What does rabies look like in an animal? With rabies on the rise on Ingham, Washtenaw and Oakland counties, wildlife control professionals, homeowners and all animal owners are getting more opportunities to see the disease at work. One vet records his first encounter with a rabid horse:
“This horse just went mad. He attacked a tractor, a manure spreader, the fence. He knocked all his front teeth out. Then he attacked a Hereford cow, took her down and just ripped on her. I never heard such a noise as came out of this horse. It was agonizing.” They were able to rope the horse and euthanize it before he injured anyone. “We thought it was probably bit by a skunk but we never knew for sure. We’d vaccinated the rest of the horses but it’s a big herd and this one young horse had somehow missed the vaccine. We had to quarantine eight other horses for six months but luckily I was able to convince the MDA it wasn’t necessary to quarantine the whole farm. It could’ve put them out of business.”
An Oakland County vet recalled his first time treating a rabid horse in a Washtenaw County stable n 2006:
“The client called in the morning and said the horse was very aggressive. It was sweating and biting other horses, running through fences and into trees, pretty much oblivious to everything. It was very much what you’d call classic rabies behavior. When I got there the horse was down on the ground. Even though it was a cold winter day, it was in a complete sweat. As I walked up, the horse literally took its last breath and expired on its own.” The autopsy confirmed the presence of rabies.
The same vet describes another encounter with a rabid horse in Oakland County:
“We’d noticed he was off his feed but we just thought at first it was a sore throat or something. He was just not eating, then he got a little stumbly, not sure on his feet.”
In each of these cases, wildlife control professionals believe the infected horses may have contracted the rabies from skunks or bats. There are two types of rabies: “furious” rabies and “dumb” rabies. Signs of furious rabies are foaming at the mouth, erratic behavior, attacking stationary objects, gnawing and biting their own limbs and extreme excitement and aggression. “Dumb” rabies is usually what animal removal specialists refer to as distemperment and is usually not rabies in the specific sense (see here for more on distemperment).