LAKEWOOD, Colo. – The Colorado Department of Agriculture is encouraging livestock and pet owners to discuss animal health concerns, including the rabies vaccine, with their local veterinarian after a horse in eastern Arapahoe County tested positive for rabies.
“The department would like to stress two very important points, ” said State Veterinarian, Dr. Keith Roehr. “One—animal owners need to be aware that rabies is transferring from one species to another and they should monitor their animals for symptoms; and two—local veterinarians are a valuable resource to help producers decide the best course of action to protect their livestock and pets from rabies. ”
According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, in 2009, there were a total of 103 rabies cases in 20 Colorado counties; one of those cases included a horse. In September 2009, a horse in El Paso County was euthanized and subsequent tests determined the horse was infected with rabies; public health experts believe the horse was exposed in July 2009 to a skunk on its home property in the Black Forest area.
As of April 12, a total of 28 animals have tested positive for rabies in Colorado in 2010: 25 skunks (13 from Elbert County), 1 domestic cat from Prowers County, 1 muskrat from Morgan County, and the 1 horse from eastern Arapahoe County.
Rabies is a viral disease infecting the brain and central nervous system. The clinical appearance of rabies typically falls into two types: “aggressive” and “dumb. ” Aggressive rabies symptoms include combativeness and violent behavior and sensitivity to touch and other kinds of stimulation. There is also a “dumb” form of the disease in which the animal is lethargic, weak in one or more limbs, and unable to raise its head or make sounds because its throat and neck muscles are paralyzed.
Rabies can be passed from animals to humans. Elisabeth Lawaczeck, state public health veterinarian at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment added, “The best way to protect your family from rabies is to keep your pets currently vaccinated for rabies through your local veterinarian, humane society, or animal shelter. Rabies vaccination performed by owners will not be recognized by local public health or animal control agencies for licensing or in the event of an exposure to a rabid animal. ”
Rabies is spread primarily through the bite of rabid animals, resulting in the spread of the disease through their infected saliva. Rabies also can be spread when saliva from an infected animal gets into open wounds, cuts or enters through membranes of the eyes, nose or mouth. No cure exists for rabies once symptoms appear although there is a vaccine to prevent the infection. Livestock and pet owners are urged to discuss the vaccine with their local veterinarian.
“Animal owners need to primarily look for any dramatic behavioral changes. That is typically one of the hallmark signs that the animal may be suffering from rabies, ” said Roehr.
Examples of unusual behavior include: wild mammals that show no fear of people and pets; nocturnal animals that are active in daylight; and bats found on the ground, in swimming pools or that have been caught by a pet. Rabid carnivores, such as skunks, foxes, bobcats, coyotes, dogs and cats, may become aggressive and may attempt to bite people, pets and livestock.
In addition to ensuring that pets and livestock are vaccinated properly against rabies, residents are encouraged to follow these prevention steps: Don’t feed wild animals or allow your pets around them. Be sure to teach children to stay away from wild mammals. Contact your veterinarian if your dog or cat is bitten or scratched by a wild animal, such as a skunk, bat, fox or raccoon. If you suspect you’ve been exposed to rabies, contact your physician without delay. Discuss rabies vaccination of your livestock with your veterinarian. Vaccination should be considered for horses and other equines, breeding livestock, dairy cattle or other high-value livestock, especially in areas of the state where skunks have been diagnosed with rabies. If you observe a wild mammal acting strangely, especially a skunk, or if you find a dead skunk that isn’t on your property, stay away from it. Strange behavior for a skunk would include being out and about during daytime hours. If you must remove a dead skunk on your property, wear rubber gloves or lift the carcass with a shovel or other tool, and double-bag it for the trash. Do not allow pet dogs or cats to roam freely, as this increases the chance they may be exposed without your knowledge. Keep dogs in a fenced in yard. Take precautions when camping, hunting or fishing. Avoid sleeping on the open ground without the protection of a closed tent or camper. Keep pets on a leash and do not allow them to wander.
Colorado State University