve been very happy with Core EQ Innovator,” Murray said. “Our experience with it has been good; we’ve had no problems and our horse owner satisfaction has been very high.

“Our first priority in our vaccination program is to protect the horse from diseases they can die from. Also through rabies vaccination in horses, horse owners’ exposure to rabies—which is a zoonotic disease—is prevented.”

Rabies is not only a devastating disease, but it is also costly for veterinarians and horse owners. Beyond the personal and financial cost of a lost horse, rabies post-exposure vaccination could cost an estimated $7,500 per person. Effective prevention with annual vaccination can help prevent these costs.

Contact your Zoetis representative or visit for information.

About Zoetis

Zoetis is the leading animal health company, dedicated to supporting its customers and their businesses. Building on more than 65 years of experience in animal health, Zoetis discovers, develops, manufactures and commercializes medicines, vaccines and diagnostic products, which are complemented by biodevices, genetic tests and a range of services. Zoetis serves veterinarians, livestock producers and people who raise and care for farm and companion animals with sales of its products in more than 100 countries. In 2018, the company generated annual revenue of $5.8 billion with approximately 10,000 employees. For more information, visit






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