CSU veterinarians say an inexpensive, widely available vaccine can help protect livestock, horses and pets from exposure to rabies, which is being carried by an increasing number of skunks in the state.
Bats have spread rabies in Colorado for many years, but more skunks in Colorado have become infected, which has increased risk in livestock and horses. Contributing factors include skunk and wildlife habitat changes as well as human movement that can spread the disease into other areas.
Colorado State University’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory provides disease testing services to veterinarians and their clients, many state and federal agencies, livestock owners and pet owners. The laboratory diagnoses and recommends further diagnostic strategies for ill animals. It also monitors the health of animals across the state and region, helping to detect and prevent diseases in animals and diseases affecting public health.
CSU veterinarians recommend vaccinating:
• Horses and livestock, particularly such pet livestock as llamas and alpacas, once a year.
• Commercial production livestock in locations demonstrating high skunk activity.
• Cats and dogs.
All warm-blooded animals, including humans, can be infected with rabies. Most animals die from rabies within 10 days of developing signs of infection.
If an animal is suspected to have rabies, avoid human and other animal contact, find a veterinarian who can assess the situation and contain the spread of the disease.
“Symptoms of rabies can be difficult to distinguish from other illnesses, and you risk exposing animals and people while animals are being diagnosed,” said Dean Hendrickson, director of the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at Colorado State. “The danger is especially high this year, and generally speaking, while it’s rare for livestock or horses to contract rabies in Colorado, it is extremely important to work to prevent animals from contracting the disease.”
Wounds from a rabid skunk bite may not be visible or easy to detect on livestock or horses. Symptoms mimic other more common illnesses and could be confused with regular colic or a foot or leg injury. Rabies also can enter the body through cuts or scratches and can be spread to people through contact with saliva or bodily fluids.
“A rabies bite to an animal that has not been vaccinated is invariably fatal,” Hendrickson said.
Among the signs of rabies in animals:
• Changed or altered behavior
• Acting nervous or agitated
• Vicious, unprovoked attacks
• Excessive salivation and difficulty swallowing
• Roaming or separation from the herd
• Unusual sexual activity
• Abnormal vocalizations
• Ascending paralysis, typically beginning in hind limbs
• Signs of colic such as lying down more than usual or getting up and lying down repeatedly, rolling, standing stretched out, repeatedly curling the upper lip, pawing the ground and kicking at the abdomen
• Self mutilation
• Sensitivity to light
Vaccines range in price for different animals. Cattle vaccines are available for less than $5 each, and horse vaccines range from $10 to $15, depending upon the number of animals vaccinated. Rabies vaccination should be repeated annually for horses and cattle. Some rabies vaccines are good for three years in sheep.
Camelids – a group of animals that include alpacas and llamas – may be effectively vaccinated with any vaccine labeled for sheep or cattle. Due to the lack of formal government approval on vaccines for camelids, state veterinary and public health officials may still treat camelids as non-vaccinated animals during an incident. CSU veterinarians recommend that camelid owners consult with their veterinarian before beginning a rabies vaccination program for their animals.
Rabies vaccines do not have to be administered to livestock or horses by a veterinarian, but animals not vaccinated by a veterinarian may be treated differently by officials who respond to a potential rabies case.
“If the vaccinations for cattle, sheep and goats are given by a veterinarian and proper records are kept, then those animals should be considered rabies vaccinated by Public Health officials if there is exposure. Vaccinations can be given by the producer in order to save cost but animals may not be considered rabies vaccinated if exposure occurs,” said Dr. Rob Callan, head of the university’s livestock veterinary service. “This distinction affects the length of quarantine and how animals are handled after exposure.”
If an infected skunk, bat, raccoon or dog has been identified with rabies, do not handle or approach that animal or that animal’s carcass. If possible, safely secure the body; veterinarians can submit the body to test it for rabies.
To reduce the chances of livestock, pets or human exposure to rabies:
• Do not feed or handle wildlife
• Do not relocate rabies reservoir species such as skunks or raccoons
• Exclude bats from homes, barns and other outbuildings
Rabies virus does not live for long periods outside of a human or animal and is easily destroyed by soap and water or common household disinfectants.
For information on human rabies illness, go to http://www.cdphe.state.co.us/dc/zoonosis/rabies/. In Larimer County, go to http://larimer.org/health/ehs/rabies.htm.