The Colorado Department of Agriculture and Tri-County Health Department have confirmed that an alpaca in Douglas County has died due to a rabies infection. Pet owners are urged to check records to ensure rabies vaccinations are up-to-date. Livestock can also be infected with rabies and owners are encouraged to discuss the risk of rabies exposure with their local veterinarian.
“Rabies can spread from wild animals such as skunks, bats, raccoons and foxes to other mammals. There has been evidence of rabid skunks in the Denver metropolitan area since January. Rabies is a deadly disease and vaccination is the single best method to protect your pets and livestock. People can get rabies if an animal in their home or on their property gets sick from being bitten by a rabid animal,” said John M. Douglas, Jr., MD, Executive Director of Tri-County Health Department.
“Livestock owners need to be aware that rabies exposure can happen on their property, especially from rabid skunks that gain entry into barns or animal pens. Veterinarians are a valuable resource to help producers decide the best course of action to protect their herds from rabies. Additionally, while house pets are often vaccinated, barn cats or outdoor pets are often forgotten,” said State Veterinarian, Dr. Keith Roehr. “Animal owners concerned about rabies exposure need to look for any dramatic behavioral changes. That is typically one of the hallmark signs that the animal may be suffering from rabies. But do not approach these animals.”
According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, so far in 2018, 32 animals from Colorado have tested positive for rabies – mostly in skunks. Of those, 12 rabid animals were known or strongly suspected of exposing 33 domestic pets, 7 livestock animals, and 2 people. For statewide data, please visit colorado.gov/pacific/cdphe/rabies-data.
Rabies is a viral disease in mammals that infects the brain. Rabies symptoms fall into two types: “aggressive” and “dumb.” Animals with aggressive rabies are combative and have unusually aggressive behavior such as excessive biting. 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 is spread primarily by saliva through the bite of a rabid animal. Once symptoms of rabies infection appear, there is no cure and the infection is fatal. People that have been exposed to rabies can receive medication treatment to prevent illness. For pets and livestock, routine rabies vaccination is the best way to protect animals from infection. Animal vaccination regimens vary so livestock and pet owners are urged to discuss the vaccine with their local veterinarian. Pet vaccination is also required in many jurisdictions for licensure.
In addition to ensuring that pets and livestock are vaccinated properly against rabies, here are additional prevention steps:
- Be aware of skunks out during the day. This is abnormal behavior and these animals should be avoided.
- Be aware of areas that can be suitable habitat for skunks such as dark holes, under buildings, and under equipment.
- Do not feed wild animals or allow your pets around them. Be sure to teach children to stay away from wild animals. Avoid leaving pet food outside as that may attract a wild animal.
- Contact your veterinarian right away, if any of your animals are bitten or scratched by any wild animal, particularly skunks, bats, foxes or raccoons.
- If your animals exhibit any dramatic behavioral changes, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible. Isolate and avoid contact with these animals if possible.
- If you have been bitten or scratched by a wild animal, contact your physician and local health department right away.
- Rabies vaccination should be considered for horses and other equines, breeding livestock, dairy cattle or other livestock.
- 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 directly touch the skunk with bare hands.
If you have questions about rabies call your local health department and if you live in Adams, Arapahoe or Douglas counties call Tri-County Health Department at 303-220-9200 or COHELP, the statewide public health information line at 1-877-462-2911. Additional information can also be found at the Tri- County Health Department website at tchd.org/rabies.