Colorado livestock affected by rabies
The Colorado Department of Agriculture is encouraging livestock owners to discuss animal health concerns with their local veterinarian after two rabies cases have been confirmed in livestock.
In September, a horse in El Paso County was euthanized after lab tests confirmed it had rabies. Public health experts believe the horse was exposed to a skunk on its home property in Black Forest area. Colorado has not recorded a horse with rabies in at least 25 years.
An El Paso County cow has also been infected with the rabies disease. The cow, located south of Calhan, has been euthanized. While the specific type of rabies is still unknown, it is possible that the cow was exposed to a skunk.
“The Department would like to stress two very important points,” said State Veterinarian, Dr. Keith Roehr. “One – livestock owners need to be aware that rabies is transferring from one species to another and monitor their own animals for symptoms; and two – local veterinarians are a valuable resource to help producers decide the best course of action to protect their herds from rabies.”
Rabies is a viral disease in mammals and infects the brain and other parts of the central nervous system, causing brain swelling and damage, and ultimately, death. The clinical appearance of rabies typically falls into two category types: “aggressive” and “dumb.” Aggressive rabies symptoms include combativeness and violent behavior and a 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.
“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.
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.
El Paso County health officials have recorded eight confirmed cases of rabies in skunks in 2009. According to the El Paso County Health Department, prior to this summer, the last time a rabid skunk was reported in El Paso County was 1970.
In addition to ensuring that pets and livestock are vaccinated properly against rabies, the Health Department recommends 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 skunks, bats, foxes or raccoons.
• 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.
• 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.
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