By William P. Thompson
PNT Staff Writer
Following a documented case of rabies in a Lea County horse earlier this month, area veterinarians are encouraging horse owners to get their horses vaccinated. So far, officials from the New Mexico Department of Public Health say the horse in Lea County is the only known rabies case to affect a horse in the area, but it’s best to err on the side of caution.
Chris Minnick, regional public information officer for the health department said the Lea County case should awaken some concern.
“ We just have this one case, “ Minnick said, “but It serves to remind farmers and ranchers and anyone who has domestic animals that rabies exists in the area. We believe the horse was bitten by a wild animal, possibly a skunk.”
A health department press release states that some Lea County residents have reported wild skunks attacking livestock. Portales veterinarian, Dr. Kathryn Bartlett said no such reports have crossed her desk locally, but she strongly recommends that Portales-area horse owners get their horses vaccinated.
“In the past few years more people have become aware that horses can get rabies,” she said. “Rabies is not as common in horses as in cats or dogs.”
Minnick emphasized that rabies can be deadly to animals and humans.
“A horse can get bitten by a wild animal and a human can get rabies from the horse. By protecting your animals you are protecting yourself,” Minnick said. “Vaccination is the key to preventing spread of the disease. You can’t prevent wild animals from coming into contact with domestic animals in rural areas.”
Veterinarian Dr. Richard Mobley of the New Mexico Large Animal Hospital in Clovis said it might not be economically feasible to vaccinate herds of cattle, and there is no reason to expect large-scale rabies infestations of cattle, but he said it is possible for cattle to be bitten by rabid animals.
“It’s just not that common of a thing,” Mobley said. “I can see where horse owners might want to get their horses vaccinated, but I haven’t received any calls from horse owners since that rabies case (in Lea County).
Portales horse owner Jana Terry said her family owns five horses.
“We haven’t vaccinated our horses, but we will probably consider it. I was just reading a magazine article on it (the rabies case in Lea County),” she said.
Bartlett gave an example for horse owners to consider. She said if a horse was choking, the horse owner would naturally want to stick his or her hand in the horse’s mouth to remove the obstruction.
”But what if the horse had rabies?” Bartlett asked.
Mobley said the procedure for vaccinating horses is the same procedure used for vaccinating cats and dogs.
“There are two initial shots and then one every year,” he said.