By Ola Bovin, SLV Regional Epidemiologist
I heard a rumor the other day that rabies vaccinations are not necessary for pets and livestock that live in the countryside. I don't know how this rumor started, but here is what I do know.
Less than two years ago in New Mexico 32 dogs, 1 cat, and 10 sheep had to be euthanized over a three-month period after they were exposed to a rabid fox. During that same period tests showed that 22 skunks in the area were infected with rabies. What makes this outbreak especially painful is that the euthanasia of almost all of these animals could have been prevented if only their rabies vaccinations had been up-to-date.
Rabies Incidence Increasing in Colorado
Since 2007 Colorado has seen a huge increase in rabies, carried by skunks, from the east and westward across the state. There has always been a certain level of rabies carried by bats here, but the shift of rabies into the skunk population is problematic because skunks share a habitat with so many other land mammals. Rabies is spread by saliva, so animal conflicts and bites speed the spread of the disease.
Any pet owner knows how irresistible it can be for a pet when a wild animal is in sight. Dogs love to chase wild animals like squirrels, skunks, and raccoons. Even if your dog doesn't attack the wild animal, a rabid animal suffering with inflammation of the brain could attack your dog because rabies will cause an animal to act outside of normal behavior.
You may say, my cat is always indoors. I say make sure the rabies vaccinations are up-to-date anyway. We often hear of bats entering homes, and what cat wouldn't go for a flapping bat?
What if you're infected?
Rabies is serious. It can spread to humans. Once symptoms start, rabies is almost always fatal. However, if an animal bite is reported right away there are some options. In some cases the animal can be quarantined and observed to rule out rabies exposure. If the biting animal is part of a rabies reservoir population like a skunk or a bat, the animal's brain will be tested for rabies. If necessary, rabies vaccine or rabies immune globulin can be given to the exposed person.
My blog, slvrabies.blogspot.com, gives information about how pet exposures must be handled, and shows clearly that rabies vaccinations can save a pet owner a lot of time and money, and more importantly, they can save your animal's life. If you have questions about rabies, call your veterinarian or your local Public Health Agency.
Don't procrastinate. Vaccinate!