In response to surging reports of rabies, Colorado State University and the Larimer Humane Society are offering two free vaccination clinics in Fort Collins on Saturday to help pet owners protect their animals from the deadly – but completely preventable – viral disease.
“One of the more frequent questions asked by our clients is whether their pet really needs a rabies vaccine,” said Dr. Rebecca Ruch-Gallie, a veterinarian at CSU’s James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital. “The short answer is, ‘Yes.’”
The two free clinics are meant for pets whose rabies vaccinations are due or overdue, according to recommendations from their vets.
The clinics will run 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, Aug. 17, at two Fort Collins locations: the Murphy Center for Hope, 242 Conifer St.; and Eagle View Veterinary Clinic, 4100 Kechter Road.
CSU veterinary students are donating time to assist with the clinics, and pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim is donating rabies vaccine.
Rabies is a preventable viral disease that can be passed among animals, and from animals to people. The rabies vaccine provides nearly 100-percent protection from the disease. Without it, a bite or scratch from an infected animal can transmit a virus that attacks the central nervous system, causing brain disorder and death.
“It is usually transmitted by the bite of a rabid animal,” Ruch-Gallie said. “The first signs of rabies include fever and lethargy. Neurologic signs follow shortly and can range from paralysis to agitation. Excess salivation and difficulty swallowing are the classic signs.”
Rabies is a growing concern in northern Colorado because confirmed cases of the disease have spiked to record levels in small wild animals, especially skunks. Skunks – along with foxes, bats, and raccoons – are the animals most likely to transmit rabies to horses, livestock and pets.
The number of rabid skunks reported in Colorado has increased more than 50 percent since 2010, with the first skunk rabies case in a populated area of Larimer County occurring in spring 2012, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
The number of reported rabies cases is rising overall in Larimer County, now totaling 43 known infected animals: 29 skunks, six bats, four raccoons, three foxes, and one barn kitten– Larimer County’s only reported domestic feline infection in 55 years. The infected kitten reportedly bit or scratched eight people, who immediately sought medical attention for rabies.
Nearby counties likewise have reported rising rabies, including confirmation of rabies in a bull in Weld County. Horses also have been victims in northern Colorado.
“Rabid animals are often described to have behavioral changes including ‘fury,’” said Hana Van Campen, a virology expert with CSU’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratories. “People should beware of irregular wildlife behavior, such as loss of fear of humans, appearance of a normally nocturnal species in daylight, and sudden death.”
The mounting number of confirmed cases among small wild animals – likely just a portion of the total – means a rising risk of rabies for horses, livestock and pets that are not vaccinated. Domestic animals account for less than 10 percent of rabies cases annually, yet pets with rabies pose serious risk to humans.
“We need to focus vaccination efforts on animals that are going to be in close contact with people,” said Dr. Robert Callan, head of Livestock Medicine and Surgery at the CSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital. “With urban agriculture on the rise, it’s important that all pets are vaccinated. This includes cats, dogs, horses, cattle, sheep, goats, swine and llamas. Rabies vaccination is an important step in minimizing the risk of transmission of rabies from animals to humans.”
More rabies information:
• Never touch a living or dead wild animal, especially a bat or skunk.
• If you encounter an animal acting abnormally, contact Larimer County Animal Control, (970) 226-3647, Ext. 7.
• If you have a domestic animal that might have been exposed to rabies, contact your veterinarian.
• The CSU Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratories provide rabies testing for animals. For information, visit http://csu-cvmbs.colostate.edu/vdl or call (970) 297-1281.
• The CSU James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital provides rabies vaccination for large and small animals. For an appointment, call (970) 297-5000.
• People who regularly work with horses, livestock, and pets are urged to know the signs of rabies and to consider vaccinating themselves to protect against the disease.